Learning Tech Ireland 2017 – Reflection

By Peter Gillis

“Working in eLearning/education in Ireland for nearly 20 years, I have been seeking events like this, and really felt this was the first I’ve attended that really provided useful, research-led and practical advice”

Brendan Strong, Director of Education at Society of Medical Professionals


At Learnovate, as we enter phase 2, we have been working hard over the last few months to design and develop a value proposition that will see the centre answer the real needs of our customers, create ‘pull’ for our services and deliver real impact. We took the decision to focus this year’s conference around the concepts that underline this value proposition, to give members and the wider community an understanding of how Learnovate can help them realise real impact in the area of Learning Tech. We term our approach Impact Led Innovation designed to combine the best of Lean Start-Up and Design Thinking to identify from the outset, learning problems people really care about, validate these assumptions, develop solutions with end users and identify the sustainable impact that will maximise the potential for success.

This involved us taking a very different approach to our conference, rather than showcasing technologies and discussing themes in the area we chose, for this year, to provide a three tiered structured approach to the day. We knew it was risky, but we also knew it was an indirect and slightly messy way of ‘validating our assumptions’ in relation to our value proposition.

The purpose of this blog is not to recount the excellent presentations, but to deliver prompts for those who were there and a flavor to those who could not make it, we would be happy to follow up in person on any aspect of interest.


Following introductions and an outline of Learnovate’s Value Proposition to deliver Impact Led Innovation for our members, the first stage was to deliver insights from world class experts in the area of Lean Start-Up, problem validation, identifying what customers need and avoiding the pitfalls that can arise.

Tendayi Viki spoke of the zero correlation between R&D and growth, a point that raised a few eyebrows in the audience, however the point here was that pure R&D has no correlation, it is only when R&D is linked to innovation and customers’ needs that it is effective, a point illustrated by Tom Melia from Enterprise Ireland earlier in the day. Tendayi spoke of avoiding what he refered to as ‘Innovation Theatre’ carrying out the exercises to have the appearance of innovation, while taking your eye off the end prize. Developing a term from Steve Blank, the audience was introduced to his ‘Eight Steps to the Epiphany’ (four more than Steve!), they are:

  • Capture Ideas
  • Identify Assumptions
  • Prioritize Assumptions
  • Brainstorm Tests
  • Falsifiable Hypotheses
  • Get Out Of The Building
  • Capture Learnings
  • Make Decisions

Personally I thought his phrase “It’s not iterating if you do it only once” was one of the more humourous and valuable snippets form an excellent session.

Rob Fitzpatrick focused his Keynote on talking to customers to first ‘Learn’ if a problem you believe exists, exists at all and if so does anybody care! Secondly to ‘Confirm’ that customers will use it, and importantly, if they will pay for it! Rob also addressed the three mistakes that are made when talking to customers, Asking for Opinions, Meetings that go nowhere and Wasting time. Your ego may do well indulging in the activities above, but realistically theu get you no closer to understanding if your idea will be successful or not.


The second stage was designed to bring the audience a little closer to Impact Led Innovation through three practitioners who have applied the concept in their projects and lessons learned.
Vivienne Ming talked about how at a high level we need to address the human condition, to have high and ambitious targets if we really want to drive change and pull for our ideas. Vivienne referred to the failings of summative assessment in education to attain such outcomes. With reference to Vivienne’s own work with her EdTech company Socos Vivienne referred to the need to engage with users to identify real problems, and to ensure that there is product market fit, that there is a business demand, otherwise the concept while commendable may not survive to achieve the desired impact.
Paidi O’Reilly talked about the lessons he has learned through the application of Design Thinking and Lean principles in the area of EdTech through his time working with Texuna Technologies in collaboration with UCC. From his experience he identified 12 hard lessons learned, including the importance of how we frame a problem, the importance of identifying needs over wants, and personally my biggest take away of the twelve, behavior is the real issue, in Paidi’s words “We need to accept that behavior is probably bigger than technology”.
Neil Peirce from Learnovate gave a hands-on talk about how our Horizon 2020 project has engaged design thinking. Neil gave a detailed talk to show how different aspects have been used to define customers and their pain points. The stages demonstrated identifying users through persona development, validation of same and subsequent revisions based on feedback from interviews. The follow-up workshop process involved identifing both the “As-is” situation, the pain points for users and subsequently the “To-be” situation to discover what could make it work. This informed the development and definition of User Stories to inform the project. Neil pointed out 5 key learnings for carrying out successful workshops:

