Shifting Perspective: Recap of Learning Solutions #LSCon and Learning Ecosystems #Ecocon

How do you capture the “vibe” of two collocated conferences with over 100 sessions? The Learning Solutions and Learning and Performance Ecosystems conferences held in late March by the eLearning Guild in Orlando, Florida each had their own vibe but the overarching phrase I would use to describe them would be “Shifting Perspectives.” We have all heard countless times that the learning industry like so many others is in the crosshairs of major upheavals fueled by technology and driven by intense economic forces. These two conferences went far in showing concrete examples of thinking and methodologies that are equipped to handle this level of change. The key to making a difference is in shifting our perspective and these sessions made a strong case for doing just that.

Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, the gurus of Performance Support held a Morning Buzz session on Wednesday. These sessions are usually supposed to be informal chats over coffee about topics of interest but Bob and Conrad led a full scale invasion of their topic piling on a wealth of information and insight. Their key message was that much of what people need to know is needed at the moment when the work is being done. Learning groups need to shift their perspective from pulling people out of the work to learn through training towards bringing learning into the workflow as Performance Support. “When we enter the classroom, we leave context behind. We then have to work hard to recreate the context.” Bob explained. “With Performance Support, the context is already there in the work.”

The keynote speaker Tom Wujec used the recent history of technological disruption to show the necessity for changing perspective in order to keep up. He challenged the crowd by saying “As educators we have an obligation to help people understand how to use technology.”

The audience at Learning Solutions is always lively, fun and a bit irreverent but over on the Learning Ecosystems side, things were more serious. Here were the people who have been tasked in their companies with creating this amorphous thing called an Ecosystem. When Marc Rosenberg and Steve Foreman, both outspoken proponents of the Ecosystems concept gave their presentations, the attendees were hanging on every word. Marc explained that we all already have Ecosystems. The question is whether they are robust enough to serve our needs. Again we were being encouraged to shift our perspectives from being focused on what we need to deliver as learning professionals to focus more on what the associates need to know to do their jobs. This expands learning beyond just training and across a spectrum of resources: Talent Management, Knowledge Management, Social Media collaboration, access to experts and Performance Support as well as standard training.

The person who for me gave the best hands-on example of this kind of shift in perspective was my friend JD Dillon who recounted his approach over the past five years transforming corporate learning at Kaplan. Instead of focusing on the content of courses, JD focused on the knowledge that people needed access to. If it wasn’t written down and available for everyone then it wasn’t going to be provided as learning. To that end he built a Wiki of the entire body of knowledge of how work gets done at Kaplan. More importantly he built it and maintained it by creating a culture of collaboration. as the work process evolves, the people doing the work continuously contribute to the Wiki. The next shift happens in moving needs analysis directly to the learners themselves. Every morning everyone plays games on the Gaming-Assessment engine provided by Axonify. When they struggle they are sent to the exact place in the Wiki where the information exists. When they win, they get points that can be traded for swag or bid on things like a 25 minute meeting with the CEO. This twist in focus means that the daily life of an employee is tied in with learning and contributing to knowledge. This frees the L&D department to create targeted learning that covers deeper more impactful topics.

The world around us is shifting rapidly and shifting our perspectives is how we will adapt and better serve our constituents. Conferences like these are good places to be be reminded and encouraged in this direction.

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#LSCon Recap: Learn Together, Struggle Alone

It’s true. We learn better together. Most of the information I got at Learning Solutions 2013 in Orlando could have been gleaned from reading countless articles, however, there is something about being face to face with your Personal Learning Network (PLN), that activates learning on another level.

I’ve been interacting with the people at this conference for several years but I never met any of them in person. Once I introduced myself everyone was so welcoming. People like Lisa Goldstein and Jane Bozarth brought me into the ever growing circle. In this way I experienced the conference as part of a larger ongoing conversation. That heightened the value of everything I took in.

Another multiplier effect was the LSCon App. Not only was it practical for organizing your schedule but it connected the sessions you were taking to the stream of conversations from the rest of the participants. The Twitter stream was also very active. In this way the conversation expanded beyond the conference. Tom Spiglanin, one of the speakers, created a flash chat on Twitter using a hash tag from the session number (#LS706). Instead of asking questions from blank faces, he got a stream of answers from people who may not always participate and even from beyond Orlando. Then after the conference, the backchannel curated by David Kelly allowed participants to review and share the material.

I’m not known as a great multitasker and yet I was engrossed in the sessions, taking notes in Evernote and commenting on the LSCon app and on Twitter. Far from being distracted, I was totally engaged and processing the ideas in a way that went beyond simply absorbing information.

This was an eLearning conference but we were in live sessions. One of the key themes was “learning at the point of need” and yet we were learning for future application. Another theme was “performance support” and yet what we were learning was about the conceptual framework of performance not performance itself.

Learning together meant being open to new ideas and new combinations of thinking.