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LTuk18 – The Field Notes

Whenever I go on a trip, I make a big point about doing two things: washing, ironing, and folding, my pyjamas because nothing is better after a long-haul flight than fresh jammies. The second is choosing an appropriate playlist, carefully curated according to mood and location. These little soundtracks also help me get through my indomitable fear of flying. According to my husband, getting on a plane with me is akin to traveling with a meerkat. For every bounce, jiggle, or sound, I sit straight-up, nervously scanning the faces of the flight attendants for traces of worry. Over 100,000 KM flown and not a chink in my anxiety armour. I am that good #not.

It was an obvious choice for this year’s playlist for Learning Technologies UK: The Clash. And I am not talking about the ubiquitous London Calling. No, this was a job for a deeper cut. Since the conference was being held in the Olympia, there was no question: (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais. For those not familiar with The Clash (which is a damn crying shame) the song is about the famous Hammersmith Palais de danse in the late 1970’s. Whilst the dance hall was torn down in 2007, the original site was mere blocks from my hotel. iTunes volume set to 11, s’il vous plait.

So what did I think of the conference? Well, in a un-word, very “conference-y”. This is not a bad thing. The nature of these types of events is for vendors to promote their wares and talk about what is trending in the industry. Both of these boxes were ticked. The exhibition hall was fully packed with demos and swag, and judging by the volume of people, lots of engagement and traffic flow.

I was amused at the number of outspoken complaints about the floor map and signage. Seriously? This is an industry that takes a good 10+ clicks to reach a piece of content on an LMS and calls it the Netflix of Learning. Navigation is not an L&D strength…but I digress.

Prior to the event, I was at an illicit gathering of other like-minded L&D peeps (nameless here, but you know who you are) Over a few too many bottles of wine, we talked what the next two days would bring. More specifically we hilariously mapped out an L&D buzzword bingo card. Whilst it started as a joke among friends, it quickly turned into an ominous prediction of LTUK18. Microlearning, personalised, gamification, mobile-friendly, curated, BINGO! Yes, there was a lot of the same old, same old. This is not the fault of the organisers. It is where the industry is. Le grand yawn.

To me, there was one big a-ha takeaway from the entire conference: to move forward, we must partner together. The vendors in attendance could be grouped into three main categories: LMS providers, content-side providers (either rapid authoring tools or libraries), and then learning platforms like Fuse and Degreed. There are a few outliers like Watershed (miss you! love you! xoxo), but for the most part, this is the triangle. Or rather, three separate bars trying to make it on their own.

The LMS folks are busy demonstrating they are building better user experiences, which are dubious improvements to my discerning eye and still do not consider the ways people consume content. As for the libraries and tools, it is still the same click-next, avatar, drag and drop, yay! a passing score, stuff. They pay attention to transmitting completions to the LMS via SCORM, but that is as far as they really collaborate with them. The platforms are starting to bridge the gap by measuring engagement. Still, if the content is stinky, as it often is, no technology is going to fix that problem.

The other observation was an odd relationship between upstairs and downstairs. I was lucky to have been loaned a pass to go see some of the high calibre speakers on the floor above the free-for-all exhibition hall. Basically I had a golden ticket for learning nerds. The presentation I saw was interesting, but at the break, few people were speaking to each other and as I poked about, there was little interest in going to see the vendors. It all felt a little Downton Abbey. Here were all of the decision-makers and yet there was little linking the theory to the problems being solved (literally) beneath their feet. I was not the only one to make this observation. I heard it from others and it was echoed in Amanda Nolen’s post here. This has to change.

I am glad I made it across the pond for the week. Meeting in-person many of the connections I have online was brilliant. Likewise, I was very impressed by the very civilised decision to break open the bubbly at 5 o’clock each day. Coming from Canada, where you have to basically obtain a papal dispensation to serve alcohol on public grounds, I was most impressed. I extend a big thank you to everyone who took time to speak to me about the blog and eBook. Apparently my writing is really popular in Denmark – who knew? Next stop Copenhagen?

After a couple glasses of prosecco on Thursday night, I wandered back to the hotel and made a point of stopping by the site of the Hammersmith Palais de danse. For those who are curious, it is now an outlet for a gym chain. I stood there listening to The Clash, having a wee bit of a moment, until a pumped-up guy carrying a protein shake told me to move it. It was awkward.

So forgive me this very gratuitously stretched metaphor, but when (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais was written, it was about a lot of things, but mostly a frustration with the commercialisation of the music industry. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wanted to create something new, not sell out, and honour their ethics. I am no guitarist or song writer, but the people I truly connected with at LTUK all want to do the same thing. It is time to tear it all down. Or more aptly from White Riot“Are you taking over / Or are you taking orders? / Are you going backwards / Or are you going forwards?”

Did you like what you read? Come hang out with the cool kids at my blog: www.lori.ca and download my free eBook “Data-Driven Learning Design” while you are there.