  • Diversity is important
  • Plan for social barriers
  • Plan for social norms
  • Experts as facilitators
  • Allow for prep-time & documenting results

When it comes to User Testing Neil also pointed out that his team’s three takeaways were:

  • Structured & repeatable sessions, clear objectives
  • Carefully selected questions
  • Test early, test often


Finally we wanted to allow attendees get up close and personal with the concepts through two parallel hands-on workshops. Tendayi focused his workshop on Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas. Teams of approximately ten identified hypothesis for a learning technology that they believed would be of value. In rapid fire sessions Tendayi challenged the teams to identify and prioritise the assumptions that lay behind their hypothesis, then to prioritise their most risky assumption and consider how they might test this to validate the idea.
Rob’s workshop looked at ‘customer development’. Based on Rob’s book ‘The Mom Test’, Rob hosted an engaging and interactive session looking at how to get around the comfort of compliments and opinions when talking to potential customers, because basically they will lie to you! How to approach customers asking for concrete feedback on specific issues in their past and identify real problems they have, that they value being solved, and are not being addressed at the moment.

In conclusion Owen White finished the day by clarifying one question. Is Learnovate now an innovation consultancy rather than a Learning Technology research centre? Absolutely not, the Impact Led Innovation capability at Learnovate is to support our ongoing development of solutions in the Learning Tech market, combining our innovation expertise with our existing expertise in Learning Design, UI/UX, Technology and Commercial development.

As I mentioned at the start, ‘Mom Test’ beware but our initial feedback from members and attendees was that we were hitting the right note, the topic resonated and people saw clear value in the approach. Among many positive unprompted messages from from attendees on the day was the following from Brendan Strong, Director of Education at Society of Medical Professionals “Working in eLearning/education in Ireland for nearly 20 years, I have been seeking events like this, and really felt this was the first I’ve attended that really provided useful, research-led and practical advice”

We look forward to assisting our member companies with their Impact Led Innovation projects and to growing the impact our industry has on the world stage.

Learning Technologies Summer Forum

By Janet Benson


The Learning Tech Summer Forum (LTSF) is an event which is designed to develop and expand upon the popular themes from the February Learning Tech conference and exhibition, which Mirjam blogged about earlier this year.

The conference part of the forum focuses on learning in practice, and featured topics such as emerging technologies, collaborative learning, practical social learning and user experience. The associated exhibition contained over 30 seminars and an exhibition area with nearly 40 exhibitors from research companies such as Towards Maturity to learning tech companies and learning industry suppliers such as eLearning Studios and the Fosway Group.
With a day as packed as this, choosing which events to attend can be difficult, and I found myself wishing for a time-turner from Harry Potter to enable me to optimise my day.

Learning and the Brain


After the welcome note from organiser Donald Taylor, the opening address was delivered by Dr. Itiel Dror, a neuroscientist at UCL, and dealt with learning and the brain (http://www.cci-hq.com/home.html). A very funny and engaging speaker, Dr. Dror highlighted that ‘REAL learning is difficult’ while discussing 3 critical (and intertwined) perspectives of real learning at work; namely:
• Acquire – learners need to understand to be able to learn
• Memory – learners need to be able to retrieve information in the long run
• Apply – learners need to be able to apply what they have learned when they return to the workplace

Itiel discussed how the brain has limited resources and that we need to help the brain to learn by guiding it to the right places where possible. He also stated on numerous occasions that “the human mind is not a camera” and that it is active and often requires rewiring in order to change how we do things (we are creatures of habit).


