Learning & Skills Group Summer Conference

It was the first time I’d made it to a Learning Technologies/Learning & Skills Group even for a number of years now. I always used to love attending them, but as times change and budgets become tighter, attending conferences like LT unfortunately slide down the priorities scale, despite how much value they bring. So, I was very much looking forward to getting up there and having a look around.

Once I arrived, it was nice to bump into Alison Potter – as it’s nice to see more NHS people who are showing an interest in the emerging technologies. Quickly looking around, the one thing which was clear was that the core attendee base hadn’t changed – most of the usual EdTech folk were all in attendance – which is always a reassuring thing to see.

After an opening from Don, the conference began with a keynote from David Price. I’m not going to go over all of the things which David talked about, but the one bit which really struck home for me was the whole ‘OPEN’ concept. Coming from an organisation where staff are regularly pressed for time, and often struggle to match their availability with the formal training offerings, it’s really important to recognise just how much staff can learn from other sources, and as one of the world’s largest employers, the NHS would be stupid to ignore the potential here.

David the went on to talk about the process of disintermediation and how this is used to allow the organisation to learn in a more open way. By removing all of the middlemen, you allow the staff to connect directly with the content and learn more socially.

David then closed with a valuable point:

Thinking about this in context – too frequently, we as managers strive to ensure that our staff are considered to be working effectively – and thus have a high productivity rate for their full working time. The concept of allowing staff a period of time where their productivity is not expected to be at it’s regular level will be very difficult to achieve, but from a learning perspective, the benefits could outweigh the drop – it may seem like a strange decision to make, but could be one worth making. Moving on to the next session, Donald Clark was talking through ‘Three tech trends that could change learning forever’. It was the first time I’d seen Donald talk, so wasn’t really sure what to expect, but thoroughly enjoyed the content and the delivery. One of Donald’s first points was about how people always talk about how the technology shouldn’t be more important than the learning which it underpins:

Donald’s point her referred to the way in which we often use this excuse, and therefore never focus on how effectively the technology is being used within the learning interaction. If we focus on the learning alone, we neglect how suitable the delivery mechanism is, and therefore may not be using it effectively or correctly.

Donald then went on to review the theorists of the past few hundred years, often discrediting most whilst he did. But he then talked about the new technologies which will influence the future. It was really interesting to see the simulation headset allowing people to experience the environment and interact with it – and even more so to hear that it will soon be an option which is purchasable within the UK at a respectable price (c. £300).

The final session I attended for the day was about storytelling. I gather this session followed on from one delivered as part of the main conference in January – although as only a few people had been present, it recapped that as well. The session started with something which really surprised me, and that was the speaker (Deborah Frances-White) talking about use of mobile phones during the training session. Deborah talked about how she does not tell people to put their phones away – and actually her view was that if the person found their phone more exciting than her, then clearly she wasn’t doing a good enough job to engage them:

It’s such a small point – but really refreshing to hear this from a face-to-face facilitator.

The session itself was actually quite enlightening in a very simple way. We’ve been using scenarios as a way of delivering learning for quite some time now, however we always just focus on what needs to happen in the scenario. When we deliver learning in this way, we never focus on the character, we always focus on the process, however by doing this, we are not building the connections with our learners:

By knowing the detail around the character, we relate to them more, we emphasise with them, and feel their successes and pains. This makes the story mean more, and therefore more memorable – thus enhancing the learning experience, and most importantly making it more enjoyable for the learner.

The other main take-away from the session was that Deborah highlighted how, as adults, we over complicate stories. The story doesn’t need to be complicated, it’s allowed to be simple and still prove effective.

I had to cut out of the conference at this stage, but already my mind was full of big and little things which I could work on. Ultimately – it was another great conference, with a lot of new ideas gained – and I look forward to attending again next year.