Learning Technologies 2023: Our key takeaways
As the biggest learning and development event in the Thinqi calendar, it was great to get back to ExCeL London this year on 3rd-4th May for the Learning Technologies Conference and Exhibition 2023.
As we expected, artificial intelligence (AI) was a hot topic, with Donald H Taylor’s Global Sentiment Survey this year highlighting a shifting focus on AI and analytics.
If you missed the conference or just need a reminder, here are some of our key takeaways from the sessions we attended.
AI is a tipping point for learning
“AI is a tipping point for learning,” said Conrado Schlochauer in his session, AI and Lifelong Learning. “You won’t lose your job because of AI, you’ll lose your job to someone who knows how to use AI.”
Conrado explored AI in the context of self-directed learning and how it can help people develop it as a skill. This involves addressing three key biases in L&D:
- Having a ‘school’ mindset - This means assuming that adult learners must study “subjects” in the hope that the information will someday be useful. Quoting Edward Lindeman: “Adult education represents a process by which adults learn to become aware of and to evaluate their experiences.” This means we need to move away from spoon-feeding answers and instead support adults to become more self-directed in corporate L&D.
- Assuming that learning is content consumption - Conrad believes that learning is the distillation of knowledge through improved performance. Note that this language is far more aligned with that of the business and focuses on actual outcomes.
- Having a narrow view of adult learners - Adults are ‘lifewide’ learners, which is a concept developed by the UN to encapsulate learning that happens in both formal and informal environments. During the pandemic especially, we learned more about our own skills in self-directed learning – and how many of us aren’t aware of those skills in ourselves. The good news is that skills can be recognised and developed.
He then listed some key use cases for large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT in developing this skill, rather than relying on it to produce content that no one can be sure is 100% accurate. “AI may create a new class of functional illiterates,” said Conrad. “L&D should guide the transformation.”
These use cases included:
Personalisation - Training learners to become curators using technology.
Creating learning programmes - AI can be a great starting point for structuring learning programmes and can act as an assistant. For example, a prompt can help produce a workshop structure and simple role-play exercises.
Analysis of quantitative content - Key takeaways or pain points from a larger piece of content can be instantly condensed into a useful summary.
AI tutoring - For example, a prompt in this context could be: “Act as a career coach and help me to understand…”
L&D admin - Prompts can be used to help check for bias in content, answer emails, etc.
The take-home message?
“Be a presentist.”
We need to understand what’s happening without judging. And we need to embrace emerging technologies and learn how to use them to enhance what we do.
“Learning is about expanding your perception”
One of the most inspiring (and engaging) sessions we attended was The Neuroscience of Perception, Creativity, Bias and Learning by Beau Lotto on Day 2. How do our biases and need for certainty block us from learning and what can we do to change it?
A starting point is to understand our barriers. “We think we are objective and have been trained to always focus on answers,” said Beau. While biases and assumptions are important for survival, they can also get in the way of positive change. “Most learning strategies miss out on the most important step in change – to deviate from not knowing. We need to go not from A to B, but from A to Not A.”
In other words, we need to let go of what we already know if we are going to open ourselves up to learning something new. We make predictions based on past experiences and will actively avoid or ignore conflict (or people) that don’t fit our expectations. Instead, we need to get comfortable with uncertainty and look beyond our own vantage points to see things from other perspectives.
This means letting go of the need to enter conflict with the sole intention of proving we’re right.
Beau gave us the following tips:
Understand your innate capacity - Change is possible because our brains are plastic and we are constantly adapting to a complex and changing world. He suggests enriching your environment and listening more. The more we can expand our perceptions, the more we can expand meaning.
Play more - “Learning is playing with intention,” said Beau. It helps us go from knowing to understanding by decreasing our need for cognitive closure, improving our connections with others and increasing our appetite for risk.
Go into conflict differently - We typically enter conflict the wrong way – to win, not to learn. But we can only learn when in conflict. Instead, we need to enter with a question rather than an answer – less “what”, “where” and “when”, and more “why” and “what if”. Only then can we iterate to better questions, just as we do in science. The key thing is having the humility to believe that the other person might be right.
Building learning engagement starts with awareness
In Steve Finch’s session, Standing Out From the Noise: Marketing Tips for L&D, he highlighted the perennial challenge of learner engagement, and how ‘marketing and communications’ is one of L&D’s weakest skills in the 2022 LPI L&D Dashboard.
Marketers know exactly how to raise awareness through powerful campaigns to promote their offering, which is what L&D needs to look at before building engagement with workplace learning. Steve listed some simple tactics you can use to get started.
Research your audience - You can’t communicate effectively with your audience until you know who they are and what they want. Today, people want and expect communications that are timely, personalised and relevant to them. To get started, create a set of personas for different departments in your organisation to find out people’s pain points, motivations and goals. These will inform how you and your marketing team will communicate learning as a solution. Get talking to your learners.
Create your learning ‘brand’ - To create a positive brand identity, you need to establish a strong connection between your learning programmes, staff development and how learning helps to positively contribute to broader business goals. How does the wider business perceive the L&D function? Do people associate it with positive or negative feelings? Is the L&D ‘brand’ experience consistent with the rest of the organisation? A brand perceptual map can help you determine how you are currently perceived and where you need to be – then shape this perception in the eyes of your target audience (i.e. your learners).
Talk to your marketing team - Create an operational-level agreement between your L&D department and the marketing team. While marketing should be accountable for raising awareness of your learning programmes, you should be accountable for continuing to engage people once they’ve signed up.
Identify your digital champions - Think about your brand advocates (or digital champions) for your L&D brand. Those in more senior roles are particularly powerful ambassadors for learning. It’s their stories that will help your staff join the dots between a good learning programme and career success. As the people your staff know and trust, leaders can act as social influencers to drive positive behaviour change.
Use a simple communications framework - To drive awareness and inspire action, you can use some of the simple communications frameworks used by marketing. In this session, Steve pointed to the four-step AIDA model as a good starting point.
Employ ‘drip’ marketing tactics - You can ‘drip feed’ nuggets of valuable information to learners at key moments – say, a once-a-week summary of what’s been learned and a reminder of the next steps. This helps to ‘nurture’ learners and maintain engagement once they’re aware of learning opportunities.
Measure, evaluate and improve - You need to be actively tracking and measuring various metrics that indicate the effectiveness of your efforts across all marketing channels (this is where the marketing team can help provide you with the right data). This can help you identify what channels and methods work best.
As predicted, AI was the biggest talking point this year. The best talks focused on upskilling to adapt and getting both people and tech to work together to improve the way we do things, rather than seeing it as a quick-fix solution for producing content.
Skills-based talent management, DEI and data analysis were also key talking points for L&D, much as they were in years previously. All of these should be considered at the very beginning and not as an afterthought.
Some interesting developments this year and we’re looking forward to seeing how they unfold – meanwhile, we’ll be busy in our R&D Lab at Thinqi exploring processes and techniques to stay ahead of the curve.
Until next year!