I recently returned from TechLearn, Training magazine’s annual conference. Designed for learning and development professionals who want to leverage the latest in learning research and training technologies to improve workplace performance, TechLearn was an intentional learning and networking event—and it could be one of my best in-person conference experiences.
The conference was located in the heart of Austin at the University of Texas Executive Education Center, a facility that was literally designed for learning and connecting with peers. The conference planners tried to give everyone a taste of Texas culture over breakfasts and lunches, which I appreciated. No box lunch here!
Another aspect I loved was that there were no expo hall booths. Those of us attending the conference didn't have to walk around with our heads down, worried that a salesperson would try to draw us into a long conversation. Instead, we immersed ourselves in a test kitchen experience that bookended the start and end of the conference. Along with other attendees, I walked past aprons and kitchen utensils and stopped at a table that interested me, where I received a short demonstration of a product or solution. It was informal and informative, often spurring great conversation around use cases and needs. Of note: Blanchard’s own Betty Dannewitz joined Kristin Torrence from Talespin and the two did a fantastic job demonstrating Blanchard’s Building Trust VR Simulation.
1,000 Cut Journey
Instead of big-name keynote speakers, TechLearn brought in several cutting-edge practitioners. Dr. Courtney Cogburn was one of them, and her work made a deep impression on me.
Dr. Cogburn shared “1,000 Cut Journey,” an acclaimed virtual reality experience about what it feels like to be Black. You literally stand in the shoes of Michael Sterling and follow him through childhood, adolescence, and his start as a young professional. The experience will soon be available through Oculus and I’ll be sure to go through it in an effort to broaden my perspective and become more deeply aware of issues of race and racism. Although I viewed only brief video clips, I could see the experience certainly brings to life much of what we don’t want to talk about in this country.
I applaud Dr. Cogburn for tackling such a highly charged subject. When it comes to inclusion, it’s more palatable to discuss physical disabilities or age or mental health, because you won't stir up people’s deep emotions. But she did, and we must. Dr. Cogburn skillfully addressed this, transcending partisan divides and touching our shared humanity.
Execution is Challenging
Rolling out blended learning solutions across various platforms is still extremely complex. How do you ensure digital content, mobile access, communications, event management, measurement, live session tracking, etc., where everything works seamlessly? How do you pick the right virtual training software or support hardware? When moving to more immersive experiences such as VR, how do you distribute content and headsets at scale? Blended learning means more platforms, more hand-offs and more touchpoints—who makes it all come together? The answers to these questions are essential as companies begin to roll out integrated and multi-modal learning solutions.
There’s also a lot of confusion and conflation of terminology in corporate learning. Metaverse vs. 3D vs. VR vs. AR vs. XR. Learning vs. training. Hybrid vs. virtual vs. remote. Coaching vs. asking questions. These terms mean different things to different people. We as an industry need to settle on the definitions, saying what we mean and meaning what we say.
This was the first time I had presented at this conference. The title of my session was ‘Innovating in L&D: Think Micro and Incremental for Maximum Impact.’ The room was full—but I soon found out that several attendees thought it would be about developing microlearning content, not about the mindset and skillset of innovation and how to apply it to the work of a L&D professional. So here I was, standing at the podium, about to deliver a session to an audience that was expecting to hear something different!
I explained this at the start and invited people to leave without any judgment. No one left, although I still suspect some may have stayed because my charm and humor drew them in! It felt great to give learning professionals tools and a language to move the needle within their organization—to shift from order-taker to performance consultant. And, in spirit of the session, I updated the deck for the participants with a new and clearer session title. Incremental in action indeed!
I also co-hosted a presentation with my colleague Ann Rollins on creating personas to design learning solutions that are truly human-centric. We so often go right to the solution, modality, or course and sometimes fail to realize that the work we do is to help people build knowledge and skills so they can improve their competence and commitment at work. As a practitioner at heart, I love when the lightbulb turns on and people get to use tools and templates—such as a persona worksheet or learning journey question prompt—on the job the next day.
Like we all know, technology is a game changer in our industry, enabling access in a decentralized world of work and changing how people interact and use content to build their knowledge and skills within the flow of work. But it doesn't replace knowing who you are solving for. You must deliver solutions that meet people where they are. And you must make sure what you're delivering is what they need!
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