Speed Dating at the 2012 Learning Technologies

On Wednesday, January 25th I attended the Learning Technologies exhibit at Olympia in London. I used agreeadate to schedule as many meetings with corporate learning luminaries as possible. Next to catching up, I decided to ask each of them the following four questions:

  1. What will be the most exciting (professional) thing you are planning to do in 2012?
  2. Which corporate learning trend will “break through” this year?
  3. Which company (other than your own) is doing interesting things in the learning space?
  4. What was the best book you have read in 2011?

So here goes, in the same order as during the day:

Steve Dineen

Steve is the Chief Executive at Fusion Universal. We mainly talked about Fuse their video-centric social platform. In the next few weeks they will swap out the current video player and will replace it with one that makes it easier to display subtitles and transcripts, will do bandwidth detection and will allow for much better reporting on how the video has been viewed. They will also roll out adaptive testing with adaptive learning journeys. See here for example:

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The implementation of pull learning, seeing learning as a journey rather than a process and then the provision of the environment to let personal learning happen (as a platform and an environment). Another exciting thing is the Virtual School, they should be going live with a full secondary school curriculum by September.
  2. People will start to understand that not all learning needs to be centered around a course. This is a big paradigm shift for which we are now seeing the pioneers emerging.
  3. Fusion is not necessarily taking inspiration from the learning technology community. Instead, they are taking inspiration from YouTube. It is incredible to see what they have done to their platform. On design matters they take inspiration from Apple.
  4. The four books he enjoyed in the last few months were The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and Presentation Zen, Good to Great and The Innovators Dilemma.

Barry Sampson

Barry is one of the three partners in Onlignment, a learning consultancy with broad capability. He is also responsible for changing my life by properly introducing me to Markdown, the greatest thing since sliced bread for people who have to do a lot of writing of any kind. They have put a lot of effort into truly blending their own offerings. Rather than just teach a course on learning design for a few days they now design a journey towards independence. For one client they do a workshop first and then one-on-one coaching sessions (virtual and face to face). The end result will include e-learning content created by the participants themselves and guided by Onlignment.

Onlignment's Circles

Onlignment's Circles

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. Making the circles live. The circles make it very clear what Onlignment is offering and from now on we will only do work on things that fit with these circles.
  2. What we will see is a lot of mobile learning done badly (“everyone will screw up mobile this year”). Everybody will deliver e-learning content on mobile technology. It is usually crap on a PC and will be worse on mobile. He has also seen more Moodle vendors than ever before at this exhibit, so Moodle seems to be breaking through too.
  3. Two companies that are doing interesting things are Aardpress and Coloni. The former has a Software as a Service (SaaS) version of Moodle and the latter has a great licencing model: you pay on the basis of the space you take on their servers (their roots are a website development company) and they are very actively engaged with their clients.
  4. The only book that Barry has read in the last year is a book about becoming a dad.

Lawrence O’Connor

Lawrence was the only person who was excused from my four questions. Instead we had a discussion around topics like mindmapping, authenticity, tools for conviviality (and the speed of transportation), theatre and doing what you love. We spotted Jaron Lanier who has written the thought provoking You are Not a Gadget, but were too late to invite him over to join our lunch.

