Virtual Learning Show – Summer 2013 #VLS13

Those who know me will know that I’m quite opinionated. I’ll speak my mind and make my feelings about something quite clear. I also have a habit of making an early decision on something – and it’s usually quite hard to reverse. So anyway, when I heard about this ‘completely online conference’, to say I was sceptical is probably the biggest understatement I could make. A lot of conferences I attend will often lose my attention if they drag on – so the thought of having to sit in front of a PC screen with headphones on was about as high on my priorities list as putting my hand in a blender. However, (as the cool kids would say) – you only live once, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Day one arrived – and after a short issue as I didn’t have the link to get in, I was logged in and listening to @ColinSteed introducing the conference. Colin was clear and concise – providing evidence based information about the use of online learning. Now I have very little interest in listening to someone talk for a long time about the statistics – however Colin’s approach was refreshing – and seeing the discussion taking place on screen from the rest of the “participants” made me think that perhaps I was wrong to judge the conference so quickly.


Through the rest of the day I had to dip in and out of the conference (having not known about the conference far enough in advance, there were some other things in my diary) – however I did catch some sessions by @philipgreen and @karenhyder. Philip was talking about how to engage users with meaningful interactions, whilst Karen was comparing tools which could be used to broadcast live online training.

The reason I enjoyed these sessions so much were that the views shared by the presenters matched my own so closely. Although for me, there were two quotes which stood out, Philip said “a virtual classroom should contain the same tools as a physical one” and Karen highlighted that “just because the feature is there, you don’t have to use it”. I love these views. Too frequently I find L&D staff focus on making something as swish as they can – and they forget about the basics – much in the same way that they treat an event completely different because it’s online – when actually they shouldn’t.


Day one then ended with a session from @cindyhugg. Cindy closed the day with a session which was different to the earlier ones, yet touched on the same point. Cindy, much aligned with Karen’s earlier comment said “Just because you can put lots of learners in a virtual classroom doesn’t mean you should”. I think this view is so true – afterall you wouldn’t book 1,000 people to attend your classroom session as they would struggle to participate – so why should your virtual classroom be any different?

By this time, it was clear that my view about the idea of doing a completely virtual classroom had been completely wrong. I was tired, it had been a long day, on one hand my brain was fried, on the other it was alive with ideas – and couldn’t wait for day two!

Day two did arrive the week later – and once again I found myself logged into an Adobe Connect session with many of the same people I had seen the week before.

After a quick introduction from Colin, it was @livetimelearn to talk about different ways of engaging learners. There was a strong use of the Adobe Connect tools – and one of my highlights of the whole show, being introduced to ‘Gangsta Learning’.


Matt also took the time to talk about promotion. We’re all very good at promoting our events before they happen – however, how many of us take the time to remind people before the event takes place? Matt talked about an organisation who had seen uptake increase massively solely based on the fact they sent outlook appointments and reminders to all attendees before the event. It’s such a simple concept, and something we could all easily roll out at very little (if any) cost.

Over the next two sessions, @claireline and @usablelearning talked about their experiences of live online learning, and the use of games in learning. To be honest, I lost these sessions a bit, I think it was a combination of the early technical issues in Claire’s session, as well as an onset of tiredness. But there were some really good pieces to take away from each. It’s always interesting to hear the struggles and successes of any organisation – and to hear Julie talk about “everything being a game, the only difference is that some are computer games, and others are games like the ‘getting access to the IT system’ game”. It’s a really refreshing approach, and one I don’t think we consider enough. It was also interesting to hear the thought that “if your learners are forcing themselves to pay attention, you have 7-10 minutes before you lose them”.


At this point, my brain was now tired. It’s funny how much sitting in a conference can take it out of you, but it was time for the last session, the panel discussion. We’ve all seen panel discussions, where a group of “experts” sit and talk about things, whilst occasionally taking a question. Well this panel was different, five people (@CraigTaylor74, @ryantracey, @KoreenOlbrish, @eGeeking and @CaribThompson) in five different continents (and different time zones!).


I’ve never been a fan of panels – let alone putting five people on their webcams and having to listen to them taking it in turns to push their thoughts on you. But this was different, this just worked. Like my initial thoughts of the conference, I was completely wrong to think this wouldn’t work – it just did. But the reason it worked so well? Well it wasn’t the way that the technology all worked to allow these people in their different locations to talk, it wasn’t the format and it wasn’t even the five people who were on the panel. It was all about the thirty-five people there who were watching.

I think we’ve all been at a conference – and the presenter has said something we liked/disliked – and the first thing we did was turn to our colleague sitting next to us and commented about it. However now, I (and the thirty-four other people there) weren’t just turning to the one person we had travelled with, we were talking to the other thirty-four people. The interaction was superb – we were all talking about the subject – which in turn spurred more conversation from the panel, which then led to more text chat. The unique thing about this – we were all interacting in a way which isn’t even possible – even if we all travelled to the same place at the same time, at a cost of thousands of pounds – to deliver face-to-face.

Yes – the whole conference was a success – it was all thought provoking – and it all changed my opinions about the ability to deliver an event like this online.

Am I still sceptical?

Do I think this concept would work outside of a group of people with a shared interest in online training?
I don’t know!

But do I think you could ever do something as amazing and interactive as that final panel session in a face-to-face session?
Not a chance!

Yes – the use of a twitter hashtag can allow attendees at an event to interact – but not to the level that was seen in that last session. There is no way I could have shared ideas with so many people, and also dissected the conversation in any other way, in such a short period of time.

So…..the final question – will I be there next time?
YES! It’s already in the diary – and they’ve got a lot to live up to!