A Rookie at Learning Technologies


Catch me with coffee in hand and a cold, northerly wind keeping me indoors, and I might well answer an email invitation to suffer a SurveyMonkey questionnaire. That was why yesterday, almost two weeks after Learning Technologies at London’s ExCel, I answered their survey. It gave me an opportunity to pause and reflect on my experience and, overall, it was very positive. Having to travel 70 miles, I’d not been definite about going to both days, but I did. As did my colleague, Philip Greenwood. It was really that useful, in contrast to many of the hundreds of information technology events I’ve been to.

It’s been over twenty years since I left the Open University where I’d won awards for what became known as e-Learning. The work then was pioneering, and I have since led the creation of a variety of types of educational and professional development courses, in many modalities. I realised it was time for an update, as we’ve been working to identify the options for Ipseita’s Digital Acumen offering. We started this updating process when we joined the Learning Network as industry partners, and thanks to it and Learning Technologies, decisions have been made and plans laid.

My overall impression

It’s an almost overwhelming number of things to get through in two days. So you really need to plan, especially if the time slots of seminars you’re interested in overlap. Many free presentations were of interest to me, but I got more value from conversations at the exhibition stands where I was a participant and not just a listener.

Generally, the people on the exhibition stands were really helpful, knowledgeable, generous with their time and friendly. But keep in mind that most people on the stands are there to generate sales leads, so it helps to be direct in what you’re looking for. Often, I was more interested partnering or collaboration, which was fine for many exhibitors as those could lead to sales, but reading the signals and retreating would have been better in several situations. On a few occasions, I realised what a company stated in their show information, was less nuanced than what they said on their website and I should have given precedence to the show positioning.

On reflection, I also think timing is key when approaching stands to get the most value from a conversation. For example, stands will be busiest right after someone from the company has spoken at a seminar, so you might have to wait a while to talk to someone. Or by the end of the day they, and you, might be all talked out. So next time I’ll probably plan around that.

I think my most valuable conversations will come after the event. It was helpful to scan people’s badges or use The Learning Technologies app to follow up on conversations. And I was able to connect with some people via LinkedIn on the spot. That’s ideal, and I should have risked appearing to be rude to get the contact details of individuals.

How I navigated the exhibition

To the main event: When confronted after a 2-hour journey with an enormous space, with a crowd of exhibitors and bigger crowd of punters, swollen by the neighbouring HR Technologies crowd, it was marvellous to quickly find the Learning Network stand and be greeted by new friends. Initially Tom, Kim and Sam, with Paula following later. It’s not just the social boost they provided. They knew the layout and had suggestions to make about who to visit and talk to. The LN stand was roughly in a corner which was perfect for getting our bearings and fanning out. After the first day they (cleverly?) made us take a long de-pressurising walk to a riverside hostelry for refreshments and excellent conversation.

Having a specific agenda for our updating mission helped me avoid the distractions of shiny new sirens and keep on-mission. We were looking for partners of various types, not customers, and we had technical and practical questions about SCORM, XAPI, etc. which we needed answers to. Among the many from whom I came away with some new knowledge or understanding: Area9 Lyceum, Core Learning, Articulate, Rocket Industries, GetAbstract, Rustici Software, Open Sesame, Learning Pool, the Charity Learning Consortium, Stellar Labs, Udemy Business, the Access Group, HowNow. Of course, a couple of organisations on my list to visit were missed, and I’ve been following up with them.

As the awful saying has it “we eat our own dog food”. Critical thinking, systems thinking, decision quality, cognitive biases, etc. all need to be active when engaging with people who are, for the most part, at an event like Learning Technologies to market and to sell. The marketing was full-on, of course, but the selling was generally done in good spirit, with offers of ice-cream, coffee, and even beer! There was merch available, but my swag for the two days was two notebooks and a paperback book, for some reason with a red ribbon around it.

The ExCel venue itself was functional and, thanks to the new Elizabeth Line, is easy to get to. The queues for decent fast food at lunchtime were tolerable, and the sun shone on both days, so escaping for a breather with the smokers was pleasant.

Everyone was talking about AI

We’d been exploring GPT-2 and building our own bot 18 months ago. So it was a pleasant surprise to see so many people talking about AI at Learning Technologies. There were many, many companies claiming they were already productively using generative AI in creating their products and delivering their services. Many companies and learning designers also said they were experimenting with using ChatGPT. Our work is on conversational AI for specific goals and purposes, so we were pleased to see this. But a bit of probing often highlighted that the industry is only starting to realise AI’s potential. If nothing else, ChatGPT and similar help creative people put something on the empty page. But, undeniably, real change is happening.

What I learned

So, what are my main lessons as a Learning Technologies rookie?

  • Have a definite mission.
    It helped me prioritise among unexpected opportunities that happen.
  • Manage your time
    Put up with rush hour and higher fares to get there early. It helped me get my bearings and plan in breaks.
  • Download the Learning Technologies app in advance
    It really does help you plan ahead and find the stands you want to visit. It also helped to find people’s contact details to follow up (taking a photo of name badges also helps).
  • Study the show information of companies you don’t know
    A standard use of a company website is to market products and services. Websites are often changed only with sign-off by senior people who are subtle in their positioning and happy to use nuance to keep opportunities open. It’s likely that a busy 2-day event needs focus, so some vendors may choose to focus on specific things. If you are planning a conversation make sure you don’t just depend on the website.

My final reflection on Learning Technologies 2023 is to do with Generative AI and the speed of change. Put it this way: on the way home on the first day, I was messaging with somebody dear to me who is a writer and editor. I asked them if they had listened to me about what’s happening – and if they had found a niche to survive in while working out how to diversify in the face of technology-driven change. They replied that they had listened, and their planned change was work already under way. I was very glad to hear that.

Everybody at Learning Technologies 2023 should have picked up the signals about Generative AI. Whatever their work, ignoring them would be unwise. The time for change is now.

About Fname Lname

I am a founder, director and CIO of Ipseita, and co-developed the Nymidy concept. As an emeritus (full) Professor of IT, I use my R&D skills to develop innovative solutions for clients, apply academic rigour to process design, and utilise my educational experience helping others connect technical ideas to business opportunities.