Amir Elion

Amir works for Kineo Israel an e-learning development company and has written 100 Presentation Ideas which is now also available as an iPhone app. I have had many virtual meetings with Amir over the last two years (he participated in the Learning in 3D reading group for example, but this was the first time we got together in real life.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The first thing that he is looking forward to is to try and see if mobile learning can be made into something real. It has a lot of potential and is a new way of supporting performance. There are still many questions around it that need to be answered. There is a lot of technical work to do, but more importantly the learning models and the performance support models will need to be rebuild. Kineo is doing pilots with a few clients. The second thing he is excited about is advancing blending learning through using a learning typology. He has started drawing a table explaining which type of solutions solve particular challenges.
  2. He hopes the break-through trend will be the open source Learning Management System (LMS) and would prefer that to be Totara. In Israel that is very likely to happen. Many companies there do not have an easy way to track learning now and the fear for open source has subsided. Companies now actually see the advantages of open source: flexibility, lower costs and supplier independence (“there is always another Totara partner”).
  3. The companies that are creating the development tools are really moving forward quickly. Articulate Storyline is exciting in how it really supports non-linear learning and now can also work in Hebrew and other right-to-left language. The latest version of Adobe Captivate is also good. These companies really work with the e-learning development companies to incorporate e-learning best practices into their tools. Other than that it is mostly individuals that he learns from. Donald Clark, Cathy Moore with her Action Mapping, Cammy Bean (from Kineo US) or David Kelley.
  4. The book he liked was Drive. The concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose can directly be applied in corporate learning.

Kineo has a tradition of producing very useful promotional booklets. They gave me a copy of the very sensible Designing Mobile Learning (available on the Free Thinking area of their website) . It has ten tips on designing mobile learning:

  1. Always ask “Why make this mobile?”
  2. Use those off the shelf information and communication apps NOW
  3. Bring the informal into the blend
  4. Make sure it’s more than e-learning on a tablet
  5. Make it tactile
  6. You’re in their personal space; you’d better make it worth their while
  7. Make the limited space count
  8. Consider developing templates for efficient design
  9. Extend the impact of your media assets
  10. Find the right place to use mobile learning in your new-look blends

and 10 examples of where mlearning can make a difference:

  1. Make it easy to review the latest news and information
  2. Scan it, learn about it
  3. Just-in-time guides
  4. Performance support and checklists
  5. You know where I am, help me!
  6. Refresher learning
  7. Push reminders
  8. ‘Mobile company uses mobile learning’ shocker… Use the medium they use
  9. The LMS on the go
  10. Talk to me, interactively

David Perring

David is director of research the UK-based and EMEA focused educational technology analysts Elearnity. Elearnity has been working hard at writing vendor perspectives. The summaries will be available for free and the in-depth reports are available for a fee.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The most interesting and exciting thing for him is always working with clients who have interesting challenges. It is fascinating to work for people who have different perspectives but also bring intelligence into the process. For him it is the “freshness of working with 10 organizations rather than with one”.
  2. He is not sure that there will be any more break throughs in the next year. Certain organizations might have find some “inspirational moments”, a lightbulb going on. Maybe some sales forces will start using mobile technology for its real potential, rather than having people use mobile technology in the classroom. He thinks the economic pressures will mean that there might be a lot more technology assisted learning and less face to face training in the years ahead.
  3. He doesn’t believe you will find companies doing interesting things, you will always find people doing interesting things. It is very difficult to find people in organizations who are willing to share the interesting things they are doing: the catalysts for change, the mavens who help organisations reach tipping points.
  4. The book he really enjoyed reading last year was Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler, My Part in his Downfall. Milligan is a comic genius.

We also discussed how great it would be to create more pencasts, using the Livescribe to sketch out and explain concepts. This is something that is still on my list to try out properly.

