Nine takeaways from DevLearn 2015

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Laura Overton recently spoke at one of the most prominent L&D events in the US - here's her experience from across the pond.

We hit the ground running in Las Vegas at the end of September as we joined 2800 L&D professionals at DevLearn for the first time. First impressions? The event was extra large from all perspectives. Las Vegas is a full-on venue for conferences– open 24/7, constantly buzzing and BIG. It took us 15 minutes to walk from our rooms to the conference venue. The hotel charged an arm and a leg for a coffee but the coffee chains were open around the clock – perfect for that fix those of us awake in the middle of the night , travelling from the UK ( there was a big contingent this year) and from the east coast.

The event is run by the e-learning Guild and was incredibly practical, useful and inspiring. The Guild does a great job in supporting elearning practitioners with the skills they need to do their jobs, many of the members were presenting lessons learned across the packed programme which also had contributions from some great thinkers in the industry (Clark Quinn, Cammy Bean, Will Thalehmier, Jane Bozarth and our own Donald Clark to name drop a few!).

I shared 10 hidden secrets from Top Performing International Learning Teams with the audience. The session was popular (possibly due to the fact that I brought UK Cadbury’s chocolate over – a rare treat in a country of candy). But we took away much more than we brought with us.

Here are some of our top takeaways from our first visit to DevLearn:

Alignment is key around the globe

Author Alison Rosset conducted a fabulous session picking up on what is important to CLOs today and their need for focus. A timely reminder that we need to understand business outcomes if our initiatives are to create business outcomes. This is critical for the CEO but also for all of us in the learning team- whatever our role is we need to ask what the business is trying to achieve, what my role in the strategy is and how I can partner to add value.

Intelligent content - How to do learning like grown ups 

I have always been fascinated by the lessons that L&D can learn from those involved in social marketing. Clark Quinn took this to a whole new level as he explored the principles behind generating great personalised shopping experiences to the design of continuous learning programmes. Check out his video on intelligent content.

The Big Data Deal

love it or hate it, we have to get our heads around data. Using evidence for making decisions rather than jumping on the fad bandwagon was one of the takeaways that people reported from my session. We were reminded about the Gartner Hype Curve by Ellen Wagner and the importance of understanding trends when making decisions about our next big investment. Whatever way you look at it, it’s clear that data is going to have a big impact on the L&D role in the future. And the next thing to get our heads around are the algorithms that make sense of that data. Donald Clark’s session on artificial intelligence and adaptive learning explored just that – Cammy Bean’s live blog on this is really worth checking out.

Putting gaming into perspective

I know I can see Julian Stodd at work here in the UK but his new reflections on game mechanics (what we do in games) vs games dynamics (how we engage e.g. through a sense of loss, reward) made a lot of sense. He challenged us to think about what we reward in games – should it be activity or the value we create? If we focus on formal rewards bestowed by organisation we are missing out on emotional reward conferred by the consensus of the community? Interesting stuff worth reflecting on as we rush to add that extra leaderboard into our programmes.

The power of recognition for the new flexible workforce

-  There was a lot of talk about badges across the conference but what really helped was thinking about their role in the modern workplace where the workforce is becoming more flexible and contractor/freelance-focused. Workforce mobility means that individuals will need to recognise formal and informal skills and this is where smart use of badge technologies can come in. The volume and value of metadata attached to badges (e.g. skills learned, level achieved) starts to come into its own when algorithms can use those tags to start to look at jobs and roles required and recommend staff internally. It struck us that one place to start right now is to be mindful about ‘How would I tag that asset’ right now.

Start smart with social learning

- Ben Betts and Lisa Minogue White provided some powerful lessons for those looking to support social learning more effectively. Lisa talked about L&D’s role to sift out real nuggets of information, to sort out (make sense and elevate value), to summarise (how can we make it  easy to digest and wade through the volume) and to support (how do we connect this to  business outcomes). Ben flagged the importance of understanding the mindset of staff. If we are to change culture on the way people view learning we need to build confidence. This can be done by moving from a structured approach (eg deliver a webinar) to an interim approach (e.g. structured learning with forums for peer to peer learning) to a social approach where anyone can contribute an idea to everyone.

Equipping the L&D team

– I enjoyed two morning buzz sessions - a great informal discussion format for those up at the crack of dawn- that targeted the essential skills of L&D professionals. The group that met with Colin Welch flagged many of the core skills that our own research has highlighted: Project management, evaluation, marketing, data analytics, programming and design skills. Cammy Bean’s session explored how instructional designers often fall into their role whilst a secret of their success is the ability to follow their passion, the other skills are also essential and we need to build them or bring them in.

Putting it into practice

The conference had a strong focus on extending learning beyond the intervention and into the workflow and I have to admit, the organisers were great in modelling this with the DevLearn app. Conversations between delegates started before we arrived and have continued long after. I have continued to learn and connect with colleagues since I returned home. The app has been providing me with answer to questions, resources and a chance to catch up on the sessions that I missed. A well-designed learning tool for delegates to help us apply what we need when we’re back on the job.

And finally...don’t underestimate the great work being done in the UK

One of the highlights of DevLearn is their Demofest – 90 practitioners each take a table, a laptop and a deep breath as they demonstrate a great project that they’ve been involved with, continually, for 90 minutes to anyone from the conference who will stop by to listen. The projects were organised into 14 categories and all the visitors had a chance to vote for the ones that really caught their eye. I was excited that five of the awards were presented to UK projects including:

  • Best Blended Learning Project - “NHS Leadership Academy Virtual Classroom” by Bill West at LEO
  • Best Immersive/Simulation - “Raising the Service Bar: Training Bartenders with Interactive Film” by Colin Welch at Brightwave
  • Best Alternative Project - “SME Central: For You, by You” by Kris Swanson at JP Morgan
  • Best Sales Training - “The M&S Way: Food Sales Support” by Matt at Attic Media
  • The WeeJee (sponsors) Award also went to the Brightwave team for their Raising the Service Bar project

There is some great innovation happening in the UK and we were massively proud to personally know all the award winners – congratulations. The overall theme for DevLearn was 'Innovation in the Making' and the programme certainly provided inspiration and practical ideas to make it a reality. 

Here are a few more resources if you want to find out more:

Dave Kelly – curating the back channel

Donald Clark – Plan B – Leaving Las Vegas

Colin Welch - Tech and learning in Las Vegas

Laura Overton is MD of Towards Maturity

About Laura Overton

About Laura Overton

Laura Overton is managing director of Towards Maturity

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