Client commitments kept me from visiting the Learning Technologies conference at Olympia, London (25-26 Jan). This event is advertised to be Europe’s leading showcase of technology supported workplace learning. I was looking forward to mixing with some of the leading thinkers in this space. When it became apparent that I would no longer be able to attend in person, I saw an opportunity to put the theory (of technology supported learning) to test. My hypothesis was ‘Did I need to be physically present at a conference to learn from it’.

I decided to test this against my ‘learning objectives’ for this event? I had three objectives (1) Share experiences with the leading thinkers attending the event (2) Learn about the latest trends in technology supported learning and (3) Build my network of L&D practitioners

Share experiences with leading thinkers: This turned out to be easier than I expected! Almost all the key speakers scheduled to speak at the event were tweeting their thoughts at #LT12uk – there are about 100 tweets from 30 tweeters (not counting the re-tweets) in the last 10 days. From there on, I was like Alistair in Wonderland. Following twitters that caught my fancy – in particular @timbuckteeth is (as the name suggests!) Steve Wheeler (Associate Professor of Learning Technology, Plymouth University) and his video on Digital Learning futures. I agree with Steve when he says that he sees no organisational constraints when it comes to adopting new learning technologies. It is only individuals and organisations that impose those constraints. The constraints are the problems or barriers you perceive need to be overcome. I was glad I had overcome this constraint. L&D practitioners need to play a key role in identifying and helping to overcome these constraints, and thereby encouraging learners to take control of their development.

Learn about latest trends: Without getting into the individual versus collective wisdom debate, I can easily say that I gleaned a lot from the ‘snap shot surveys’ conducted at the event – and posted online. These surveys were quick and captured the pulse of the audience. Agreed that they were not based on a scientific approach to data sampling, collection and analysis but they also did not take months to complete. One survey conducted by REDTRAY on 50 participants during lunchtime on one of the event days highlighted that 27% saw Virtual Classroom as the preferred delivery method. Interestingly, a Bersin & Associates annual survey (for last year, of course) indicated a similar trend – i.e. almost 20% of training was delivered by large organisations through Virtual Classrooms / Online training. A ‘live’ poll conducted by Brightwave touched upon an important question – ‘What is the best use of cloud to enable effective workplace learning?’ 43% of participants felt that the cloud enabled creation of a knowledge environment and another 31% felt that the cloud empowered learners to take control. This was particularly powerful when combined with what Graham O’Connell (Head of Learning and Curriculum at Civil Service Learning) said: ‘It’s not about how we give people information, but how we let people build their own knowledge’. I believe this where L&D practitioners can be most influential by providing an environment (just like the event did for me) to learn on-demand (cloud-based access to learning resources), in bite-sized (modular, ’10-minute’ videos, experiential stories), self-paced chunks. By allowing learners to draw insights from different pieces of knowledge, L&D practitioners can significantly enhance learner retention.

Build my network: As I was mulling over this challenge, I received a LinkedIn connection request from an L&D colleague with whom I had been planning (unsuccessfully – on account of diary and location conflicts!) to meet in person over the last 4 months. As I dug deeper into the power of social networking, I saw that the event had a Facebook page with ‘Likes’ from 255 L&D practitioners. With a single click – I was connected to all of them. Granted that I did not get to meet them, hear their voice or exchange business cards – but there was a common interest that connected us. This network lasts longer than the 2-day event and what’s more, it includes people like me who wanted to go but couldn’t – people I would never have met at the event. L&D has for long advocated the use of learning networks as an effective format for workplace learning. L&D practitioners need to find ways to harness the power of social networks in the workplace – set-up an L&D group on LinkedIn for your organisation, identify a moderator, encourage non-HR membership.

So do you think my hypothesis held up to the test?