Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Learning Innovations Conference


The first, of what the team at GOSH hope will be an annual, conference on learning innovation in the National Health Service (NHS).  Although I am outside of the NHS, the presentations sounded interesting so I decided to attend.  In reality a lot of the sessions were pretty generic and not public sector or NHS centric.

There were a lot of interesting ideas discussed through the day in what was clearly a mixed audience in terms of awareness of learning technology, innovation, etc.  The day certainly seemed useful especially to those newer to learning innovation/technology.

#GOSHLIC2013 (although I totally failed to tweet on the day as I was busy chatting and typing).

New to me (at risk of sounding ignorant):

  • Delegates and sponsors presumed I was there due to the NHS/KPMG/LINE leadership development program [I had not realised quite how a big a project this was from the NHS perspective].
  • ‘Just Now, Just Right, Just Enough’ as a description of the post-Just In Time world was new I think [is this any different to the idea of ‘Just for me’?].
  • Mobile audience categorization as:
    • “Repetitive now”
    • “Bored now” or
    • “Urgent now”.
  • One of the sponsors = [although I do have a habit of forgetting the names of eLearning companies].
  • An outlined marketing approach (define audience > define proposition > how back it up – substantiation > call to action) more useful to think about than 9Ps [which is the main thing I remember from my marketing training].
  • The Open Source, Adapt framework, being a collaboration between different eLearning vendors.

Longer narrative/explanation of the day’s sessions…

Opening address: L&D for the 21st Century (Donald H Taylor)

I attend various things Don organizes so I had seen some of this before.  However, it was still an engaging call for L&D departments to not ‘go the way of the typing pool’ and avoid becoming a redundant part of the business.

He started with a simple question, ‘what have you seen change in the last 5 years?’  This kicked off several minutes of discussion.  Some of the more interesting points made were where disagreement was sparked in the room:

  • Can remote learning be as social as face-to-face?  I argued that it is social, but often in an ongoing form rather than the 8-hour classroom session followed by drinks model that people have become accustomed to.
  • Change has ultimately been driven by cost cutting?  eLearning and virtual classroom have been a response to funding and business drivers, not learning enhancement?  A key theme to emerge here, and reoccur through the day, was the problems that compliance training in the NHS (and other industries) has created for eLearning.  It was good to hear some stories of more engaging compliance items starting to bring that boat back to shore and help with eLearning’s image problem.
  • We need ongoing learning to support evidence based practice but evidence in NHS of people cheating on eLearning (for example posting crib sheets online and having their team complete tests for them).  Issue is the staff who think cheating is acceptable or the marketing of the eLearning (including the perceived importance staff hold for it)?

There was an interesting metaphor thrown up in the discussions – L&D departments need to act like a DJ.  We can have a planned ‘set’ but if no one is getting on the dance floors then we need to learn to change things to increase engagement and get people moving.

Don then went through the argument about L&D needing to change as fast as the business.  If we get this right then we can have ‘learning leadership’ (formerly labelled ‘risky’), too many L&D departments are behind their business’ change curve and stuck in the ‘training ghetto’.  Don traced the problems back to 1990 and two key changes:

  1. The WWW and the change to ‘frictionless’ information, where we can find what we want in most cases without the need of an intermediary.  The web shows change does not have to be difficult – users have adopted YouTube, Google, etc. without even thinking about it.  RuderFinn index shows the web is primarily used for learning, issue for many corporates is that in-house systems are simply not as easy to use as websites so people ignore them [this is a similar argument that has been made against the continuing value of corporate information/library teams].
  2. Tipping point between value of tangible and intangible value in organizations.  World now all about skills and talent and L&D have not adapted appropriately.

In terms of point 1 above, the question was asked what are key new technologies in changing the environment going forward, suggestions included:

  • Hardware changes are increasing engagement with elearning via touch, voice activation, etc.
  • Personalization of learning paths via improved systems that automatically recognize cross selling of content opportunities and your prowess.
  • Rapid development tools for further democratization of learning production.
  • Augmented reality for contextualizing the real world via web information.
  • Virtual worlds maturing for specific uses in role plays and simulations, partly via gamification techniques.

Don’s top three were:

  • Mobile
  • Video
  • The Cloud

Ultimately he argued that the combination of the three can allow for a more fluid learning environment, both in terms of production (such as BT’s successful ‘Dare 2 Share’ program) and maintenance (moving things out of IT control and firewall problems).  I would agree with Don’s point that these three are here to stay and that many L&D departments are well behind the general/end-user curve in adoption.  The point he made about APIs linking more and more of these systems in the cloud, I would say, leads to the big challenge – that L&D successfully moves to full blown use of systems and data.

For Point 2 Don used the analogy of his first car.  Back in the day you would tinker with your car, play with the spark plugs, etc.  Today we are happy with much less control over a far more complex machine; we only alter the oil and water.  He argued L&D needs to stop getting hands dirty tinkering and instead get behind the wheel and drive things forward.  He seemed to be pointing to two things here for me:

  1. The need to be more strategic and play a role in ensuring the business follows a route to success.
  2. That L&D need not be the producers of content but rather guide learners through our information heavy world to the bits of content which are of highest value to them.  This kind of idea always, for me, brings us back to the question of what L&D/Corporate Universities are really for.

