Learning Technologies 2014: conference review

Learning Technologies Conference chairman Donald Taylor opened the conference by telling delegates the industry was experiencing a period of seismic change which was challenging the way L&D teams did their work.

This theme was picked up by the opening keynote, delivered by Brian Solis, analyst at the Altimeter Group and author of many books on the impact of digital technologies on how we lead our lives.

Solis said that ‘we need to ‘show up’ differently to the challenges we face’ as technology continues to change the way we lead our lives. Due to what he called digital Darwinism, organisations need to adapt and start to empower employees. ‘We are all fighting for the future of engagement,’ he said.

Organisations need to bypass legacy ways of doing things and have a different approach to the future because our inability to push forward is working against us. That means making technology ‘invisible’ which means understanding people. Currently a lot of technology is being adopted by companies for the sake of technology itself. The answer is to understand the needs of employees first then look at technology requirements.

This shift will need leaders to develop digital literacies so they understand how to guide the organisation with the new technologies.

Solis was upbeat on the potential for L&D. ‘You are a user experience designer of life. That is magical. Learning is an experience and not a process – experiences are designed and require passion.’

In terms of making change happen, he said optimism and passion can help as a disruptor. ‘You need to be a lawyer (have the evidence) and be a politician because what you do, how you are and who you talk to, and influence, between meetings matters too.’

Solis predicted that in the future the review of employee performance goals would happen at least once a quarter rather than once a year in the annual appraisal. New models of learning will focus on mobile devices, incorporate social media and be continuous.

Ultimately, organisations will need to focus on the individual needs of the learner in the same way that marketers focus on consumer preferences.

Rethinking learning content design

Instructional designer and author Julie Dirksen told delegates that L&D needs to design for how people learn. Simply designing and packaging content and pushing it out is no longer enough, she said.

It is time to think of of learning as a guidance system which means thinking about experience and context.  If L&D teams want colleagues to pay attention then they need to ask questions, interact with people and surprise them.

Dirksen said that attention, or lack of it for learning, was a big issue in corporate training. She said the concept of hyperbolic discounting – in which we discount the value of a reward over time – is something L&D needs to understand. ‘If attention is currency then when we ask people to pay attention to something they cannot use now, the reward has to be very good. The distance between content and using it affects the impact of the content,’ she said.

To overcome this, L&D can use games and simulations to bridge the time gap between content and reward and make learning accessible at the point of need.

In his day two keynote, neuroscientist Beau Lotto took delegates back to the basics of learning based on his research and experiments. He told delegates that learning is about seeing differently because humans are creating perceptions. ‘Perception is at the heart of everything we do, learning most fundamentally,’ he said.

He then went on to show how the brain makes sense of the world (through light and colour) and explained how 10% of the information your brain ‘sees’ is through your eyes and 90% is seen through your brain.

How so? The brain makes meaning by:

  1. Evolving to discover patterns.
  2. Associating pattern with meaning – what someone did in the past, so meaning is always grounded in your history.

Lotto said we are shaped by culture and what is happening around us, which is why experiences and assumptions based on those experiences shape the way we learn. But he cautioned: ‘You are blind to your assumptions.’

To teach people to see differently, you have to start with a question, he said. But questions lead to uncertainty and humans dislike uncertainty. And the best questions create the most uncertainty.

The answer? Evolution’s solution to uncertainty is play.  The most successful adaptive systems are rooted in play. Play is a way of being – it celebrates uncertainty and diversity. It is cooperative. It opens up possibility. Play is its only reward. We play in order to play. So, make learning relevant and make the learner a part of it, Lotto said.

We also carried out a series of interviews at the conference, which you can listen to here:

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