Rob Hubbard

Rob runs his own company LearningAge Solutions and is the chair of the E-learning Network (ELN). The ELN was present at Learning Technologies and was campaigning hard for effective elearning through “The Campaign for Effective Elearning” (also see: #c4ee on Twitter. He is very worried that people will start to think that all e-learning is cheap and crap. This would be bad for the industry (I see this kind of reaction in my company already). The ELN will therefore start highlighting things that really make a difference. Rob will be a busy man in 2012 because there is a publishing deal with Wiley Pfeiffer for a book from the ELN and with LearningAge he has created a piece of web based technology that implements the concept of “goal-based learning”, which is all about solving the transfer problem and putting learning into practice.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. He hopes that he will be able to do a very big project which uses games and simulations to train thousands of people up to a certain skill level. Another exciting thing is his Rapid E-Learning Design course (I met Rob as a pilot participant of this truly excellent course) which he will be offering for free for the first time this year. Why free? Because it is a great way to meet new people.
  2. Something that really seems to be gathering pace is the concept of gamification. People are starting to take it more seriously and the market is picking up on that, there even was one stand that advertised with “gamify your learning”. He likes how it aligns with the way our brain works: we have always learned through experimenting and getting awards for behaviour that works.
  3. HT2 is doing interesting stuff, but in general he would consider science fiction to be more inspiring than what other companies are doing. One thing he showed me as an inspiration was an an interactive storybook on the iPad titled The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore made by Moonbot studios. It is incredible interactive and it teaches children how to play a song on the piano or how to write with the letters in a cereal bowl.
  4. He is really enjoying The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson which at some level is basically a book about e-learning and performance support.

Laura Overton

Laura is the Managing Director of Towards Maturity an organization that helps companies get the most out of their learning technology. She was incredibly busy at the conference trying to connect “upstairs” (where the conference is) to “downstairs” (where the salespeople are exhibiting) through organising exchanges between speakers at the conference and attendees at the exhibit.

Her answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. One of the things Towards Maturity is looking at in 2012 is how to use all the data they have for practical change and to stimulate thinking. They will start doing some sector views. Next week they are launching a series of in-focus reports on particular issues that they know are holding the industry back. One of them is the cycle of indifference to change. One research report will be focused on business leaders asking them to demand more and be less satisfied. She hopes this will stimulate some new dialog between business and learning. She would not consider herself a technologist, instead she wants people to act: it does not matter what technology they use as long as they get better results.
  2. A lot of people expect social learning to break through. She doesn’t think that will happen this year, especially the use of external social media (i.e. Facebook) will not work. Mobile learning is really on the verge of break through. User-generated content and an openness to that is an interesting thing too. They have seen quite a bit of growth in that.
  3. She naturally has something good to say about all the Towards Maturity ambassadors. She likes the e-learning vendors that are really looking at the business issue. They come up with business solutions rather than with elearning modules. Things like natural assessment, storytelling, experiential learning. Concepts rather than the technology.
  4. She thought Nudge, a book about influencing and persuasion, was great.

Ben Betts

Ben has his own company H2T and inhabits the edge between academic research and innovative education technology practice.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. He is the most excited about Mozilla’s Open Badges project. He hopes it can help bridge the gap between Open Educational Resources and traditional formal accreditation. Anybody or any organisation can become a badge prodider (it will be one of my goals to start handing out Hans de Zwart-related badges before the end of the year), so he could already see something similar happening as in LinkedIn, “I recommend you and you recommend me”. I could see how you might get a meta-badge ecosystem with accreditors accrediting accreditors (Where would the buck stop? At Stephen Downes?). In 2012 he will also finish his doctorate thesis which is currently titled “Improving Participation in Collaborative Learning Environments” (I hope he doesn’t follow Dougiamas’ footsteps on this one).
  2. There was one word that he thought would be the word to watch for 2012. Unfortunately he could recollect it and then had to go for “Curation” (which he think is probably last year’s word).
  3. He quite likes what Epic is doing with Gomo, although they still have some way to go. Another great company is of couse Mozilla. He wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by Apple’s iBook announcement.
  4. The most interesting book for him was probably the biography of Steve Jobs. He is currently reading Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Also good was A Theory of Fun for Game Design which shows that having learned something is the definition of fun in a game. Another great book was Business Model Generation (I just read that too). Finally he would like to recommend Resonate by Nancy Duarte, which is basically “stuff you already know put really complicated” (mostly about telling stories), but it the best example he knows of how a book should be layed out.

