Learning Technologies through the eyes of a seasoned newbie

For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, Learning Technologies is an annual conference and exhibition of organisations working in the digital learning space. It’s a big date in the industry calendar and I’ve been going since 2011, but this year was my first with Make Real.

I thought I was a seasoned Learn Tech pro, but this year was different. Previously I’ve attended with large companies that have already saturated the market. If clients are there, we knew them; we were working with them – we probably had live projects at the time. The objectives were to turn up, be seen, attend a conference talk, eat a canape. Needless to say, I’ve got all those things down to a fine art.

But this year, there were plenty of new connections to make. People seemed genuinely excited to talk about the possibilities VR could offer their learners. Over the course of the two days, I had some really interesting conversations with faces old as well as new.

Here are a few things l learnt at Learn Tech 2019:


1. We need a bigger stand (#humblebrag).

Over the two days, we were inundated with people wanting to have serious conversations about how VR could work for them. The stand was packed for most of the time and our off-site VR lab became a welcome retreat from the hubbub of the trade floor. 

Although there are still a number of VR sceptics out there, as well people who just don’t feel ready, for me there was a noticeable mindset shift this year.  VR wasn’t being discussed as an edge case, or worse, as a gimmick. It was being considered as a genuine solution for people eager to expand their learning toolbox.

This growing appetite for VR also seemed to be reflected in the number of talks and seminars on the topic. Along with AI, measuring impact and learning cultures it was a hot topic of Learn Tech 2019.

It was notable that, despite the number of talks, there are still relatively few immersive technologies companies in the exhibition hall itself. I suspect there’ll be more next year as the industry picks up the pace.


2. People wanted to talk about soft skills.

Of all the courses that people wanted to try, our soft skills examples were by far the most popular. Even before we mentioned that there were pre-existing experiences to demo, people wanted to get our take on how soft-skills can be handled within virtual reality.

In the conversations, people were citing a number of legitimate reasons to create a VR solution over their current (usually face-to-face) training. It included: achieving consistency in coaching feedback, creating a safe and private place to fail, as well as a way of reducing the costs and training time.

With practical examples already under our belt and many more business cases out there, soft-skills is set to be the big, burgeoning area of 2019.


3. Deployment remains a big concern.

With interests piqued the next question that kept coming up was, ‘how do I deploy VR to my learners?’ The logistics of getting the experience to a learning group, especially one that’s geographically dispersed, is still a significant and reasonable concern for many.

We’ve spent the last 10-20 years moving towards digital to alleviate some of the challenges and expense associated with getting everyone in a room for a face-to-face session. When workplaces are becoming more dispersed and working patterns more flexible, we can’t go back to traditional face-to-face strategies.

While networked VR experiences, which allow people to connect and co-collaborate remotely, are possible, they’re still relatively rare in the learning space. As clients are still dipping their toes into the immersive tech waters, the current role out plan tends to be simple and straightforward. But over the next year, as people grow in confidence and experience, we’ll start to see examples of more ambitious deployment plans.   


4. We need to look again at measuring impact.

Although this wasn’t a question that came up much on the stand (I suppose there’s always a sense of preaching to the converted or near-converted), measuring impact was the subject of a number of talks and seminars.

As one industry professional put it to me: “L&D departments are a cost to the business unless we can prove that what we do is saving the company money elsewhere.” Eep, when you put it like that it’s a wonder that measuring impact isn’t ‘baked in’ to more project plans.

Talks focussed on the ineffectualness of determining the success of training based on end-user surveys. Happy learners don’t always equate to changed learners, so we need to look at more concrete indicators to determine which training has really had the desired effect and delivered a return on the investment. It’s such a big and important topic, there’ll be more on measuring impact in next months blog.   


5. Next year, we need a better pack down plan.

At a respectable 5 pm, we went to bring the van round to the back of the Excel so that we could pack down and sale triumphantly into the sunset.

But as the hours passed, we started to realise that 5 pm wasn’t earlier enough to join the inevitable pack down scrum. Soon most of the other exhibitors had made it out and as the cherry pickers rolled in to dismantle the stands around us I couldn’t help but think, we need a better get out plan for next year… 

If you’re looking to deploy immersive technology for learning, get in touch to discuss further.  info@makereal.co.uk

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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.