The now and the next of learning and technology

The first seminar I chose to attend was given by David Kelly of the eLearning Guild and was entitled ‘Emerging Technologies – the now and the next of learning and technology’.
David talked about disruption, how disruption itself is neither positive nor negative, but it’s how we react to it that counts. He spoke about how we need to always look at the risks of doing things, as well as at the potential benefits, something which I believe we need to do more with regard to learning and technology and to ensure we don’t jump on the bandwagon of new techs and fads. He suggested approaching technology with a sense of play, and recommends looking at how technology is changing how people live before we look at how technology might impact on how people learn.
On the future of learning and technology, David Kelly discussed interactive video, virtual reality, augmented reality and wearable technology, and referred to a nice recruitment video from Deloitte: http://www.raptmedia.com/customers/deloitte/.
Similar to ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books that I enjoyed as a child, interactive videos look very slick and allow the user to make decisions, but may be expensive to develop and require a certain level of video editing skills as well as access to the relevant software to be effective.
David referred to Karl Kapp in his discussion of game-based learning and Kapp’s view that we cannot implement this type of learning using the linear instructional design approach. Having read Kapp’s book, ‘The Gamification of Learning and Instruction’, I would agree with Kapp’s view on this; however, this is the case with a number of learning approaches and we as learning experience designers need to constantly evolve and upskill.

Micro Learning?

I was interested to learn what Clive Shepherd and Barry Sampson had to say on the topic of micro learning so attended their afternoon talk on the topic.
I am not sold on the notion of ‘micro learning’ and feel that it is simply a buzzword for something that is, essentially, just learning. It is commonly known that learning should be broken into smaller chunks where possible to avoid the risk of ‘cognitive overload’ in learners and the use of videos, infographics, etc. is simply a way of doing this, rather than making it ‘micro learning’.
Clive and Barry defined micro learning as ‘a way of organising self-directed learning into lots of small chunks’ and referred to ‘how-to’ videos as the most common type of micro learning. I believe the word ‘small’ in this definition can be subjective and again, the use of short videos is merely a way of learning, not a type of learning in itself.
The speakers did admit that micro learning cannot be applied to any learning problem and is not inherently motivating, while also stating that spaced practice and repetition are advantages of micro learning. Surely spaced practice and repetition can be applied to most learning scenarios and are not only advantages of so-called micro learning?
I won’t overstress my position on micro learning, but needless to say, I’m still not sold.


My final seminar of the day was delivered by Myles Runham, an independent learning consultant, and concerned the area of User Experience: ‘Why it’s fundamental and how to make it work’.
Myles encouraged the attendees to share their favourite websites and digital products and highlighted that user experience is the primary reason why people switch systems. He also shared the top ten learning tools from 2016, with YouTube at number one and Google Search and Twitter in the second and third spots, respectively.
I agree with Myles’ opinion that user design and learning experience design are not really any different, and I believe as an LX designer that we can use Myles’ 3 rules for a good user/learner experience:
• Simple – know what it’s for/what’s expected
• Consistent – easy to move through/work with
• Standard – familiar/obvious
Myles reiterated that point that we need to focus on our users (learners) and what they need as well as getting to know them and bringing them into the planning and development process. Stakeholders may be focused on a different problem, and this is a key takeaway for me as we move into Learnovate Phase II and our new value proposition.

My Takeaways?

Regarding my personal focus on learning experience design, the key takeaways for me were how most training is really re-training and that we need to analyse how similar or different the previous information is that we want to ‘rewire’.
Also, external motivation such as targets and performance reviews can often get in the way of learning by way of corrupting motivation. We need to get our learners on board before we can even begin to hope for change to occur and where possible we need to give them an experience.
As Dr. Dror says, “it’s not what you teach but what they learn that counts”.
As I had to run for my flight, I missed Donald’s closing address, but with a number of takeaways to bring back to Learnovate, I was satisfied that my attendance at this conference was worthwhile for both me and for the centre and am already looking forward to next year.