Making mobile learning work for you (LINE)

This started with some background to mobile before a (very) abbreviated version of their design workshop (which they would normally engage with a client over half a day or more).

The background content argued that:

  • Traditional eLearning assumed a person-to-PC-at-desk relationship.  Now need to design for a less predictable learning environment, need to recognize workforce flexibility and mobile device use.
  • Just In Case (JIC) training is old hat.  Indeed Just In Time (JIT) is on its way out.  Instead now talking about ‘Just Now, Just Right, Just Enough’.
  • Argued against some of the myths of mobile [I would say a number of these were early presumptions which were never likely to be true].
  • Examples included that people will use devices in complex ways, for example starting tasks on mobile and finishing on a tablet/desktop later (this certainly chimes with me as I constantly send things between my 6(!?!) devices to action via my preferred UX/UI at the best time for me).
  • Tablets were described as ‘consumption juggernauts’ changing the delivery channel of multiple industries.  Learning needs to catch up [I wouldn’t disagree but I would also argue that consumption-centricity is a tablet myth – and will be increasingly so as Windows8 picks up].
  • I liked the idea of mobile as a frontier (as in Wild West or Final) and that it is still new enough for there to be ‘opportunities for all’.

Workshop element:

  • Think about development projects as a Venn diagram between audience, context and content.
  • Google identify three types of mobile user: ‘bored now’ (for example when waiting for a friend or on a train), ‘urgent now’ (need to find something quickly like the nearest garage when your car has broken down), and ‘repetitive now’ (same content over and over, such as, how to do a task or checking the weather forecast).
  • We had a number of worksheets to work through:
    • What business issues trying to solve/what you want to achieve;
    • Audience characteristics, needs and requirements;
    • Mapping the context of use (device, location, mindset, activities, etc);
    • Paper prototyping of actual design.

Following the workshop activity there was a bit on ‘what next for mobile?’.  I would agree that it simply has to be seen as part of the mix/blend of what you offer in terms of resources.  I would also agree that there is a long way to go to achieve true ‘just for me’ learning in most contexts, making use of your mobile’s functionality to recognize who and where you are and what you are doing.

The session ended with a brief plug for Linestream, their solution to all of this.

Content marketing for engagement (MyLearningWorx)

This session only got a fairly small way through the proposed slide deck but it still managed to consider some key messages that L&D could learn from marketing [‘content marketing’ is a bit of a buzz term at the time being the influence of which is being considered in various industries, including instructional design].

Existing logic in L&D is that to gain adoption we need:

  • higher production values (get people to pay attention via quality) and/or
  • carrot and stick.

The second tends to be better than the first but neither is best practice if look at it from a marketing perspective.  Personally, I would also point out that production values can often be irrelevant if you think how popular ‘user generated content’ is.

Marketing has become more specific as data driven in digital era.  L&D catching up in this area with data analytics but still facing some legacy challenges:

  • information overload (too many courses for would-be learners to work through),
  • employees don’t want to do it (no self motivation, insufficient reward),
  • using eLearning for compliance turns people off (as mentioned in the intro session).

The presenter had a full 10 challenges list [slides were deliberately text heavy I’ll try and add a link shortly].

Introduced a four stage process for marketing eLearning – used for 50 years in top advertising agencies:

  1. define audience,
  2. define proposition,
  3. how back it up (substantiation),
  4. call to action.

I suspect that learning designers normally do this as part of ADDIE-type models but that the proposition is not strong enough and the calls to action are weak [i.e. we need to focus more on the marketing/curation and less of the content itself].  More detail on the four stages:

  • Audience – capture main stream of audience.  Do not try to capture everyone, if spending money on advertising this is impossible, aim for centre of target.  Indeed, if aim for specific audience you can hold community together (Sheila’s Wheels, etc build on prejudice or other hook). Understanding target market has ballooned as an industry – advertising huge part of big data.
  • Proposition – engage with audience once you know them. Proposition all about the value they will get. Needs to be simple, short and to point – punchy.  Can be something which seems odd or is not the main reason for buying a product (the hole in a mint for example) but about remembering the product – stick in mind of audience.
  • Substantiation – how can you back up the proposition?  About Features combined with Benefits = Evidence (essentially Kirkpatrick in learning context, substantiation of evidence of learning).  Can use course descriptions to make case to potential users/learners.  If we cannot provide evidence, via Kirkpatrick type approach, then the course is of questionable quality. However, the main point made was that it is difficult.  In email marketing you only have 50 characters (for subject) that can make or break you.  Need emotional tie in. Argued for the benefit of rhythm, the flow of words can be more important than content.
  • Call to action – what do we do to get to the goal(s).  The example here was an interesting one – how to chat up a lady.  If marketing a fantastic product (i.e. you are Brad Pitt) then you perhaps don’t need to sell, more likely situation is that you need to break down the deal.  Start with free content (glasses of wine) to get first goal, the contact point such as an email address (phone number).  The initial target being to aim for another selling opportunity (a date).  In other words…start communication to build on later for ultimate success (ongoing relationships).

