World of Learning Virtual Summit 2020: our key takeaways

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The World of Learning Summit went virtual this year, offering a varied conference programme from some of the industry’s leading thinkers as well as a good range of seminars and a virtual exhibition hall – complete with digital stands and product-related resources. Many may naturally feel dubious about the prospect of a digitised version of the conference experience – how can the full, immersive experience possibly be replicated online?

Many of us have particularly missed the networking opportunities that learning events afford, so we appreciated the easy-to-use video chat function which encouraged one-to-one conversations between delegates. Although virtual conferences can never perfectly capture the bustling energy of conference rooms and exhibition halls, it was an effective touch that brought the virtual experience just that little bit closer to real-life. However, the virtual set-up and absence of much-loved freebies did mean that people seemed less inclined to peruse the exhibition hall – especially when the kettle is just a few paces away for many.

Recordings for sessions were available on-demand for several days after, meaning delegates could catch up on missed sessions or revisit sessions as they pleased. It also meant that those not physically able to attend events could benefit remotely and is a positive step forward for more accessible conferences in future.

In between chatting to delegates, demonstrating our modern learning solution and delivering seminar talks, we were busy keeping our eyes and ears open for the latest trends and developments in the industry.

Missed the event or just need a recap? Here’s what we learned.

Mistakes are an opportunity for learning


One of the most active sessions for discussion was ‘Embracing Mistakes as a Powerful Means of Learning’ by Head of Learning at CIPD Andy Lancaster.

“If we want to embrace mistake-based learning in our organisations, we’re dealing with very ingrained behaviour,” Andy noted. How often have we felt embarrassed by mistakes? How often have we been reticent to engage in anything new for fear of appearing foolish? This is something that stems from early experiences.

Fear was the predominant factor that session participants reported for feeling this way. However, the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them cannot exist in a culture of fear. To create a necessary shift, Andy notes that it’s time organisations thought differently and acted to remove the stigma.

Andy quoted Amy Edmonson of Harvard Business school in the session to highlight research findings that “well-led teams appeared to make more mistakes than average teams. However, it was a climate of openness that made it easier to report and discuss errors.”

A new paradigm for learning and development


How can L&D support the transition to remote working and drive associated competencies? Does the traditional L&D offering still support the skills needed for this ‘new normal’? What should L&D be focusing on right now?

These were some of the questions asked by Dani Saadu, Global Head of People Development at Collinson. Note the term ‘People Development’ – one of the main points Dani made in the session was the shift in both the language used for L&D in order to more appropriately align it with its role in today’s organisations.

We’ve been exploring how L&D has increasingly played a key part in the role of talent development in our #WhatsYourTalent series. As Dani noted, focusing on language centred around “people development” and “performance” offers a more holistic view of people development and intrinsically links learning to organisational performance.

As remote working becomes the norm, Dani went on to note the core skills needed going forward, which include:

  • Technological proficiency
  • A more people-centric approach
  • Effective time-management
  • A growth mindset
  • A coaching approach
  • The ability to manage upwards

To prepare for this ‘new normal’ L&D teams should increasingly work alongside others across whole organisations, be prepared to demonstrate ROI and speak the language of their stakeholders to gain buy-in and maximise the use of multiple learning channels.

L&D is critical to driving an effective hybrid working environment and making sure the organisation is equipped and ready with the skills it needs for tomorrow. This is a view also voiced in John Amaechi OBE‘s extremely well-received opening keynote, where he noted that “if there are no consequences for remaining the same, then nobody has to change.” Leadership and the need to change are crucial considerations in order to become high-performing organisations of tomorrow.

Digital body language is the key for monitoring soft skills development


Soft skills are essential, so how can you monitor and measure them in a digital environment? This was the question asked by Thinqi Ambassador Steve Finch in his talk ‘Capturing the Intangibles: How learning technology can find hidden talents’.

“Soft skills are often the true indicators of your champions: the future leaders and achievers that will help your organisation grow,” says Steve. It comes as no surprise then, that some of the country’s fastest-growing roles – sales development, customer success and customer experience – are heavily dependent on soft skills. However, as we become more dependent on software to support our L&D activities, the challenge now is how we can measure soft skills remotely in a modern digital environment.

This is where modern learning technologies come in. Many learning technologies today, including our own Thinqi platform, allow us to detect and report these behaviours in a meaningful way. We can define the desired behaviours in terms of ‘digital body language’ (an excellent overview of which can be found on founder of Lightbulb Moment Jo Cook’s blog). This will enable us to then monitor, nurture and reward the people who demonstrate these behaviours.

Make the most of digital to succeed with online learning


Organisations have had to adapt to remote working and learning in 2020 regardless of their readiness. For some organisations this method was nothing new, but for those making their first foray into digital learning, the prospect of teaching online classes proved somewhat daunting.

Krystyna Gadd, founder of How to Accelerate Learning and author of the popular ‘How Not to Waste Your Money On Training’, delivered her session ‘How to Max Out the Online Environment’ with Pearlcatchers, specialists in L&D, leadership potential, organisational development and cultural change.

This interactive session was packed with viable solutions for making online sessions engaging and demonstrated how virtual tools and digital body language can be used to achieve success.

Krystyna asked the audience to consider what can be done online that can’t be achieved face-to-face. Some of the examples included:

  • The option for many contributors can share their ideas simultaneously using a chat or whiteboard function
  • Rapid collection of responses
  • The option to record sessions and view at a convenient time
  • The involvement of global participants at a low cost
  • Using the ‘Mural’ function, participants were then able to put this into practice by contributing their own ideas virtually.

Group sizes are often a point of debate amongst facilitators. What constitutes a virtual classroom and what is a webinar? According to Krystyna, the ideal virtual classroom contains 8-12 people, whereas webinars are far larger and are similar to a broadcast (although interactivity can still be included).

Digital body language was again a key focus here, something Jo Cook also discussed in her session ‘Principles for Professional Virtual Classrooms’. Jo noted how digital body language is a crucial skill for modern L&D to help overcome barriers to engagement in an online environment.” Again, Jo provided a range of tips on class sizes for online sessions. This common theme makes it clear to see where L&D’s main challenges are currently.

“When designing virtual classrooms, any learning intervention should be focused on the performance needs of the business,” said Jo. “Avoid the word ‘understand’.” Instead, she recommended that L&D practitioners use something measurable, actionable and clear.

This link with business performance perfectly aligns with the ideas put forward by Dani Saadu of Collinson.

In summary...

We’re familiar with the challenges faced when adapting face-to-face learning for online delivery, but adapting a whole conference event, complete with exhibition hall, is another challenge entirely.

Those behind the event had clearly adapted, designed and delivered for an experience that was more accessible yet just as insightful as ever. We hope this is the start of a more accessible hybrid conference experience as we move into the ‘new normal’.

See you next year!


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