I recently spoke at the Learning Solutions Conference (LSCON) with my friend and colleague, Britney Cole, vice president of innovation for The Ken Blanchard Companies. LSCON is part of the Learning Guild’s conference circuit. The Learning Guild is “a community of practice for those supporting the design, development, strategy, and management of organizational learning.” I’ve been speaking at this group’s international conferences since 2014.
This year, Britney and I delivered a session titled Using Design Thinking to Create High-Impact Learning Experiences. The focus was about building learning solutions that put the customer at the center of it all. It’s about asking “Who are we solving for?” Once you can answer that, you can start brainstorming and solutioning—and you’ll find the first versions of your solution to be much more on target.
Our interactive session included a five-minute “Persona Jam.” Sounds fun, right? Attendees used Blanchard templates to create a quick-and-dirty persona of a learner group they're solving for in their organization. From there, we shared the tools to a build out a learning journey framework and also did a quick “Journey Jam.” We discussed push and pull content strategies, the critical role of social learning, and how to blend like a boss—you know, how to create an elegant solution that blends our more traditional means of reaching learners (ILT, VILT, digital) with more modern ways that resonate and fit into the flow of their of their work – both their formal learning and informal learning. We also provided our Reimagine Your Content template to help people who want to take a legacy program that needs work and reimagine it into a new, more modern form. All of these things help our practitioner friends frame their solutions, create strong guardrails to keep their work on track, and provide a valuable set of design points to ground their solutions going forward.
After returning from the conference, I reflected on what I learned. Here are some of my takeaways.
Covid Still Casts its Shadow
While it's thrilling to see people traveling and coming together to learn, share, and work, conference attendance has not returned to pre-pandemic days. The crowd was maybe a third the typical size. There were far fewer international participants, which was a bummer—I always seek out the perspectives of my international friends as learning has so many beautiful nuances around the globe. There also were far fewer big sponsors, which opened the door for new players. Read on for more!
Different Attendees with a Different Focus
LSCON’s primary audience is the learning practitioner and people who are in management roles in their company’s learning departments. Additionally, this is a great conference for folks transitioning into our field, and guess what—there is now a huge wave of people who fit into that category given the deluge of work for us in these last two years. It’s one of the greatest joys of my job to be able to connect with and guide these folks; they’re the future of our industry!
Technology was a heavy focus—much more than before. I attribute this to how the pandemic changed the way the world works and how learning happens today versus the last time we were all physically together. It’s not just about face-to-face and click-next-to-continue anymore. Smaller companies that typically delivered training this way are wild on the pivot right now and there is a ton of new, innovative technology to make that pivot easier—especially for newer or less technical practitioners.
Also, just about everyone is still looking for ways to make VILT more engaging. (Hint! Ping me if you want to hear about Blanchard’s approach; it’s truly world class!)
An Explosion of Startups
Industry goliaths are usually all over the expo hall, but not this year. The absence of bigger players gave startups a chance to shine. In the past they didn’t get much airtime but this year they were able to stand out. There was an abundance of these agile competitors with new technology platforms. Many small, dynamic startups that can fulfill the gaps companies face were offering very affordable products.
Learning Pool was one company that caught my eye. They’re not a startup; in fact, they’ve been around for a long time but they have a large European presence. It was really lovely to dive into the Pool and get a look. They offer a learning experience platform that, unlike so many others, seems to have been designed in the way I described at the beginning of this post—with their learners in the center of the design. Some of the big legacy LMS platforms have grown so large and complex that adding new nimble functionality is difficult and takes a very long time. Learning Pool offers a fresh new take on what you may think of when you think of “The LMS.”
7Taps was another company that was very impressive. They offer an authoring platform for creating microlearning courses, which you can then publish. The interface is light and fun, like a digital card game. It has a very modern look and feel and some sweet analytics on the back end. It's also not that costly. It struck me as something new, innovative, and easy. When I think about learning practitioners at smaller companies, this is exactly the kind of tool that could serve that population really well.
Personas Are Rising in Popularity
When we delivered sessions on various topics prior to the pandemic, persona work was a relatively new topic, with only a select few familiar with design and use. When we would ask how many people were familiar with personas, maybe a third of the audience had even heard of them. When we asked that question this year, almost everyone raised their hand. Now, far fewer had designed them—which is what we were there to teach—but it’s inspiring to see our industry evolving every year!
I think COVID was a huge driver in this. Before COVID, so much was done face to face. It was easy to bring people together or just pulse out an eLearning course—which generally wasn’t a great experience as we weren’t putting the individual at the center. We were creating learning systems that were designed for the learning practitioner—easy to build and easy to serve up. Step into mid-2020, where people were working from literally everywhere with different shifts, different and new hours, and different needs. Practitioners had to be able to reach them to help them develop in a time when it had never mattered more. Many people were doing the same job, but in very different ways and from different places, even if they were doing similar work.
When you don’t use personas, it's difficult to figure it all out and create a solution that's going to work universally and meet all your learners where they are. It gave me joy to see the use of personas becoming a more accepted practice.
Next week I will be speaking with Britney Cole again, this time at ATD. The topic will be Using Digital Credentials to Amp the Value of Organizational Learning. If you’re there, check it out. I’ll be sure to share my perceptions of that event when I get back—I am really eager to see how things have changed from last year’s event. If you're there, be sure to ping me in the conference app and say Hi!
About the AuthorMore Content by Ann Rollins