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Learning Technologies 2009


Bob Little gives his round-up of this year's Learning Technologies Conference and Exhibition: The speakers, the cutting-edge technologies and the exhibitors with pulling power.

What holds the business world back – especially in learning technologies terms – is that we keep planting the seed of innovation in the architecture of tradition. So said George Siemens, associate director of R&D at Manitoba University’s Learning Technologies Centre, during his keynote speech on day two of the Learning Technologies conference.

He added: “The possibility to innovate with mobile technologies is enormous but it doesn’t happen because we keep thinking in traditional terms.”

Latest developments
Examining examples of how technology-supported learning is crucial to business performance and success, the conference followed the theme of ‘Next generation learning at work’.

In addition to the obligatory, but nonetheless worthy, contributions from such ‘ageing greats’ as Jay Cross, Charles Jennings, Tony Buzan and Gordon Bull, delegates heard about the latest developments in 3D learning and virtual worlds from Ambient Performance’s CEO, Ron Edwards. He revealed how, increasingly, virtual worlds are allowing learners to practice tasks before they are carried out in the real world.

As ever, case studies were much in evidence. These included Lieutenant Commander Paul Pine, who outlined the use and value of elearning materials and the complementary learning content management system (LCMS) in training crews on the Royal Navy’s new £6.46bn Type 45 destroyer, HMS Daring – which has been described as the ‘most powerful air defence destroyer in the world and the fastest and most manoeuvrable ship in Royal Navy history’.

Web 2.0 LMS
In addition, the UK’s leading corporate learning market analyst, David Wilson, explained the key differences between ‘traditional’ learning management systems (LMSs) and those that are being developed to cope with the demands of the modern ‘web 2.0’ world.

Wilson said: “Traditional LMSs are provider-centric; compliance driven; deal with formal learning only; deal in programmes and events; have a structured delivery and controlled content; deal with online learning materials; provide learning materials for learners and reports for management. The ‘LMS 2.0’ adheres to international standards; deals with informal as well as formal learning; provides unstructured access to user-generated learning content; copes with mobile as well as online learning, and allows learners to access materials as and when they require.

“Web 2.0 is changing our thinking and our technology,” Wilson added. “At the very least, LMSs now have basic discussion and collaborative tools, including social networking modules – as evidenced in the recently launched ‘Saba Social’ and ‘Cornerstone OnDemand Connect’.”

Unlike Saba, Cornerstone OnDemand had a presence at the accompanying exhibition and attracted a steady stream of those interested in its talent management software. Other ‘systems’ vendors which attracted more than average attention were LCMS vendors OutStart (from the USA) and Giunti Labs (from Europe).

While there were many elearning content developers on show, those that ‘caught the eye’ of the show’s visitors appeared to be SkillSoft, with its generic elearning programmes; Trainer1, which offers tools and training for in-house elearning developers, and Walkgrove, a well established developer with a strong client list in the public sector. There were also a crop of institutions and associations represented – notably the British Institute of Learning and Development (BILD) and the eLearning Network (eLN), a non-profit organisation run by the e-learning community for the e-learning community.

Efficient elearning
The application of learning technologies in the current economic climate was a key issue for the Learning Technologies conference’s 400 delegates – the highest number of attendees in the 10 years of the event.

Sue Curtis, global elearning manager for logistics giant Exel plc, commented that she was looking for ways to exploit the opportunities that technology-enabled learning offers and embed these into her organisation’s culture.

Optimum Learning’s Phil Green believes that the current economic climate makes it more important than ever to make learning and development ‘fit’ the organisation – and prove its worth. He said: “Are we on the cusp of great achievement or disaster in learning technologies terms? To be successful, we need to place more emphasis on building communities of learners but there are increasing problems with overcoming organisational boundaries as people become more ‘defensive’ in the current economic conditions.”

Nonetheless, Vaughan Waller, head of elearning at the international accountants and management consultancy, Moore Stephens, was optimistic. He said: “In the current climate, the emphasis is on re-skilling rather than recruiting. Elearning is the cheapest and a highly effective way of doing this. So there are lots of possibilities for increasing the application of learning technologies. These are exciting times!”


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