An Overview of the Learning Technologies Conference From Chairman Don Taylor

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Focusing on the 'what', the 'how' and the 'why'It's easy to be distracted by the bells and whistles of learning technology, hence the Learning Technologies Conference is focusing on the 'what', the 'how' and the 'why', says its chairman Donald H Taylor.

The Learning Technologies Conference sees several themes converge that have been running in the learning and development (L&D) profession for some years. This idea is summed up in Jay Cross’s opening keynote: Learning – All Change. The workplace and its learning tools are changing, Jay will say, and will ask whether the profession is smart enough to stay ahead.

The nub of this change is that workplace L&D is no longer only about efficient content delivery. It is about increasing organisational effectiveness. This is reflected in the conference theme: Driving workforce performance through learning and development. And the conference itself divides into three themes: the what, the how and the why of workplace learning and development.

Technology-supported learning and development now has the tools (the what), the experience of integrating and implementing them (the how), and a clear sense of how these learning programmes are linked to organisational objectives (the why).

"Mobile learning was hugely popular in 2007– but has it lived up to the hype? The conference considers some real-world implementations of mobile learning, and where that trend will be going next."

Donald H Taylor, chairman of the Learning Technologies conference

What’s what?

Is the idea of learning 2.0, based on Web 2.0 technologies, just hype? There is a strong argument to say that open, distributed learning, driven by connected individuals is a growing reality in the workplace. It’s complex; it’s networked and it’s messy, but that’s how people like to learn. You may or may not like the term – I’m not sure that I do – but it has stuck, and what it represents is certainly real.

The most obvious instance of Learning 2.0 is social networking. To the traditional, centrally-controlled training department this can be a scary prospect, because there is a chance that social networks – typified by tools such as Facebook – can help spread bad practice. They can also, however, work in the other direction – aiding the spread of expertise, teamwork and coaching. The conference speakers will examine both sides.

Other pressing concerns come from HR: how do we police social networking? How do we ensure that it isn’t a drain on resources and an opportunity for workplace bullying? Fortunately, there are practical answers to these questions.

Mobile learning was hugely popular in 2007– but has it lived up to the hype? The conference considers some real-world implementations of mobile learning, and where that trend will be going next. The same is true for gaming and virtual worlds – very exciting and popular, but how do you employ this technology to the best effect in your organisation for the sake of real learning? And how do you do it without blowing your L&D budget in the first month?

Not all of the tools we discuss on the technology track were designed for learning, as Jane Hart will show. She invited learning practitioners and commentators to reveal their 10 favourite tools for learning. Over 100 responded. The results will be presented and discussed, and should give everyone cause for thought: what are the most popular tools, and what do they tell us about how learning is really practiced in the workplace?

"Gaming and virtual worlds – very exciting and popular, but how do you employ this technology to the best effect in your organisation for the sake of real learning? And how do you do it without blowing your L&D budget in the first month?"

How’s that?

It’s easy to be distracted by the bells and whistles of learning technology. The ‘how’ is about putting those technologies to work effectively.

This means more than just deploying them well. It also means understanding something about how people learn: what motivates them, and about how their minds work. It also means understanding some of the blockers that others can place in the way of learning – motivational, cultural and practical.

Neuro-scientist Dr Itiel Dror will open the second day with a series of startling explanations of how the mind works, and explore the ramifications for learning professionals. For all the time he spends in the laboratory, Dr Dror is a born communicator, and this will be a popular keynote.

As our understanding of the power of informal learning grows, the importance of tapping into it by making content available via more than one delivery mechanism becomes vital. What, then, are the best ways of designing, creating and deploying content effectively? These three questions are each dealt with separately at the conference, through combinations of practical case studies and theoretical considerations.

Why bother at all?

The conference’s look at the 'why' of learning technologies is underpinned by this: how does learning improve organisational capability and performance?

"Managers and executives now know that people and their skills are crucial for organisational success – they just don’t know how to make the most of them."

Managers and executives now know that people and their skills are crucial for organisational success – they just don’t know how to make the most of them. This is a golden opportunity for L&D professionals, and the conference examines this from three points of view.

First, we look at focusing the L&D department on organisational performance, not on departmental activity. Training delivered can no longer be our measure of success. It is essential instead to demonstrate how training increases individuals’ competency for their job. If there are no definitions of these competencies, then the L&D department must take the lead in creating and using them.

Second – following the focus on performance – we explore how to demonstrate the value delivered by learning and development. The L&D department must categorically show how this increased competence translates into workplace impact, and explain it in terms that the executives who ask the question ‘Why?’ will understand.

Finally, what does all this mean to the learning and development professional? There is a personal challenge here and a great opportunity, too. As Nigel Paine, former head of L&D for the BBC will point out in his closing plenary, the digital workspace opens up a world of possibility for the ambitious L&D professional who wants to make an impact.

Technology is making it possible for the learning and development professional to go further than ever before. It’s time for us to take up the opportunity.

Learn more about the Learning Technologies Conference 2008 at:
http://www.learningtechnologies.co.uk/conference/programme.cfm

Donald H Taylor is chairman of the Learning Technologies conference. He blogs at www.donaldhtaylor.co.uk and http://learningtechnologiesconference.wordpress.com/

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