Learning Technologies Summer Forum 2020: our key takeaways

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The Learning Technologies Summer Forum is a firm favourite in our learning events calendar. A smaller follow-up to the annual Learning Technologies Exhibition and Conference, it offers a more close-knit dynamic and a smaller exhibition area than the main main event in February. It’s the perfect opportunity to chat with some of the most passionate and knowledgeable people in L&D and to find out what’s creating a buzz in the learning industry today.

In light of the current COVID-19 situation, things were run a little differently this year. Through the power of digital delivery, Learning Technologies Summer Forum still maintained its promise to provide ample networking opportunities, a packed conference schedule and an active social media backchannel.

So, what did we learn from this year’s event and, most importantly, did it deliver?


Overcoming remote working challenges requires the right support

Andrew Jacobs, L&D Transformation Lead at HMRC, provided us with a practical and insightful session that detailed how learning teams at the organisation were provided with a range of learning support to meet the challenges of lockdown. It prompted participants to think about their own experiences and provided a valuable opportunity to share common pain points and effective strategies.

When asked what what they thought were positives for L&D, participant responses included:

  • “Online sessions were easier for all to attend.”
  • “Reduced time spent on travelling.”
  • “Businesses were better able to see the value of L&D.” “There was generally a greater sense of participation.”

And the negatives? People noted that technical issues, video call fatigue, difficulty in sourcing a learning platform and lack of digital skills amongst managers proved a hindrance to remote learning

Speaking from his own experience, Andrew outlined the six key areas that informed the approach to L&D in lockdown: assessment and evaluation, building communities, content curation, digital design and online facilitation skills. It was good to hear mention of Brinkherhoff’s Success Case Method (SCM), which Andrew used to outline the next steps people could take to support lockdown learning:

  • Identify the strong performers
  • Agree capacity changes
  • Agree process change

SCM is useful for identifying the most successful and least successful examples in order to pinpoint exactly what worked (and what didn’t). This allows for a more focused approach towards any changes that need to be made.

The Q&A session was a particular highlight of this session. For example, when asked how to encourage learners to engage with collaboration tools, Andrew suggested helpful actions to prompt behaviour change: first, find out what tools are being used already. If this is email, replies could instead be sent via Teams to encourage people to respond using the same channel. This eventually becomes the more natural option and collaboration opportunities are opened up in a manner email simply cannot achieve.


To determine the impact of L&D, we need to act like detectives

It’s often the case that it’s the data-focused topics that garner significant interest in learning events, yet it’s often the one people find most challenging. On Day 2, Learning and Development Detective Kevin M. Yates outlined how to conduct an investigation to uncover one of L&D’s great mysteries: “What is the impact of training and learning?” You may be familiar with some of Kevin’s discerning articles on the subject, having written previously on the subject for Training Zone, Training Journal and the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

For Kevin, impact in L&D is “the extent to which training and learning measurably influences performance, behaviour, actions and business goals.” He noted that planning for impact in the beginning is vital to prevent any difficulties with measurement when it comes to the final stage of evaluating learning interventions – a view that aligns perfectly with our view at Thinqi.

When describing when an impact investigation should be conducted, Kevin listed six main points for consideration:

  • Priority – Does it have leadership attention, visibility or sponsorship?
  • Parity – Is there alignment with a business goal?
  • Purpose – Are there specific targets for performance?
  • Pinpoints – Does it have measures or KPIs for people or business performance?
  • Parameters – Is there support for sustainable performance?
  • Payoff – Are there significant investments for time and/or money?

As an L&D detective, you need to keep asking these questions. Find out what your ‘what’ and your ‘why’ are before you start building solutions, then look for impact on learning performance, people performance and business performance. LearningTechnologies-Summer2020-image3.png

COVID-19 is L&D’s chance to wipe the slate clean

What does the future of L&D look like? How has it changed and how do we prepare for learning and training in the post-pandemic world?

