Learning Technologies Summer Forum

By Janet Benson

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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

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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).

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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.

UX/LX

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.