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Conference Highlights


Informal learning, aligning L&D to business needs and trends for learning; Don Taylor, Chairman of the Learning Technologies Conference, offers an overview of some of the highlights of this year's event.

This year’s Learning Technologies Conference reflects some of the strong themes that have emerged in 2006, and look set to continue developing throughout 2007. Delivered over two days, through over 30 presentations spread over three tracks, the conference focuses on these key learning themes:

  • A growing appreciation of the importance of informal learning

  • The new directions in content authoring

  • Some emerging learning tools

  • How L&D can lead performance improvement

Influencing much discussion and many current developments in learning technology is a growing appreciation of informal learning’s importance. This has been fuelled by Jay Cross’s recent seminal book on the subject.

Informal learning
Most learning is carried out adhoc by individuals, from picking up a useful fact on the fly to watching a colleague’s approach to a job over a period of time, and emulating it. Given its importance, how can technology best support informal learning? If the Learning and Development (L&D) department gets involved, does this mean that the learning is no longer informal at all? These questions are the subject of one of the conference sessions, and are echoed throughout the conference in other sessions, including those on collaboration and performance support.

Content authoring
This emphasis on informal learning recognises the value of sharing subject matter expertise within an organisation – so, too, does another conference theme: new directions in content authoring. The pendulum of the in-or-out sourcing of content development now seems to be swinging in a wild ellipse, with questions at every point – how much instructional design is necessary? Does content have to look great, or is speed of delivery more important? If you use internal experts, how do you check their expertise while still engaging their enthusiasm? In particular, what are the pros and cons of rapid content development? Recently, a very public debate has been raging on this through the blogs of conference speakers David Wilson ( and Clive Shepherd ( There are no definitive answers – yet – but the conference will play its part in examining and sharing best practice.

Future e-learning
One of the reasons for the rash of interest in supporting informal learning and content development is a range of new delivery mechanisms – including blogs, wikis, podcasts, online worlds and gaming. Naturally, one conference session is focused on these, and as always, we will see implementation examples scattered over other sessions, including two dealing with pan-European e-learning roll outs. But the conference also features a session on how to use your existing learning tools more effectively. From PowerPoint to webinar tools, people are using tools that have been around for some time more confidently, and more inventively than ever.

One of the huge emerging L&D themes of 2006 has been – and will continue to be in 2007 – performance improvement. We’ve talked for a long time about how L&D needs move from being a delivery function to clearly adding value to the business. Perhaps in the past we have seen this too narrowly as a need to provide return on investment (ROI) justification for training. Now the requirement has broadened: L&D needs to be part of organisational process, helping to ensure that people have the skills they need for their work. The conference addresses some key issues here, with a whole track dedicated to performance improvement featuring sessions on competency assessment, skills and talent management, and aligning learning and development to the strategic and tactical needs of the business.

Food for thought
While the main conference programme has been deliberately packed with focussed presentations and discussions of best practice, the three conference keynotes have been designed to stimulate and challenge delegates into considering where their learning practice and their future are heading.

Microsoft’s Chris Yapp opens the conference by discussing ‘Innovation and the future of technology-based learning’. Drawing on his long experience as a technology-based learning practitioner, thinker and government advisor, Chris will consider how far we have come in a decade of e-learning, and provide a vision of where we could be ten years in the future.

Knowledge Management guru Dave Snowden will ask ‘How do organisations learn’ – and outline the amazing range of subtle and sophisticated ways that people have evolved to learn, and contrast them with most organisations’ often limited set of learning delivery mechanisms.

Donald Clark, former founder of Epic, and now Ufi board member, will end the conference on a typically through-provoking note, arguing that while technology is transforming the way we train in the twenty-first century, the theories we use to understand learning are still firmly embedded in the twentieth.

* The Learning Technologies Conference Exhibition take place on 31 January and 1 February. Click here to view the conference programme in full.


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