Concluding

I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the exhibit, but did do a very quick walkaround and found companies I just want to highlight:

  • Toolwire is going to evolve what they call Learnscapes into gamescapes, using their normal interface and turning it into a realtime multiplayer event.
  • I have never written about Lynda on this blog before. They provide videos teaching people how to do things with software applications (think about teaching you a particular effect in Photoshop for example). You can pay per video or get a subscription. They are hugely successful. I consider them another example of a thing that “geeks” have managed to get right, without the rest of the world noticing. Why aren’t they an enlightened example in the corporate learning world? Related to this I will create a theme for myself this year: Open source communities have been the first to find solutions for certain problems (collaboration at scale for example). What can businesses learn from this?

It was a great privilege to be able to speak to these eight people in a single day (I could have talked for hours with each and everyone of them…) and it takes an event like Learning Technologies to bring these people together. I will have to find a good reason to go again next year. Maybe a speaking engagement?

Looking Back at Learning Technologies 2010

Learning Technologies

Learning Technologies

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 Learning Technologies Exhibition in London. In many ways this event is very similar to the Online Educa in Berlin (e.g. most Berlin exhibitors were in London too and the conferences shared a keynote speaker). There are two main differences: Learning Technologies seems to draw a slightly less international crowd and it focuses more on the world of corporate learning. In this post I want to capture the people I met and the technologies that I looked at. What caught my eye?

Mobile Learning, Social Media and Serious Gaming
Those were the three buzz words that most exhibitors thought would sell their services best. I made it a point to enquire with any exhibitor who used any of these terms in their marketing and found out that most of these claims were very hollow. For example, I talked to a developer of mobile applications who told me they would gladly convert all my existing e-learning content into a mobile format (why would I want to take something that does not take advantage of its medium and move it over to a medium where it fits even less well?). Another one on the ridiculous side of the effectiveness scale was the vendor that showed me a screenshot of an internal social networking site where people could do a daily crossword. Honestly? Where is the first vendor that can show me a scalable mobile learning event/application that can only work because it is delivered through a mobile Internet enabled, location aware phone with a camera? The medium is the message right?

Technology Companies versus Content Development Companies
Luckily there were some exceptions to the rule. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the knowledgable people of Caspian Learning. They have developed a serious gaming platform (Thinking Worlds) which utilises Adobe Shockwave to deliver single user 3D virtual worlds in the web browser of the participant. I have been a participant in an excellent course that used their technology and was very curious to see what the authoring environment would look like. After a solid demo I came away very impressed. The way that scenarios can be created and managed looks wonderful. I believe it is fair to say that Caspian’s technology is good enough to enable a new way of designing learning events. The ball is now in the court of learning designers (I like that better than “content developers”), they have to explore this new technology and have to learn a whole new set of skills. Authoring is easy, but how do you design effective scenarios? The field is very immature in this respect. Here is a demonstration video of a game made with their engine:

Caspian’s business model is interesting too. They consider themselves a technology company foremost, and not a content development company. Their business development efforts are spent on finding content partners. They already have a deal in place with IBM and I wouldn’t be surprised if companies like Accenture, Tata and NIIT will follow soon. This is the perfect way to make your business scale and it will allow you to focus on developing your technology (managing technical people like programmers is fundamentally different from managing learning consultants).

In my quick chat with Gavin Cooney from Learnosity I advised him to pursue a similar strategy: the core competences of his company are their technical skills (I call them “Asterisk plumbers”) and their ability to find strategic partnerships (not that he needs any advice, I am sure his business development skills far outshine mine!).

Some companies seem to sit on the fence when it comes to being a technology or a content development company. LearningGuide Solutions has an Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) and develops content for it. I believe that EPSSs could be a very efficient way of getting people up to the task with a piece of software. The demo of their product left me underwhelmed.  They have been on the market for quite a while now, but their LearningGuide does not seem to have evolved past a an improved version of an online help system. The granularity of the context sensitivity was disappointing, the authoring has no version control and there are no social features. Wouldn’t it be great if people could write their own tips with the guides? How come LearningGuide has not kept up and emulated some of the functionality that platforms like Get Satisfaction have?