It was over to Learning Experience Director Hannah Gore to give insight into how she designed learning experiences for a range of clients in a way that’s proven, future-proof and scalable for the L&D function of tomorrow. She outlined three stages of the pandemic for L&D:

  • Stage 1: The Sticking Plaster
  • Stage 2: What Now?
  • Stage 3: The New Normal

At Stage 1, the goal is simply to react and transfer the learning online as soon as possible with little time to strategically plan. However, just creating online repositories of content is not conducive to virtual participation and often leads learners to struggle in terms of engagement, completion and application in the real world. The ‘Sticking Plaster’ approach simply isn’t sustainable in the long run.

Hannah suggested that for Stage 2, our current situation, we must now think about how we adapt our courses for online in the context of its specific purpose. According to Hannah, it is far more beneficial to promote the rise of blended learning and flipped classroom methodology.

“Flipped classrooms can help organisations to address the issues of smaller face-to-face workshops upfront whilst providing practical skills,” said Hannah. “Learners can complete the learning online at their own pace, then take that learning into the face-to-face workshop. It also means learners all come to the classroom with a similar level of understanding.” It’s the perfect way to create richer role-playing scenarios and to demonstrate the skills learned online in a face-to-face environment.

So, what can we expect for ‘The New Normal’ in 2021? This will all depend on how we develop this year. For L&D, this is a chance to wipe the slate clean and develop our strategies in a new way towards organisational goals.


In an increasingly virtual world, we need to design for accessibility

As a knowledgeable User Experience Driven Developer, Michael Osbourne was named as one of this year’s Thirty Under 30 at the Learning Technologies conference. With a goal to make learning accessible to all, Michael’s talk generated a buzz of conversation by presenting practical steps for adopting an inclusive approach to learning design.

A particular highlight of the talk was his simple guide to making courses more accessible. Some questions Michael suggested we ask ourselves included:

  • Are colours, fonts and contrast clear?
  • Do audio/visual assets have alt text, captions, subtitles and transcripts?
  • Am I using headings correctly?
  • Can I navigate using a keyboard?
  • Are my links clear?

Instructions, too, are important. An example was used where a learner became stuck on the navigation instructions page, which is why it’s vital to think about language as well as design. For example, using “select” instead of “click” would make far more sense to those using a touchscreen device – think about who your learners are and what their needs might be. Language should not be overlooked.

“Don’t use colour alone to convey content or meaning,” Michael advised. “When building digital learning, there are plenty of alternatives – use movement, animation, outlines or change contrasts. Consider the possibilities.” As an example, he suggested using bold or underline in place of italic and coloured text, reminding us that colours can cause problems for colourblind learners and italics can be hard to read.

Quoting Steve Ballmer, we were given this crucial reminder: “Accessible design is good design. It benefits people who don’t have disabilities as well as people who do. Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology for everyone.”

In summary…

We’d love to write about every session we attended, but we’ll leave you to catch up on any you’ve missed on the Learning Technologies Digital Hub.

For those of you who want tips on delivering captivating webinar sessions, we highly recommend Donald H Taylor’s ‘How to Deliver Engaging, Interactive Webinars’. With his experience hosting and coaching speakers for over 400 webinars for the Learning and Skills Group, Donald showed participants how to deliver with value, intimacy and authenticity in a way which certainly lived up to the session’s title. Zahra Clarke-Johnney provided a fascinating example of how Southwark Council responded to the pandemic to ensure staff could access learning, but we also think it’s worth taking a look at her own reflections on the experience as a first-time speaker, which is full of practical tips and support for developing your own confidence in delivering talks. ‘Changing the Game for Women in the Workplace’ was also an inspiring follow-up to February’s ‘Women in Learning’ session, and it’s so encouraging to see the conversation continued. Atlanta St John and Chloe Walton showed us how we can all do better with these three key points:

  • Visibility – You can’t be what you can’t see
  • Ownership – Strong values lead the way
  • Focus – Continue to strive for change

Learning Technologies Summer Forum 2020 may have had quite the challenge on its hands this year, but in the true spirit of great L&D professionals, those behind it had clearly adapted, designed and delivered for an experience that was more accessible yet just as insightful as ever.

We hope to see more of this in future.

We’re going to be exploring each of these trends and others in coming weeks, so keep an eye on our blog and social media channels to see when these insights are published:

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