Impact Led Innovation – 3 stories from the field

Impact led innovation is all about practical implementation. At Learning Tech Ireland you will get insights from three speakers sharing their experiences applying the concept in real world, learning technology, scenarios.


Vivienne Ming (Named one of Inc. Magazine’s “Top 10 Women to Watch in Tech”)
Vivienne will share two experiences developing products, one in the classroom and one in the home, to solve real problems for real people. AI-driven systems for education, the importance of design thinking for improvement science.

Paidi O’Reilly UCC
Lessons learned from leading an Edtech Research Centre and introducing Design Thinking as a key organisational capability. With empathy-building activities at its core, the Centre specialises in leveraging open source software to develop innovative classroom engagement, assessment, and adaptive learning solutions.

Neil PeirceLearnovate
The aim of the H2020 DEVELOP project is to deliver an adaptive learning environment that dynamically tailors the exploration, comprehension, and planning of learning opportunities and career paths in medium and large companies. Neil will discuss the Design Thinking approach the team took to get a deep understanding of the user needs and how building on these insights DEVELOP seeks to provide effective solutions.

The day also includes; world expert keynotes, 2 workshops and free guides on implementing Impact Led Innovation. Places are filling up, do not miss this excellent opportunity to boost your team’s innovation capabilities. To book now click here


LX Conference: Learning in the Age of Experience

By Janet Benson

The LX Conference, held on 15-19 May, was the first online conference dedicated to Learning Experience (LX) Design and for me, as a Learning Experience Designer, this conference felt like the right fit for attendance, partly because of the theme of LX design but also to experience attendance at an online conference to see how the organisers made use of various technologies to host the event.


As a centre of excellence for innovation and research in learning technologies, Learnovate is committed to impactful and sustainable innovation in the learning design world, and hearing from/interacting with experts in the fields of user experience and learning experience design ensures that we are up-to-date on current and future learning design processes, including technologies and strategies.

One of my favourite talks of the conference, Joyce Seitzinger of Academic Tribe (https://academictribe.co/), and co-organiser of the conference, provided some practical advice for designing learning. She also shares some of my own frustrations with how corporate learning often does not reflect what is happening with learning outside of the corporate environment, particularly with regard to technology. Research is often way ahead of where corporate learning sits with regard to technology and effective learning theory. For example, continuing to inflict ‘death by PowerPoint’ on employees and use of lengthy read-and-understand training instead of making use of technology to put learners in the driving seat where possible.
Joyce reiterated Jess Knott’s and Perrin Rowland’s talks (other conference speakers) in discussing how we can orchestrate the elements for providing the opportunity for learning experiences to occur, while providing a nice process model for L&D design, as well as her own ‘tweaked’ version:


(Joyce Seitzinger, LX Conference, May 2017)

Using the double diamond diagram, Joyce highlighted how we need to find out more about the problems that we are trying to address, before attempting to address potential solutions:
(Joyce Seitzinger, LX Conference, May 2017)

Joyce provided links to other experts on the topic of LX Design, in particular Jeff Patton and his use of story-mapping, and the book ‘Game Storming’ by Dave Gray and Sunni Brown. ‘Game Storming’ (a book that I have since ordered for Learnovate) is a book that provides practical tools and techniques to encourage communication, to help to generate innovative ideas, and to encourage engagement and creativity, which are all parts of the LX design process.

Indi Young, a data scientist, researcher, author and co-founder of Adaptive Path (http://www.adaptivepath.com/) focused on designing with empathy and stressed the importance of focusing on customer needs in order to base information on real data rather than intuition.
This is crucial at Learnovate as we work to identify how we can help our clients by listening to their issues and spending time with them in order to promote the participatory design process (actively involve all stakeholders in the design process to help ensure the results meet the client needs and are usable).

