What did Learning Technologies conference teach us?

Asli Derya, February 17, 2020

I’ve just been to the #LT20UK conference and it feels like I’ve been to the Mecca and back. It’s the biggest learning technology conference & exhibition on this side of the water and it was packed on both days. I also observed a lot of people who came across from Europe which is a great testament to the reputation of the conference. So here are some of my reflections from the two conference days, and a few key takeaways.

It’s a long read, I’m not making any excuses on it being long. So if you rather only look at key takeaways, skip to the end.

Day 1 – Wednesday 12th February 2020

#T3S1 – Maximising the impact of learning

Chair: Andrew Jacobs

Speakers: Bruce Swan, Panasonic & Andy Wooler, Hitachi

This session included 2 case studies. Panasonic case study focused on the premise of; delivering simple concepts that people out in the business can relate to. Bruce talked about aligning L&D strategy to business strategy, having tangible metrics (KPIs) to measure impact, stakeholder engagement and keeping agile (review and refresh to remain fit for purpose). During Andy’s case study we found out that our data systems -learning or otherwise- doesn’t talk to each other -surprise! This of course throws in a whole host of problems, like; your learner goes into a Udemy course for a mandatory learning and discovers other things, but your business has no idea what they are learning. And if you do not know how attrition rates and learning -and other things- are correlated how effectively you can plan for your workforce, or even for your business?

Favourite punchline: a quote from Andrew Jacobs; “Content is key but context is kingdom”.


#L1S2 – Vendor relations

Speakers: Helen Smyth, Sainsbury’s & Amanda Nolen, NilesNolen

So, the first thing to do is to look at what you already have. Considering research (see RedThread Research link in Ecosystems section) found on average we use 11 different techs in learning, the likelihood is you already have some tech you can use.

Beyond that, it’s OK to accept not every vendor is for every business every time. Both from vendor and the business’ perspective.

Interesting debate came about on: demos vs pilots and there was a strong feeling around the room and from the speakers on piloting before buying, both to see if it’s what you are looking for and also to test compatibility with the vendor too.

Favourite punchline: I’ve already wrote this on LinkedIn but who doesn’t love a good metaphor, especially when it’s so well suited: “Before going shopping it’s great to know what’s in your fridge.”


#T1S2 – Learning ecosystems

Chair: Ger Driesen 

Speaker: Dani Johnson, RedThread Research

Digitalisation and upskilling are the big conversation, and companies are willing to pay for it. There’s also a lot of choice -210!- out there for L&D leaders to deliver learning.

2019 LinkedIn Learning report found that:

  • 68% of employees prefer to learn at work
  • 58% of employees prefer to learn at their own pace
  • 49% of employees prefer to learn at the point of need

The last point made me think though; …still less than half though, bears the question should this really be a priority for L&D?

So how do you build a learning ecosystem? -have a philosophy, structure, internal & external sustainability and continually evolve to stay current. Easy right? Well, I let you decide for yourselves. Here’s the link to the full research report

The discussion followed on whether the ecosystem components needed to be connected, but I’ll get to that later.

Favourite punchline: “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion” Deming


#T5S3 – Stakeholder buy-in

Chair: Julie Drybrough

Speakers: Mirjam Neelen & Connie Malamed

This session was run as a small workshop. We were given a persona and Mirjam and Connie walked us through the 4 stages of design thinking: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype/Test. There are a few stakeholder management models out there and design thinking is so trendy nowadays so combining the two was a clever move IMHO. One to have in the toolkit for later on


Day 2 – Thursday 13th February 2020

Keynote – Daniel Hulme

This was very very interesting. Daniel talked about how data and information isn’t the same thing, the ethical concerns around AI, with the example of trolley problem, the hidden dynamics in our workplace hierarchies (with a very entertaining graphic! -see below) and more.

What struck me the most were:

  • how talent attraction is influenced by how sexy your industry & how challenging the problems you are facing are.
  • Satalia runs a scheme where they ask the employees to declare how much pay they should get each year. Then it gets voted by others in the company, and you get more votes based on how closely you work with the person. Votes are collated in 3 buckets: agree, disagree or increase. They found women consistently undervalue themselves. And they get more votes to increase what they asked in the first place. Speaks volumes… #womeninlearning we’ve got a lot to do!

