Learning Technologies 2010 was a great learning experience. Listening to some good speakers and sharing thoughts & ideas with some equally brilliant attendees was delightful. Earlier I posted my recap of the event (day 1, day 2) mentioning the strong and definite trend towards social, informal, and collaborative learning. While the event is over, the discussions and learning continues in the blogosphere.
Mark Berthelemy’s in his reflections on the event talked about the ‘disconnect’ between what was happening at the conference and at the exhibition area. Most vendors at the exhibition floor were selling ‘outdated products which won’t work’. His argument is primarily against the LMS systems which help us feel in control of providing & measuring access, completions, reporting, tracking, but not learning. Given that most LMS systems are digital versions of what classroom training management was all about, that’s not a surprise. However, the silver lining is that LMS systems are evolving to find a balance between an LMS and SNS. I am quite sure that some LMS systems will evolve and some wont; those that don’t will eventually die.
In a follow-up post Mark argues – this disconnect is more about the beliefs and attitudes of those who hold the purse strings. I agree. Though I think that mindset is changing, even if it is slowly. Vendors (including us) are trying to educate their clients about newer solutions and how those could help achieve better learning results; which I agree with Mark is ‘change’.
The Other Disconnect
Mark’s original post generated a healthy discussion. Jay Shaw commented with a logical and passionate defense of the LMS which makes interesting reading & brings a realistic focus to the discussion.
In another comment, Robin Hoyle (who exhibited at the Learning Technologies 2010) mentions that vendors were not allowed to present at the conference – surprising but true!
What he says further is even more interesting:
“… no vendors would be a fine policy if no conference speaker ever pitched their book, blog or consultancy from the podium”
To be fair, everyone out there – speakers (at the conference) & vendors (at the exhibition stalls) are trying to promote themselves. Just that the vendors are doing it explicitly through a stall. There’s nothing wrong with either else, why would they be there in the first place? It is up to the buyers to decide and chose what ideas, products, or solutions may work for them. While one can say the vendors are selling old stuff. Vendors may say speakers are selling concepts that not many are ready for and may even ‘allege’ (for want of a better word) that in doing so speakers are creating an ‘unreal disconnect’, a big debate with no clear winners.
Is it a Disconnect?
I think a large part of the ‘disconnect’ isn’t real. Just because we are ready to accept and believe new ideas about what works doesn’t mean they’d be accepted and adopted immediately, that’s unrealistic. Each company is at a different level of maturity and that tie into their understanding of new & evolving learning processes, systems, and solutions.
Some may be already experimenting with social tools while others have no idea about such tools. Sometimes companies in a particular country /region are not culturally ready to accept solutions like social media so soon – even if their L&D managers and CEOs get it. And many a time clients just don’t have funds for the solutions that are ideal for their requirements. So they (along with their vendors) settle for something suboptimal – it’s not that the vendor started by selling suboptimal stuff.
Mobile learning (or mLearning) is probably a good example here. As an eLearning solution provider, we’ve been watching mLearning on the horizon for at least the last 5-6 years. However, it didn’t really take off till recently, when we are seeing real interest and adoption. Lower bandwidths, devices that aren’t capable, lack of proper development platforms & skills, or the mindset to leverage these – contributed to its slow uptake. We could say a disconnect existed back in 2004-05 when a speaker (talking about mLearning) at a conference couldn’t find a vendor in the exhibition area offering mobile learning solutions.
To me the real disconnect lies in the readiness of the overall market or region and specifically of individual organizations. Each is at a different stage. As solution providers we need to assess &understand that and propose solutions that work best for a client in a unique situation. We may choose to call this disconnect ‘disparity’.
As a closing thought, consider this: For every attendee at the conference, there are hundreds (probably thousands) of L&D professionals who aren’t attending. Some of them because of lack of time (or money) but then there are others simply because they didn’t want to. Maybe they think conferences are a waste of time and money as speakers talk of up-in-the-air stuff which either doesn’t make sense to them or does not work. A survey of people not attending the conference would be a good idea to unearth this. However, I do like Mark’s ideas about dealing with disconnect (or disparity).
What do you think?