Learning Technologies Digital Experience 2021: Our key takeaways

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The first Learning Technologies Digital Experience took place in February, with more than 10,000 registered L&D professionals and 100 sessions to attend in a fortnight of insights and interactivity. With three languages to choose from (English, French and German) and recordings available on-demand, the digital format enabled a more accessible experience for delegates, free of any travel or time constraints.

We’d like to say a special thank you to those of you who attended our seminar sessions ‘The Changing Role of L&D: What Do Practitioners Need to Be?’ and ‘The Intangibles: How Learning Technology Can Find Hidden Talents’ – we loved the range of questions asked in the Q&A sessions and hope that you gained valuable tips to apply to your L&D practice.

If you missed the conference or just need a reminder, here are some of our key takeaways from the sessions we attended.

2 - The pandemic has been an opportunity for L&D to consider its digital solutions.svg

The pandemic has been an opportunity for L&D to consider its digital solutions

Since the start of the pandemic, 85% of respondents from a survey conducted by Sukhvinder Pabial of Challenging Frontiers have moved to virtual learning.

With such sudden and widespread disruption, it’s been hard to ignore the fact that there’s been some bad practice in L&D since the pandemic. In his engaging and informative session ‘Scream, Shout...and Breathe: Adapting L&D in a COVID World’, Sukhvinder listed some key examples, which included:

  • A ‘lift and shift’ approach to moving online
  • L&D becoming overnight experts in areas such as virtual training or wellbeing
  • Trainers who are still waiting for the lockdown to end
  • Not considering the digital content
  • Dismissing great collaboration tools

“Learning technologies are part of the toolkit,” said Sukhvinder. “If your team doesn’t have learning tech capability or performance, then why not? It shouldn’t be a question of how well you can use an LMS, but how well you can integrate it into a learning strategy.”

In essence, this has been an opportunity for L&D to give itself the time and space to really think about its digital and virtual solutions. As the demand for virtual training looks set to increase, the skill of virtual facilitation is where L&D will make its mark.

This was a session that packed a lot of key insights into the presentation and encouraged plenty of engaging conversation – an example of digital done right.

3 - To link data with performance, start getting familiar with the organisation.svg

Data continues to prove a hot topic at learning events, with learning analytics still coming in at third place in the Global Sentiment Survey 2021 by Donald H Taylor. This year’s LPI Dashboard also reveals that L&D professionals consider data analytics as one of their weakest five skills.

And who better to talk data analysis than Director of How to Accelerate Learning and esteemed author Krystyna Gadd?

In her highly interactive session ‘Practical Data; Using Needs Analysis to Ensure You Deliver Business Results’, Krystyna showed us the steps needed to start identifying the real issues the business needs to solve in order to inform decisions, and to link data with performance:

  1. Get familiar with the organisation - This might include finding out what the focus is for the organisation this year (e.g. attracting or retaining customers, saving on production time)
  2. Start with the ‘why’ and use a consulting approach - Think ‘HIRE’ (What is happening? What are the issues? What are the ramifications? What do you expect from the outcome?
  3. Work with allies - You can use the stakeholder analysis grid to help with this.

Noting that it’s important that we don’t jump into ‘solution mode’ straight away, Krystyna highlighted how we need to be asking the right questions in order to access the relevant data available to us.

We loved the interactive approach to this session, using tools such as MURAL to make it a truly collaborative experience with practical points to take away.

4 - To influence change in L&D we need to challenge our thinking habits.svg

To influence change in L&D, we need to challenge our thinking habits

“We’re always told we need to revisit, reimagine, reset, restart or rethink L&D,” said renowned analyst Laura Overton, in her session ‘Influencing Change: 5 New L&D Approaches to Thinking for 2021’. But what does success look like in influencing change? And what real action can we take to make it happen?

L&D are no strangers to the way the brain works or the need for cognitive science. Laura asked us to consider our own metacognition, and of heuristics and bias. Despite the negative association with bias, this session highlighted how these biases actually develop as ways to navigate our world effectively. Becoming aware of them helps us to stop and ask ourselves whether we are really looking at something from the right number of angles.