Favourite punchline: “companies do not have data problems, they have decision making problems, and decision making is still a human feature.”


#T1S4 – Learning technology landscape

Chair: Steve Wheeler

Speakers: David Perring & David Wilson, Fosway Group

Fosway group shared their findings on learning technology landscape. The research participants are businesses in complex environments with difficult problems to solve, which pretty much everyone in this day and age I suppose.

More than half or respondents agreed that their learning platforms fit for the modern workforce, top growth areas of content saw the blended learning as front runner, with video as its crown prince, and there was an even split on “Is having a fragmented ecosystem is more of a blessing or a curse?” Well I’m in the curse camp.

Here’s the report

Lunch time saw me do a little detour to the Exhibition Hall to join some of my fellow board directors at the eLN booth where we get to meet members and have conversations with some exhibition attendees about membership.

In the meantime #womeninlearning had a lunchtime session at the conference with a packed room!


#T4S5 -Content Development

Chair: Barbara Thompson

Speaker: Julie Dirksen

I saw Julie speak at an eLN Connect conference a few years back and there’s no hiding from it: she’s ace! Her book; Design for How People Learn should be a mantlepiece for any instructional designer.

Julie talked about developing content for complex skills. With complex problems where there’s no one right way of doing things, how do you go about it? Well, there’s an easy answer of course, but there was a key piece on “patterns emerging” –if you do something many many times you start understanding where the similarities are.

Favourite punchline:


#T2S6 – Learning Culture

Chair: Nigel Paine

Speakers: Kristina Tsiriotakis, Deciem & Craige Heaney, Diageo

This session covered 2 case studies from 2 very different organisations, in terms of size and journeys.

In Deciem’s case Kristina talked about how to build a learning culture from scratch and Diageo just went through a learning strategy refresh.

Deciem’s story was heart warming and made all of us in the room slightly jealous and it focused on being: co-constructed, communal, co-directed and campaign based.

Diageo focused on: Business strategy alignment, employee experience, learning alignment, learner ownership and infrastructure. Their design process focused on; looking at what’s consumed, shared, liked and finding commonalities and what people like and what are the competencies being developed which then informed the design decisions in learning.

Favourite punchline: Kristina’s question which was the guiding principle “Why would people choose to learn here?”


Key Takeaways:

1) I gave in and joined Twitter, as Learning tech has a whole life there and you can learn soooo much, if you follow the right people @ADeryaLandD is the handle for random, personal, L&D related musings.

2) L&D people are lovely! Are you looking for proof? Here it is: subsequently leaving the conference, after smiling at anyone who walked passed me the whole day and having the smiled returned, I kept smiling at anyone who I passed by on my commute, only to find blank look of avoidance which proves my point of; L&D folks are just plain lovely

3) Learning ecosystems; as you picture it doesn’t exist -yet. But you can still create one now, just be realistic.

4) Marketing, design thinking, UX/UI, data analysis all have a space in the learning construct, learn about it but respect that they are also professions in their own rights and you need their expertise as we ask business to respect what we have (Learning, HR…etc.) as an expertise.

5) A learning strategy has to be; dynamic, employee centric, in the flow of work, in line with business strategy and not be afraid to take risks, fail and learn from its mistakes to be better. There’s no point in navel gazing or tweaking it a little and look for impact. Calibration happens afterwards not while you are strategizing.

6) Useful books, reports, things

a) Design for How People Learn – Julie Dirksen

b) The Learning Challenge: Dealing with Technology, Innovation and Change in Learning and Development – Nigel Paine

c) Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

d) Ten Steps to Complex Learning – J. van Merrienboer and Paul Arthur Kirschner

e) The Art and Science of Designing a Learning Technology Ecosystem – Dani Johnson and Priyanka Mehrotra (link shared early on in the article)

f) Back to the Future from Emerald Works download link here

g) Training Journey has a campaign for 3 free digital copies with the code: LT20

7) Even if you cannot make it to the conference, visit the exhibition – it’s free and has a busy free seminar programme. It can be very inspirational and thought provoking.


And lastly, there was a resounding agreement in; the new shiny tech is not being the holy grail, but the people. Reminded me this quote which is my last favourite punchline for this article: “Technology will make things possible, talent will make them happen.” Ray de Villiers