Finding something “new” at #LT15uk


You may or may not have seen my previous post about my hopes for #LT15uk, so having just spent the past two days there, it seems like a good time to reflect on the conference. In the past I’ve always written long blog posts reviewing all the sessions I attended. I’ve decided not to do that this time – instead I wanted to just focus on a few things.

So in my last post, I said there were two things I wanted from Learning Technologies:

  • From the exhibition – I don’t want to just see the newest version of another rapid development tool. If you’re selling a development tool, show me something it can do which no other tool on the market can do – but then tell me what value that actually adds to the learner experience. It’s lovely that it will publish to all different types of mobile device – but I work within the NHS and less than 2% of our learners use their devices to learn on….
  • From the conference – If you’re standing up there talking to me about the excellent idea or methodology you’re promoting – again – explain to me how it makes the experience of the learner any better – and also talk about how those of us in the real world – where our L&D budgets are continually shrinking can apply it

The exhibition:

The exhibition was everything I expected it to be, and more. Hundreds of stands, row after row of stands, sales person after sales person, all talking about how great their particular offering was, but under all the talk, there wasn’t anything new. I expected this, and to be brutally honest, I decided not to even bother trying to find something which wasn’t there. I got what I needed from the exhibition, in that I managed to pop down and have a quick chat with the few vendors who I wanted to know something about their product, and apart from that, I stayed well away from it.

I’m sure, if you’re in the position of starting out, and you need and LMS, then it’s perfect to be able to go and see them all hands on, but, I’m not, so I didn’t need it. That said – I did stop by and see a few of the free presentations – and there was some interesting content in there.

The conference:

Overall, I enjoyed the conference. There were a number of issues at the start of day one, which shouldn’t have occurred, but on the whole, it was a good event. Most of the speakers were all names I recognise through the EdTech field – with the exception of the odd person from a particular company – they were the usual suspects – and I can generally sit there and listen to those people over and over again – because they share the same level of passion about the subject as I do – and that makes them worth listening to. All of that said, I purposely chose to go and listen to people who I haven’t necessarily heard much before (but was aware of) in order to give myself a new perspective.

However, my challenge I set myself was to find something new. Now, as the post, and the various Twitter chats suggested, there really isn’t anything new, however the two newest things, have definitely moved on in the past 12 months, so in that sense, I did find something new, in fact, I found two things (found is probably not a fair reflection, so lets say I developed my knowledge in two areas):

Virtual Reality

I’ve talked a number of times recently about wanting to have a look at what could be achieved with Google Cardboard. Despite my interest, I’ve never even experienced VR, so following my little twitter chat with Colin Welsh, I was told to visit the Brightwave “VR Lab”:

I found myself with a gap on day 2 (or tea break as the people who drink tea and coffee call it), so took myself along to have a look. Firstly, it was nice to meet Colin and his team, they clearly have a real passion for this area, and have made some good progress here. Now to quickly set the scene, I walked into a meeting room, two people were stood up holding cardboard boxes to their faces, and two people were at down, wearing big masks on their faces. After talking to Colin for a while, I was offered the chance to try Occulus Rift. Having put on the mask and headphones I begun doing an “aviation introduction”. I began in a briefing room, where I was given some information, before walking out, through security (where the security people watch you and adapted to the way you were looking) before inspecting and boarding the plane. Throughout this whole time, it felt like I was genuinely walking through the hanger to the aircraft, so much so, that I then realised I was due to be watching another conference session soon, so I reached down to get my phone out of my pocket, then looked down to see it, only to find that my phone wasn’t in the aviation world I was currently immersed in. It was weird. No, perhaps that isn’t the right word. It was odd. For that 10 minutes, I was completely immersed in the aviation world, as if I was actually there. Now that was a powerful tool. We often talk about the way learners can react better to the learning when they relate to it – so something like this, making it so real to them, must only serve to enhance the experience. I completely appreciate that Occulus Rift is very advanced in this area – but I’m looking forward to seeing what we could do, on a budget, with Google Cardboard.

xAPI

As far as any LMS or Development software advance goes, the only thing which has really offered something “new” is through xAPI. A number of vendors are currently starting to roll out their solutions which offer an LRS, and more of the software suppliers are now supporting it as a standard, however the best thing I managed to do in this area was to attend a couple of talks about/mentioning xAPI, and more strongly, attending the xAPI Barcamp. In previous years I’ve seen talk of these fringe events being run, but have never made it along to one. So to be honest, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Setting the scene again, I arrived in a pub round the corner from Olympia to be greeted by five tables with people squashed around them. Over the course of the next hour, the panel of experts (Ben Betts, Mark Aberdour, Andrew Downes, Mark Berthelemy and Jonathan Archibald) each hosted a short chat about xAPI on each of the tables. What worked so well about this was the completely informal nature of the whole thing. The people in attendance were all of mixed backgrounds, and mixed understandings – and in this informal setting, it just worked.

From a personal level, it was great to hear and be able to talk about the underlying data, as well as hearing about the practical application of xAPI using existing platforms and the actual delivery using things like bookmarklets. I still sit firmly in the camp that I believe that there is a big future for xAPI, and even within the NHS, I think we could make some real progress by adopting it, however, we need to understand it before we race into it, it cannot be allowed to be seen as “the new SCORM”.

Overall

I went to Learning Technologies wanting to find something new, and although not “new” – the two key takeaway areas for me are both very exciting. The conference was exactly what I expected, a number of great speakers, and a great opportunity to network – but the most exciting thing for me is the potential of these two “new” things.

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