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Testing Conference-Strategy Criteria

Bob Little 

December 12, 2014

A while ago, I wrote a post for this blog on how to get the most from attending conferences. Then, recently, I found myself attending a conference – so I think it’s only fair to see if I could follow my own advice.

The event took place in the splendid and historic setting of The Oval, a sports ground in London dating from 1845. It looked at gamification and next-generation learning management systems. Organized by E-Learning Age magazine, Growth Engineering and Unicorn Training, the conference featured speakers Craig Weiss, the California-based, internationally renowned LMS specialist and market analyst, and An Coppens, whose home is in Sweden but who works in London as a designer of gamification solutions that aim to encourage winning behaviors and business results.

Craig said that 90 percent of common LMS features are shared by the 642 systems currently on the market. Although gamification was growing fast, many LMSs limited its use. In addition, modern user interfaces were gaining importance – notably with the move toward greater personalization of the learning experience.

He predicted the following, for LMS development:

  • 2015: The ability to personalize learning experiences.
  • 2016: Mobile learning comes into its own and the Learning Record Store becomes increasingly important.
  • 2017: There will be more than 800 LMSs on the market.
  • 2020: E-Learning is king – and instructor-led training is not.

According to An, gamification is the application of game dynamics, psychology and mechanics to non-game situations and applications. Citing Gallup’s figures that 13 percent of the global workforce are “engaged” in and by their jobs, 63 percent are “not engaged,” and 24 percent are “actively disengaged,” she listed four key questions that every worker has to answer – the answers to which determine these figures:

  • What do I do – and does it contribute to the greater good of my organization?
  • Do I know what’s required of me?
  • Am I praised for what I do?
  • Do I have the freedom to develop myself as I want?

“On the basis that the customer who complains tells you the truth, you should spend time with those in your organization who’re actively disengaged,” said An. “They’ll tell you what’s wrong – and only then can you do something to make it right. That’s the premise on which we work when we produce gamification in an organizational context. Basically, ‘show and tell’ doesn’t work anymore but ‘show and play’ does.

“Now, according to Talent LMS, 72 percent of learners strongly prefer gamification in their LMS. So, Craig, how many LMSs currently include gamification?”

“About five percent,” was the reply.

How I Fared

So how did I get on at the conference – measured against the article‘s criteria?

Identifying Objectives

Roger Mayo, director of the independent consultancy MT&D Learning Solutions, said: “Beforehand, understand what you want. Is it new insights and understanding; new contacts, meetings and potential business; or time off work?” I gained: new insights and new contacts. Included in that was the promise of some new meetings and, indeed, potential business. However, I’ve been around long enough to know that opportunities and even promises don’t always come to fruition.

Roger also said: “At the event, keep asking yourself, what can I use or see that could enhance what I offer my (in-house or external) customers? Log your answers on your phone, tablet or notebook.” I used an old-fashioned, but trusty, notebook.

Planning Ahead

Vaughan Waller, senior learning architect for Deloitte Learning Technologies, advised: “Read the program and plan which session(s) you’re going to attend.” I did. It was a two-day event. I chose the first day. In the end, I was pleased that I did.

He also said, “The best thing about going to conferences and exhibitions is the networking, bumping into old friends and learning how others are tackling the same issues that you’re facing.” I agree. I met some people at the event whom I hadn’t seen for a while. I also met some new people who, via conversations during breaks in the proceedings, had interesting insights to offer.

Avoiding Wasting Time

Katie Benson, at the time HR business partner at the Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “Don’t just go along for the biscuits.” I didn’t eat any biscuits, even though they looked delicious. The other food was excellent, though. The Oval’s catering was up to its usual high standard.

She also added the following points:

  • Don’t sit at the back with your head down. I arrived unexpectedly late and did sit at the back – so that was a potential mistake. However, I contributed to the discussion and, to my surprise, was subsequently awarded a badge to wear. It said “Super Scholar.” It was awarded in an attempt to create a gamification atmosphere about the whole day. I quite liked it – probably because I won one of the badges that were available.
  • Don’t just think of your organization. Be open-minded and try to explore what other organizations or sectors do. There were new ideas being discussed – especially regarding the use of gamification to help employees engage with their work.
  • Prepare beforehand – as Roger and Vaughan also advise.
  • Approach the event with an “inquisitive mind.” Don’t attend in “listen only” mode. Undertake active listening throughout the event – and keep your mind open. I agree – but I was still surprised to find myself contributing to the discussion. Usually, I like to keep a low profile at conferences.
  • Take a pen and paper and summarize salient points, actions and key takeaways. I did.
  • At the end of the event, write an action plan of what you’re taking away from the event. That plan included writing this blog post.
  • Share, share, and share again. Cascade the great bits of what you’ve learned. I hope that, in relation to gamification, next-generation LMSs and garnering the benefits of conference attendance, this article meets this particular criterion.

You’ll have to take my word for it that I passed my own test, of course. However, I feel that I learned a lot from the event, met and re-met some interesting people, and generally found the whole experience valuable and worthwhile. I hope that these guidelines will help you to feel the same about the events you attend.

How else could I have got even more from this conference? Share your tips and ideas, below.

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One comment on “Testing Conference-Strategy Criteria”:

  1. Angeles wrote:

    and more encouragement to use these tools for lnareing, there is the possibility of creating personal lnareing environments , software interfaces that the learner can add to or edit, to facilitate their lnareing.