I’m just back from spending a couple of days at the eLearning Guild summer seminar in Boston. ELG conferences are always a terrific place to take the pulse on what’s happening in elearning in organizations. Here’s what I’m bringing back to ponder, and it’s mostly about how learning professionals can put themselves in a position to add tremendous value now and in the future…
Brent Schlenker, the Guild’s Emerging Technologies Evangelist (great job title!), gave the opening keynote. He told us that if we are going to thrive in the 21st century (that is, be able to add value), we need to attend to these four trends:
> Marketing trends – The ultimate objective of marketing is to change behavior (sound familiar?). We can learn from marketing, plus it’s usually the department with the money and the vision to initiate use of new technologies (“they get all the fun toys”).
> The Brain – There is a lot of exciting work going on in the realm of brain science, and it may help us to understand learning better. (Editorial note: I’m not entirely convinced we are making the right leaps in applying brain science to learning, and I’ve seen strong arguments to that effect. But Brent cited John Medina’s Brain Rules as a good source and I have to say I don’t disagree with what Medina says is important.)
> Social Media – It changes everything… We need to figure out how to capitalize on social media by focusing on the functionality, not the technology. User-generated content is key.
> Game Design – There is more and more evidence that people playing internet games are learning exactly the kinds of soft skills that businesses need (decision making, resource management, group dynamics, talent management, monitoring a variety of inputs, etc.). We can leverage this technology to create exceptional learning environments.
At the other end of the confernece, the final session provided a chance to poll a high-profile panel of experts on the future of elearning. Panelists included Lee Maxey, Allison Rossett, Marc Rosenberg, Ellen Wagner, Bob Mosher, and Will Thallheimer. Here again, the conversation focused on how we can best add value.
Figuring out how to leverage new technology continued to be a theme (this is, after all, the eLearning Guild conference). According to these folks, the most interesting new technologies are Twitter and a variety of performance support applications made mobile by smart phones. I’ve been trying to figure out how these new technologies can serve a purpose for learning (and frankly, I’ve been coming up short on ideas)… but listening to the panel discussion, it finally hit me that these applications enable the kind of just-in-time, just-enough support that our learners so urgently want. (Duh!!)
For example, Allison shared that she had taken several courses in the past to learn about wines, but they didn’t really help her do what she wanted to do. Now, with several applications on her iPhone, she can get wine recommendations (what to serve with a specific dish) and reviews (on a particular wine) in an instant – and being able to make wine choices was what she had been trying to learn but didn’t retain. (Wine selection is likely not the kind of application you might need in business or academics, but it won’t take us long to come up with ideas.) Think awhile on the ability to marry photo capabilities (face and object recognition) with GPS capabilities with access to the web – the possibilities are endless.
Another brief discussion focused on instructional design and the skills needed to be effective. Marc immediatedly cited writing skills as a critical ingredient, and Lee underscored the need to be able to do an effective front-end analysis of the audience and their needs. Of course, that also means we need to have the ability to influence clients to allow us to do the right kind of assessment at the front end of a project.
The conversation echoed an earlier session offered by Ellen Wagner, who passionately argues that instructional design is emphatically NOT dead, that it is one of the most critical skills we offer (one that makes us unique and uniquely valuable). Ellen cites four prerequisites for designers: the ability to write using a variety of forms and styles for different effects, the ability to present ideas so as to inform, engage, and persuade; demonstrated technological proficiencies using a variety of software in a variety of platforms, and having an appreciation for design. Tall order. See Ellen’s blog for more…
In some ways, the conversations were not new, but in other ways, presenters gave a fresh perspective and new urgency, which is why I am so energized by attending conferences. I was intrigued by the sessions, pleased to have the chance to share some of my company’s activities in enabling informal learning, and delighted to visit Boston (and to walk along the Charles River). I’ll be giving in and buying some kind of smart phone soon. 🙂