Learning as a Managed Service
I was interested to know whether any vendors would be able to deliver a large part of the learning function (at least the technology and support for the technology) as a managed service. I talked to two vendors:

I asked the people from Learn.com why they keep winning the reader’s choice for “Best Enterprise Learning Management System” category of Elearning! magazine (“Is it because all your customers get a free subscription to the mag?” wasn’t really appreciated). The first answer came from the sales guy: “Because we guarantee Return On Investment”. I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean, but they seem to think it is relevant (check out the relentless Flash-based ROI counter on their site). Luckily the next guy had a more sensible answer: Learn.com has all of their customers on the same code base and has a rapid development process for this code. This means they are able to deliver new functionality and fixes faster than corporations would be able to do for themselves. According to them they have the authentication problem solved and are able to integrate with HR systems like SAP through a mature web-services based architecture. They also had really smart answers to my questions about reporting. One thing I appreciated was their support for all web browsers: it is not often that somebody can promise me support for IE, Opera, Firefox and Safari without blinking. I always take that as a sign that technicians might be in charge instead of marketeers.

Another company that I checked out was the Edvantage group. This UK based business has signed a couple of large contracts recently. They deliver a completely integrated content development and delivery street through a Software as a Service solution. In that sense they are similar to Learn.com.

I would be interested to hear from anybody who has some real world experience with either of these companies.

Moodle Everywhere?
Moodle has become ubiquitous. It seemed that about one in four stands at the exhibition had something to say about Moodle. You can see that this is very market driven (open source finally has become cool), as a lot of the exhibitors had no idea what they were talking about.

My personal favourite was somebody from Saffron Interactive whom I asked about their social networking offerings. Their whole stand was adorned with logos from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I was wondering if they maybe had thought of a smart way to integrate these services into learning offerings. She showed me a couple of screenshots of something that looked a bit like Ning and told me they created social communities for their clients. She then proceeded to tell me that the platform they used for this was Moodle and that an implementation of Moodle in general only takes three(!) days. I love Moodle, but I would never use it to create a social community and to make Moodle look like her screenshots takes a lot more than three days. I had to move on after that.

A very impressive Moodle offering came from aardpress. They have invested a lot of their programming talent (months and months of work) into creating Moomis, a set of tools that fills some of Moodle’s gaps for the corporate learning world. Unlike the corporate Moodle solutions that I have seen so far (e.g. ELIS), Moomis is not a set of successful open source projects that are integrated into Moodle. Instead, all functionality is created inside Moodle itself, using Moodle’s libraries and its add-on architecture. This had advantages on the usability side, but could have disadvantages on the side of functionality (i.e. it is hard to write a very rich tool from scratch). aardpress (they don’t seem to want to capitalise their name) is hard at work getting Moomis ready for Moodle 2.0. I hope they are successful in turning this into a sustainable project and maybe even collaborate a bit more with Moodle HQ in developing this type of functionality.

In the conference part of Learning Technologies there was a small meeting of corporate Moodle users that I crashed into in its last 15 minutes. I am glad I did, because I met Mark Berthelemy there, who I had only seen on Moodle.org before.

Monkeys with typewriters

Monkeys with typewriters

Wisdom Architects
Another meeting I thoroughly enjoyed was my talk with Lawrence O’Connor from Wisdom Architects. We chatted about implementing learning technology in very large organisations, discussed theories of memory and the Mind Palace 3D iPhone app he is developing. This app will help people memorise better using the time-tested technique of building a memory palace. I find it fascinating how we are both using technology to outsource our memory (my phone keeps all my to-do tasks, phone numbers, etc.) and to help us get a better memory. I am wondering whether we will see more study tools like this app and like eFaqt in the near future.

