DevLearn 2017 Recap
Through airport security screening, I look for food service near my departure gate. The Chophouse and Brewery it is. I spot the one remaining seat at the bar and squeeze in, order my drink and food, and begin to unwind. My intent is to stop to reflect after three days of intense thinking among my Learning and Development colleagues from around the world at DevLearn 2017. I have copious notes and tweets that I can analyze later. This is my time to relax.
Then I spot something that intrigues me. To my left, a woman works on a Hewlett-Packard laptop. From its thickness, I recognize it’s a hard drive model. To her left, a man types on his second-generation MacBook Pro, easily recognized by its SuperDrive CD-ROM slot on the side. I recognize this because I’ve been contemplating upgrading my third generation MacBook Pro with a 256GB solid state drive. Last week I was evaluating the value of an incremental upgrade. Today, the scene I observe makes me think differently, thanks to DevLearn. I think about how the incremental advances in technology, over years, lead to significant changes in the things technology enables. Not too long ago, we were a society connected by ships, planes, trains, and automobiles. More recently, we became a society connected by wires. Today we are wireless, both terrestrially with our interpersonal communication devices, as well as through space-based communication technology that is invisible to most of us.
What will tomorrow bring? What will we look like as a global society ten or twenty years from now? Will cybercriminal acts increasingly affect society? Will we continue to advance at a rapid pace or will we remain static, regress, or even implode? These are thoughts for others. Technology advances are driven by business and markets. While Learning and Development is a part of business, I see our role more as how to leverage current and future technologies to facilitate learning in an optimal way, balancing effectiveness with efficiency, increasingly making a difference at the time and place of performance need. So how does this relate to DevLearn 2017?
The Future is Here
The theme of DevLearn 2017 was that the future is here. An interesting play on words, but a useful way to look at technology-assisted learning and the untapped potential of today’s technology – not just what’s coming tomorrow. The conference program served the theme well, from the four keynote presentations to each of the concurrent sessions I attended. As I contemplate the evolution of the laptop displayed to my left, my mind bounces to the evolution of computing in general, and then to the conference and my re-sparked enthusiasm for the difference I can make in the workplace.
The closing keynote was delivered by Jane McGonigal, director of game research and development with the Institute for the Future. Jane challenged us to think of ourselves, not technology, ten years and more into the future. She highlighted that we need to think not about the change in technology itself, but the changes in technology within the context of changes in ourselves and in our world. We will be older, we will undergo natural changes in our lives. The world we live in will change, geopolitically as well as environmentally.
For many of my colleagues, this was exciting, a chance to imagine the change they can personally effect both at work and within their communities. They have decades ahead of them and the future offers exciting new things. For me, it caused me pause. Ten years from now, I plan to be retired or close to it. Not that I plan to stop working and certainly not thinking and working to make a difference, but my time to make a lasting impact on my workplace is waning.
It’s tempting to think about the future in the context of the past and the present. It was evident there is a fourth, and this may have been the preponderance of the conference programming: what is coming in the very near future, and how Learning and Development can or should use that technology.
In past conferences, colleagues lamented the tendency of our industry to fixate on the glitz of the newest technology and race to implement it. That often leads to poor experiences and lost opportunity to leverage the technology. The classic example was the emergence of television and how, having no better models, broadcasters simply moved their existing programming to the new medium – and they pointed cameras at their radio broadcasters. While hardly a good use of the new technology, it paved the way for better thinking and ultimately innovations in how to really take advantage.
There is no better example of this than virtual reality, which was a focus of mine at this conference. Virtual reality, or VR, tops the list of “coming” technologies. At the moment, VR typically involves a headset the user wears to enter a virtual world apart from his or her own. One takeaway from a session was the distinction between “full VR” in which the user experiences a fully synthesized world – everything seen and heard (or perhaps engaging other senses, for some extreme VR experiences) is created by computer technology. The user can interact with elements within this world and move to other locations within it. This is distinct from a “360 VR” experience which is somewhat different – transporting the user to a location with a 360-degree view of that locale (technically, 360 is a misnomer since the user can look in all directions within the world, including up and down, not just 360 degrees in a circle). In this experience, the user may “move” through the world, but the experience is predetermined and typically outside the user’s control. Yet another experience is augmented reality, where the user experiences a virtual reality in the context of their true reality, where they physically are.
My sense is that VR can be thought of as here and now, but probably primitive in its implementation. Like early television shows, the L&D field is currently struggling to figure out how to really take advantage of the technology for learning. I saw a few very engaging examples using 360 VR, but virtually all left me thinking the result was no less significant than a well-thought-out piece of elearning. It’s important that we experiment with the technology to learn what it can and can’t do, but I’d be a little cautious where significant budgets are concerned.
The Here and Now
DevLearn looks beyond the here and now, but its participants live in reality. The conference program offered a wide range of implementable solutions in a number of areas. My focus, perhaps needless to say, was video. Video continues to grow in popularity, but organizations still seem to struggle with proper, efficient, and effective use of the medium. Increasingly, microlearning – the act of learning in discrete increments of time – is equated with use of video. It’s inherently wrong to link the two, but I’m slowly giving up my objection since video remains the one medium that works effectively from the desktop to mobile devices that can be used at the time and place of need.
A final session I attended was on the sense of community. Facilitated by David Kelly, Julian Stodd and Trina Rimmer discussed what community means in 2017. Neither focused on technology, yet it is the technology that connects community members in ways never before possible. Julian in particular talked about the social norms of communities and the process of bringing new people into a community. He talked also about tribes, and a social currency of trust – all extraordinarily useful concepts when one thinks of his or her business as a community. I came away with new thought-provoking concepts that I hope to bring to my own workplace.
So that’s my brief summary of DevLearn 2017, The Future is Here. Overall another excellent production by the eLearning Guild and, significantly, the largest event in the series that I’ve seen. I didn’t get a count of attendees, but Guild leadership described it as slightly larger than last year. It felt crowded at the venue, and that translated to a high energy among those participating. I can’t wait to put some of what I learned into action and look forward to next year.