Hello Learn Tech, Our Old Friend

Another year, and another Learning Technologies conference successfully in the bag. This year was bigger and better for us – considering our five main takeaways from last year. With a bigger stand and a bigger team, we even managed to slip off to catch a couple of talks and demos (hence better!).

Our design team was out in force talking to people on the booth, as well as taking in the sights and sounds. Here are some of our highlights:

Alan Stewart, Immersive Learning Designer

This year marked my third visit to the Learn Tech expo, but my first with Make Real. The flurry of activity surrounding the stand was palpable and it was great to be representing my new team. This year also marked another first for me – my first time attending the Learn Tech conference – and I was fortunate enough to attend a brilliant talk exploring the progress being made within the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Matt Wicks, co-CEO of Virtual Forge, summarised where we’re at with AI today – likening the current state of affairs to the progress we’d made with the internet back in the mid-1990s. In essence, we’re currently more towards the ‘janky-dial-up-internet’ end of the spectrum than the ‘ultra-fast-WiFi’ end of the spectrum in terms of our AI progress.

That said, Wicks showed the impressive progress we’re making in terms of self-documenting content. As proof of this, he shared some screen capture footage that showcased AI’s audio transcription capabilities. As a YouTube influencer spoke her words of wisdom towards the camera, so the computer transcribed everything she said. What was especially impressive was the computer’s ability to alter spelling, punctuation and grammar – on the fly – changing any inaccuracies in its transcription as further context was provided from the YouTuber’s monologue.

It was an impressive display and made me appreciate that – while today’s AI may be a far cry from Kubrick’s Hal – we’re making remarkable progress within the field of automation.

Leading on from this, Francesco Mantovani – Head of Global Talent Development at Procter & Gamble – offered an appealing vision of how AI could be best used in the future when he shared recent findings from an internal P&G staff survey. What learners want, it turns out, is a smart, always on, personalised coach for their development: something that nudges them, providing suggestions on the right actions at the right time to help them develop further. (I can certainly see the appeal!) For now, this may be a distant dream… but perhaps not in the workplace of tomorrow.

Ava from Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014): our AI isn’t quite this sophisticated yet (…maybe a good thing?)

Matt Garland, Senior Designer

Having attended Learning Technologies a few years ago, this year I was expecting to once again see a bounty of gadgets and build your own robot kits aimed at getting kids excited about STEM subjects in the classroom.  So I have to confess that this year I was slightly disappointed to discover no robots on the show floor whatsoever!  There were, however, quite a few VR headsets to be found, and the feeling that VR is starting to mature a little in this space.

Since the first prototype of the Oculus Rift was released to developers in 2014, VR headsets have been a pretty common sight at all types of conferences and events, as a way of drawing people into booths.  But far from being considered the latest gimmick or gadget, I got a clear sense that people throughout the eLearning space now take VR seriously as a medium for training and education.

And several companies are developing platforms that facilitate integrating VR into existing eLearning platforms.  VR devices on their own are (often literally) black boxes that can offer compelling experiences, but not much interfacing with the outside world.

To be useful for learning en-mass, educators and organisations need control over the devices and need to be getting data back to measure how learners are doing – and things are definitely moving in that direction.

VR offers the potential for detailed tracking such as where the user is looking or how they’re moving their arms – opening up this data will lead to new ways to teach, or make eLearning viable for new domains.

Content-wise, one of the challenges that we face in developing learning experience using immersive technologies is considering how to evaluate the learner’s progress.  I attended a talk by Julie Dirksen that looked at how to diagnose different types of complex skill problems, and what types of learning programmes are appropriate for each.  These are essential considerations for teaching complex non-procedural skills, such as soft skills or working in stressful, dangerous or overwhelming environments  –  domains well suited to training in VR that we are actively working within.

Sophie Costin, Head of Learning Design

I really enjoyed the keynote speech on the first day – I missed the one on the second day, unfortunately. Entitled Life, Work & Learning in the Personalised Century, it was delivered by the very charismatic Timandra Harkness. She spoke about how far we’ve come with personalisation of content and how far we still have to go.

It’s very easy to trick ourselves that we’re now fully out of the age of mass media and into an era of seamless personalisation. But the point she made that really resonated for me was that content is not prioritised for us online, we’re prioritised for content.

Facts, stats and data is used to build a picture of us and then we’re match to the content that seems most relevant. But the picture is more of an x-ray than a fully rounded portrait of who we really are. It seems that the personal side of personalisation still needs to be addressed. And if you’ve ever seen me argue with my Google Home Assistant, you’ll know how strongly I agree with that.

In terms of other talks, Lloyds Banking Group delivered a conference session on their VR journey, including some of the experiences they’ve created with Make Real. I couldn’t make that one myself unfortunately, but by all reports it was very well delivered and received, with lots practical insights. They certainly drove traffic to our booth!

I did catch a couple of other conference speeches, but if I’m honest I remained underwhelmed or feeling mis-sold when the title and synopsis were quite different from what was presented. For my money (although let’s be clear, I didn’t pay) there are much more interesting and more practical talks to be heard nowadays, at smaller events like the annual eLN Connect or the Learn Tech Summer Forum.

There’s definitely been a step change in Learn Tech over the years. Most of the ‘big players’ from what I affectionately consider to be its heyday, were either nowhere to be seen; had a much smaller stand; or are going under new names after acquisitions. Although I have to say the Kineo stand was looking very lovely – they were rocking the Apple-of-eLearning, look.

In their wake seem to be smaller companies, offering stellar off-the-shelf content and tools that makes the creation of learning internally, much more viable. Certainly, from what I’ve seen the quality of internally created digital learning has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. Gone are the days of verbose PowerPoints converted into a Storyline ‘course’ with the liberal use of clipart.

I think a lot of that progress comes from easy-to-use, well designed tools making it more achievable for the quality of output to match the original idea. With the possibility for more courses to be created internally, maybe budgets for externally produced content will go to bigger, more complex solution. VR, perhaps… who knows?

Get in touch

We’re always happy to talk to you about how immersive technologies can engage your employees and customers. If you have a learning objective in mind, or simply want to know more about emerging technologies like VR, AR, or AI, send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.