learning 2017I recently got back from the Learning 2017 conference. Like last year, I want to share some of what I learned and experienced. The sessions and events I attended were quite different this time, so they’ve provided a different set of insights. In no particular order:

Development Must be Continuous

  • Whether you’re talking about your personal development, a learner’s development, or your organization’s development it needs to be ongoing to be effective.
  • Check box “we did that” mentalities lead to stagnation and, at best, short term gains.
  • True continuous development requires commitment, adopting a change mindset, and staying curious.
  • Be careful and don’t make changes for the sake of making changes. If something is working well it should be left in place. If something isn’t working it can be improved upon.
  • When people take ownership of their development it means more to them. Trying to require or assign one-size-fits all programs probably won’t go over well in the long run. It’s harder for people to become personally invested in them.

Multi-Directional Collaboration is Key

  • Learning design is not a one-way street. The designers, learners, higher-ups, etc. should all be invested in it.
  • Ask the members of the organization what they think is working and what isn’t. Not only does it involve them in the process, they can often offer valuable insight, suggest possible solutions, and identify gaps.
  • Start a dialogue. Asking for feedback through surveys isn’t organic, two-way conversation. Sitting down and talking to people, and letting them talk to one another, can lead to ideas and conclusions that no single person would have arrived at alone.
  • Take a holistic view. Get multiple different departments and/or seniority levels to weigh in on a problem or idea. You’ll get lots of different viewpoints to pull from and it helps increase the sense that everyone is working together as an organization, not just as a project team or a department.
  • Follow through. You can generate all the good ideas and excitement in the world, but if you don’t do anything with them you’ll quickly lose momentum and the trust of the people involved.

No Metrics, No Proof

  • If you’re not collecting any type of data about your learning offerings you’re doing yourself and your organization a disservice. How do you know if anything is really working or where the shortcomings are if all you can do is say, “We think” or “It seems like”?
  • “Smile sheets” and other baseline feedback are an easy place to start. But you shouldn’t stop there.
  • Having metrics to back up your work can help you get stakeholder buy-in for future projects. And, who knows, it may even help you get a bit more budget to work with in the long run if you can show that what you’re doing makes a difference.
  • Return on investment (ROI) is one of the most commonly used metrics. But it’s not the only one. Collect whatever data are relevant to what you need/want to measure.
  • Five areas you can look at when assessing a learning environment or event are: Design, Setting, Structure, Learner Readiness, and Follow-up.

Telling Stories is Essential

  • We’re surrounded by stories all the time. Writing scenarios for a course, getting to know someone by listening to them, telling them about ourselves, watching a movie, etc.
  • Data and metrics are meaningless if they don’t convey a story. For example, “The numbers show that we sold ten seats in the course.” By itself, without context, it doesn’t mean anything. There’s no story. “The numbers show that we sold ten seats in the course. Hey, we only had ten seats. So, we sold all of them!” That has a story. It means something.
  • We don’t remember generic “events” well. We remember “experiences.” When you have an emotional reaction to something, positive or negative, you’re more likely to recall it later. It gives you a story to latch onto.
  • The “procedural generation” that’s being used to create large, randomized areas in video games might come into play in eLearning someday. Imagine having a scenario creation tool that could automatically create hundreds or thousands of possible customer conversation scenarios, based on a set of parameters.

The Unexpected Can, and Will, Happen

  • IBM’s JoJo robot, powered by IBM Watson, literally fell off its pedestal during one of the general sessions. The fall of this insanely expensive robot had the entire assembly holding its collective breath. Everything turned out alright.
  • John Lithgow (an award-winning actor, author, musician, etc. who was a keynote speaker at the conference) randomly wandered through one of the session rooms I was in.
  • I had no intention of going to the CLO Q&A session that was held during lunch each day. I ended up at it both days.
  • In several cases, I preferred the sessions I went to “off the cuff” to the ones I choose in advance.
  • One of the convention center staff members remembered me from last year. I’m not talking about the staff from the Masie Center, which hosts the Learning conference (though it was great getting to re-connect with them too). I mean someone from the convention center itself. Someone who sees hundreds of people every day remembered me. That was a great feeling.

In short, it was another wonderful Learning conference with its own set of lessons and surprises. Hopefully I’ll be able to go again next year and continue bringing back takeaways to share with all of you.

If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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