“Effective L&D practice is not unprecedented, but it is uncommon,” said Laura. “We know what to do, but we’re not doing it when push comes to shove.” It’s time we pulled apart the cognitive triangle of behaviours, thoughts and actions in order to take action.

Laura asked us to write down and consider the following, being as honest as possible on where we sit within varying scales:

  • How do you see your value? Are you ‘learning first’ or ‘business first’?
  • How do you see your role? Are you a ‘knowledgeable expert’ or an ‘empathetic explorer’?
  • How do you think about your relationship with others? Are you more ‘independent’ or ‘interdependent’?
  • How do you think about timescales? Do you mostly ‘act for the future’ or ‘act for now’?
  • How do you think about risk and innovation? Are you more likely to ‘hold on’ or ‘move on’?

We need to start labelling our own thinking habits so that we can begin to recognise them in ourselves.

“For us to emerge stronger,” said Laura, “we have to challenge our assumptions.”

5 - To adapt to a post-COVID world we need to rethink the role of the L&D practitioner.svg

To adapt to a post-COVID world, we need to rethink the role of the L&D practitioner

“In this increasingly shifting and adapting marketplace, organisations with the most agility and responsiveness to change stand the best chance of success, or even survival.,” said Steve Finch, our Head of Customer Success. “As a result, L&D is changing, and in order for us to adjust it’s time for us to rethink the role of the practitioner.”

Remote learners are becoming increasingly independent, skills requirements are changing and roles are having to adapt in order to survive in today’s digital world. The need for organisations to be able to rapidly evolve and adapt to new skills requirements means your role will become more and more essential.

Increasingly, L&D will need to equip themselves with the following skills:

  • Collaboration - It’s time to move beyond your own department to work more closely with the wider organisation.
  • Coaching - This will help you support learners while still encouraging ownership of their personal learning journeys to achieve success.
  • Analytical skills - You need to be comfortable with finding and analysing the learning data that will help you provide evidence of bottom-line figures to business leaders.
  • Curation - With many employees now taking control of their own development, L&D is becoming more responsible for providing the tools, content and support to enable self-directed learning that’s searchable and relevant.

Everyone’s requirements will be different depending on their role in L&D and their organisation, but some other commonly cited skills worth developing include blended learning design, identifying skills gaps, performance support and talent development. Notice how each of these involves working more closely with the business.

As Steve highlighted, as a modern L&D practitioner living in challenging times, your job requirement no longer solely depends on training delivery. It’s time to embrace the new skills needed for you to become an essential part of organisational success for the future.

In summary…

We’d love to write in depth about every session we attended, but we’ll leave you to catch up on any you’ve missed with the recordings available until June.

Some other talks worthy of note included a fantastic live recording of the Women Talking About Learning podcast, produced by Andrew Jacobs of Llarn and featuring Dana James-Edwards, Rita Sookrit and Kate Graham. In this session, they talked conferences, networking and why the world needs to hear more women’s voices at events. A pertinent topic, this was deservedly well-received, with many taking to social media to show their support.

Michael Osbourne’s talk on accessibility was a highlight to many at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum last year (you can read our write-up of his session here). His follow-up session, ‘Accessibility - Practical Things That L&D People Need to Know’, was packed with practical tips to incorporate into more accessible learning design. It’s people like Michael who help to drive positive change in removing barriers to learning for all.

Finally, Donald H Taylor’s session ‘2021 – The Year L&D Comes Back?’ provided an unmissable insight into the findings of the annual L&D Global Sentiment Survey, exploring the reaction to the pandemic, the meaning of ‘focus’ for us in 2021 and why we could be looking at a more hopeful and influential future for L&D.

While we might have missed the buzz of the exhibition area and the opportunities for networking afforded by face-to-face learning events, the inaugural Learning Technologies Digital Experience was a unique chance to take advantage of a more accessible and wide-ranging format that left participants spoilt for choice on topics.


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