Lawrence very kindly gave me a copy of Jemima GibbonsMonkeys with typewriters. This book about social media at work is published by Triarchy Press which has a lot of other interesting titles. I really liked Gibbons’ unconventional approach: she went out and interviewed about fifty people that have either changed the face of social media or have run succesful social media projects in companies. The book is divided into six chapters titled: Co-creation, Passion, Learning, Openness, Listening and Generosity. Each chapter starts with a myth and a reality (e.g. Myth: Social networking is a time waster, Reality: Building connections is vital to business). My copy is now full of dog-ears. A couple of the concepts/ideas that I want to explore further:

Here is an O’Reilly quote:

You design applications that get better the more people use them, then the applications that work get the most user data. The winners are those that harvest collective intelligence: Amazon, Google… Google is actually harvesting the intelligence of all users. […]
One of the things that I suggest to any company is what data assets do you own and how can you build new fresh data services against that data? I think a lot of traditional businesses have enormous data assets, they just need a slightly different mindset.

Then there is IBM’s idea of reverse mentoring programmes, where younger employees teach the older staff about social technologies. And a great quote from Clay Shirky:

All businesses are media businesses, because whatever else they do, they rely on the managing of information.

Gibbons formulates an argument that I use often when I try to get people to be more transparent about what they are doing:

Today’s smart businesses are not so much about creating an owning knowledge as about applying and learning from it. If [a company’s] blog posts and research papers are freely available, to be used , re-mixed, mashed up and built upon, that’s fine: the core competence of [the company] lies in the minds and knowhow of its consultants.

The book ends with “30 ways to get social”: great practical advice.

Other Meetups
Learning Technologies really does seem to be the place where all the British e-Learning people come together. It was chance for me to meet a lot of people that I had only met virtually before. I had a good chat with David Wilson from Elearnity, talking about innovation processes and about his research network. I met some of the people from Brand Learning and The Chartered Institute of Marketing with whom I have been working in the last couple of months on a marketing curriculum. I got to shake Rob Hubbard‘s hand and talk to him about his excellent Rapid eLearning Development Course. The only appointment I missed was the one with Jane Hart, maybe next time!

Bersin Executive Roundtable
The day after the event I joined Josh Bersin, Allan Keetch, Donald H. Taylor, Barry Davis, Ghassan Mirdad and Christina Tsirimokou for a corporate roundtable organised by Bersin & Associates. This was a diverse group of people with very different problems, so occasionally it was hard to find some common ground.

We did manage to have a good discussion about integrating talent management and learning. Doing this from a system’s perspective seems to be the holy grail for many organisations. Bersin thought the overlap between these two things is not as profound as most people think it might be. There really isn’t that much integration to do. On the other hand he has seen many organisations crumble under the weight of their completely systemised and integrated competence management systems.

Allan Keetch noted how good talent management systems are important and useful when an organisation is restructuring. I agreed partially with him. We all know that nowadays it is not only what you know, but also who you know that is important. There are barely any talent management systems that take this into account. My employer just went through a restructuring exercise and I am quite sure that my hiring manager had a good overview of my formalised competencies (and those of my competitors for the job), but had no insight into the network that I would bring into the job. As organisational network analysis (ONA) will mature I imagine we will see more and more tools that creates these social graphs automatically based on existing communication and collaboration patterns. (Remember O’Reilly’s quote, earlier in this post?).

Josh Bersin had keynoted on informal learning and it was therefore fitting to have Barry Davis at the table. He works for Creganna Tactx Medical and he believes that learning is working (or is it the other way around?) and that everybody in his company should be a trainer. His organisation is just the right size for his ideas to have a lot of impact. For example, he has managed to “formalise” (“organise” or “facilitate” would probably be better here) the 70-20-10 rule of Charles Jennings.

Finally
I am not the only who has written about Learning Technologies. Jane Hart had some good comments (with a post by Jay Cross in her wake) and Mark Berthemely wrote an extensive post which is very worthwhile to read.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJh464LEDac