Six take-aways from Learning Technologies 2018

The Learning Technologies Conference 2018 provided insight and practical tips on how L&D professionals can develop new ways of delivering learning. Here are some of the take-aways.

To be at the heart of tomorrow's business, learning and development teams have to become innovators, said futurist Rohit Talwar, who kicked off the conference.

He wanted L&D professionals to find out how new technologies such as artificial intelligence are shaping the future of work. "We need to get a growing understanding of how these technologies are changing how we live, how we work, how we raise our kids, how they'll be educated," he said. "It's a gradual process of raising awareness."

So what else should learning practitioners and HR take away from the conference in anticipation of the changes?

1. Prepare for the future

Learning professionals should explore how their businesses might change in the next few years, and what the implications of that might be for L&D. These scenarios could be used to help identify how L&D can help businesses be more innovative.

Talwar said the best approach is to start by educating colleagues about what the future might look like.

"Start by writing or creating short videos that start to talk about the emerging future in order to feed insight and thought leadership into the business… so you start to demonstrate that you're thinking at a strategic level, and thinking about the strategic role of L&D," he said.

2. Be a better learner

Ulrich Boser, senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress, told delegates that L&D should help people become better learners.

"Think about thinking," he said. "People are overconfident generally so reflect on what you really know. How well could you explain something to someone else?"

The answer is to set targets for learning and monitor whether the information is being understood.

"Reflect on what you've actually learned and ask: 'Could I have learned it better?'" he said.

Another area that is becoming increasingly important is what Boser called the blessing and the curse of knowledge. Thinking and learning are embedded in what we know, so knowledge becomes a curse, he explained. By this he meant that we make assumptions that people truly know what they are talking about.

He said: "So let's start asking more questions about what this person's thinking and what they really do know.

"Learning professionals need to think about how much information they're putting out there and how much people know already before we start to move them onto more learning."

L&D professionals should give people the opportunity to relearn. Boser said: "The more you retrieve information from your memory, the better you remember. So don't be put off by the fact that people might forget but make sure you design in opportunities for people to learn and relearn information because it will stay with them for longer."

3. Deliver better learning with less resources

L&D practitioners shared how they were managing to do more with less.

Ennis Reid, head of L&D at wealth management company Old Mutual Wealth, said his organisation is saving more than half a million pounds a year through a mix of stripping out content duplication and using new authoring tools that enable colleagues to create and update content as required. Previously, this was done by external agencies.

Andrew Jacobs, learning and talent manager at the London Borough of Lewisham said that his budget is 46% lower now than in 2010, but he still has to deliver the same amount of employee development.

His answer to that challenge was to remove courses and build a peer-to-peer platform, on the basis that everyone in the organisation was an expert at something. This allowed him to encourage people to connect with each other and share what they knew.

Jacobs urged L&D professionals to search for free options, such as the HR courses the conciliation service ACAS provides. "There's loads of little or no cost options out there, you just need to find them," he added.

4. Design for the modern learner

Sukh Pabial, talent development partner at business publisher Reed Business Information, questioned the role of workshops and courses now that technology is an enabler of learning.

He said workshops should be for coming together to talk, share and learn, but he said L&D spends most of its time using courses to "just throw content at people".

Pabial designed a learning programme with a two-day workshop as the end goal. He involved participants in a community on information sharing platform Slack, and delivered a programme of short webinars in the build-up to the two-day workshop.

Pabial said that this approach supported learners on their journey and enabled them to reflect and share easily. Once they were in the workshops, participants had very high quality, focused conversations.

5. Build a learning culture

Nigel Paine, author and leadership expert, told delegates that it is critical to have a learning culture that helps organisations to navigate through turbulence in times of change. "Organisations with a strong learning culture can weather any storms," he added.

However, Paine thought the phrase 'learning culture' is misunderstood, and said learning professionals must understand what it implies and what it means for their organisation in particular.

"You really need to be able to have an environment where employees can share insights and collaborate. Why? You can't have a learning culture without collaboration," he added.

So, how can you tell if an organisation has a learning culture? One indicator is having employees that are willing to ask for help, while another is employees having good external networks.

"Organisations increasingly require colleagues to build networks externally and bring in new thinking from outside. Trust your colleagues to build networks and to bring back insight. Then create the space internally for [this] insight to be shared," he explained.

6. Focus on employee needs

Most learning is not modern, not personal and not agile, according to Fosway Group. Its research of 1,300 L&D professionals across Europe showed that 20% of learning teams often personalise learning, 20% are thinking about agile learning and 20% often gamify the learning experience.

Fosway Group's director of research, David Perring, said organisations tend to steer clear of the more tricky learning challenges."We know that people don't do great blending. We know that they don't think about measurement. And I think it's easy to try to steer away from those topics. But I think as we get further into digital transformation in organisations, we actually need to face those a little bit more."

Perring's advice to L&D was to put employees centre stage and to help solve their problems.

"My take-away from the research really is that we need to use it as a call to action to think about doing things afresh. And it's not about adopting more technology. It's just attending to the needs of our employees, the people that we need to help," he said.