Dr. Kemi Jona, founding director of the Lowell Institute School at Northwestern University, discussed a platform strategy for enabling next generation learning experiences, and introduced his talk by stating that technology has been used to sustain rather than transform the infrastructure and practices of learning, a bold opening statement.
Working in the area of learning design and technology, and having completed an online MSc. in Digital Education, I would have to disagree with Dr. Jona, as I feel that technology has transformed the learning landscape, although perhaps not to the extent that was expected or promised by advocates of learning tech. For example, learning design and course creation has had to evolve due to the nature of online learning; courses developed for face-to-face learning environments do not simply transfer to the online environment and therefore new skills and process have had to be created in order to provide effective learning experiences in the online space.
Dr. Jona stated that learning is lagging behind innovations in other sectors, which I would agree with in relation to corporate learning, and which links back to my earlier notes on Joyce Seitzinger’s discussion. He also highlighted the General Electric (GE) feedback app which they have used to replace the performance review process, something of great interest to us here at Learnovate (see below). The app is called PD@GE and involves peer to peer feedback to replace the annual or biannual performance review discussion, which can take place in a vacuum.
At Learnovate we have designed a mobile demonstrator app for competency assessment through peer-to-peer feedback in organisations to address the challenges that traditional performance management have, for example it being ad hoc and decontextualized. Learnovate’s Business Competencies project is nicely aligned with the issues as addressed by Dr. Jona.


Jolanda Morkel is a qualified architect and shared her experiences of developing a blended architecture studio in the Department of Architectural Technology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in Cape Town, South Africa.
Jolanda spoke about conversational learning and how her students co-designed the blended architecture course through conversation. She recognised that learning design is iterative and never complete, as she is always ‘observing, listening and reflecting’, while making learners part of the process of learning design and course creation encourages engagement and as Jolanda mentions, ‘you both learn through the mistakes’. This harks back to the concept of participatory design, and how ensuring that we involve stakeholders, learners, etc. in our learning design processes ensures a favourable outcome for our clients and for Learnovate.
For LX designers with UX/UI experience, this conference would not tell you anything you didn’t already know, apart from perhaps the concluding talk by Amy Burvall, which focused on promoting creativity generally (and had far too much content for me to discuss in a blog).
My key takeaways were how we might apply the concepts of user experience design to learning experience design, and to make use of those already established tools where possible and where relevant. The conference also provided me with some useful contacts and resources in the world of LX design that I intend to further research and perhaps discuss on a later blog.
I would say though that the conference organisers could have taken a leaf out of Jolanda Morkel’s book and made more use of the technologies out there to promote communication and collaboration between participants themselves and between participants and speakers.
Maybe next year?

(Jolanda Morkel, LX Conference, May 2017)

You think you have a great idea! But what would your mom think?


Most innovative ideas start with a spark, an idea that will transform learners, performance and the business. In many cases, friends (your Mom!) and potential customers are asked if they think it is a great idea? Next, with positive feedback, a product/service development project can kick-off. Later everyone is surprised when in the vast majority of cases the final result is not successful.

Rob Fitzpatrick, author of The Mom Test, is an expert in ‘how to talk to customers when everyone is lying to you’. Join Rob at Learning Tech Ireland 2017 where he will share his insights on how to develop innovation ideas using proven techniques. ,“Learning from customers is critical for building new products, but customer feedback is notoriously unreliable, especially pre-launch when it matters most. We’ll look at how to separate the fluffy compliments from the real data (and buying signals), ensuring you get more value out of the time you spend learning from and selling to your customers.”

To book now click here


For more information on the event, speakers, and to book visit our web page

If you have any questions relating to the event, please do not hesitate to contact me or any of the team here at Learnovate. Look forward to seeing you on the 28th!


Peter Gillis
Learnovate Centre