Overall, the session was a useful reminder that even when you think you have a captive audience you should still consider your ‘pitch’.

Way beyond the course – getting engagement by any means necessary (Kineo)

This session sounded interesting but had a late name change to “10 trends for learning, technology and engagement in 2014”, a presentation covering the outcomes from Kineo’s latest research.

The discussion followed the 10 points in the report:

  • 1/2 – Learning is pervasive seemed to merge in with Design and delivery in a pervasive world.  70/20/10 to 33/33/33 – social/informal/formal [of course there are multiple variations of this, including Q2 Learning’s].  Learning designers need to consider a more complex blend, including the informal and user generated content.  New models are emerging, for example, a major bank has managers post blog entries to demonstrate competencies.  Commenting, ratings and sharing by the audience can be used to judge quality.  Tools can include Hangouts and Skype, many people are already familiar with them and it adds the social element to learning resources.
  • 3 – Assessment is different in a pervasive learning world.  Becoming ever less valid to just Multiple Choice your assessments; Tin Can will record experiences not just scores. Other changes include continuous fluid formative assessment and Open Badges.  Most people in the room didn’t seem to know about Open Badges so changes to certification took up quite a bit of the session, there was an argument that the key point is that they do expire so can enforce keeping your skills current.  There was general agreement that rigor and creditability will be needed for them to be a success but I would suggest we can see badges becoming like anything else – there will be a mix in quality.  We are kidding ourselves if we think every university course is comparable, YouTube videos vary enormously, etc. – Open Badges will vary too, as part of an open ecosystem.
  • 4 – Design and delivery challenges.  Content and learning to be pervasive to all devices, for example, need to move away from Flash.  60% of smart phone use at home so talking multiple ‘devices’, not ‘mobile’.  However, for producers/editors there are major issues with multiple versions of same product, so aim is for versions that respond, not multiple versions.  Some issues with IT still although departments are opening up to Open Source, BYOD, etc.  Kineo have responsive design solution to get around multi device world, Adapt framework – have open sourced it and trying to work with Sponge and LearningPool on this [I had not realized at the LearningPool event that their authoring tool changes were the same thing as this].  There was a brief demo of the tool’s output, including arguing for benefits of a scrolling approach to navigation design rather than old click-through-PowerPoint style.  Bookmark and tracking in LMS will treat an item accessed as one item (i.e. move learning toward the ‘Netflix experience’).  They have an online community in place to support the launch of Adapt and it should be released from early January but are using it in some places – showed public scout training.  Another advantage of html is that it is searchable, so can help with the move from course to resource models.  In designing higher empathy learning, follow ideas of Charles Leadbeater, we need to move to high system/high empathy learning.  Personalize what we offer in the way other systems do (for example Amazon and Google are highly personalized) – Amazon even recognizes when you hover over something but don’t click on it.
  • 5 – Line managers remain critical.  Managers essentially a tool for ensuring empathy at lower systematic level, for example informal coaching.  Time with manager the most important thing for many people when considering development success.
  • 6 – Never underestimate learners’ ability to help each other. Includes, but not limited to, social media.  L&D can help people be more efficient social learners.
  • 7 – Informal learning must not become chaotic. The risk/danger is that single sources of truth are lost in situations where they remain relevant.  However is it L&D’s role to say what should be used? Here arguments for acting as a filter, via curation, came up again. Other options exist too, including Google taking authorship as content authority in search results.  Search internally should recognize importance of author and how much an item has been shared (Google uses shares in search results – power of individuals outweighing automation).  Individual voice needs to come out more in internal resources including eLearning, ultimately it is difficult to empathize with anonymous, designed by committee, resources.
  • 8 – Develop people internally.  This wasn’t really covered due to time – from the report: “With hiring freezes and a desire to recruit for ‘will not skill’ there’s increased focus on internal development through apprenticeships, accreditation and qualifications. Thus a challenge is developing cost-effective trainee/apprenticeship programmes of learning”.
  • 9 – Rapid development as a solution to ongoing more for less.  More demand for evidence from investments will lead to further innovation in area of costs.
  • 10 – Learning will follow web tech, try not to fall too far behind.  We need to look at how Hummingbird is changing the web, what Google Now is offering our staff, etc.  Finished with the question ‘if Google was building an LMS what would it do’ against a list of the current problems with L&D setups [of course Google has dallied in the area as seems to now be throwing itself behind EdX].

The day closed with a Q&A panel discussion.

Summary of the discussion, including the main arguments, included below.

Still a place for the classroom?

  • Yes, but change those spaces (more flexible, sofas, etc.) and roles (facilitate).
  • Flipped classrooms can extend to organizations’ room design; make offices for collaboration not sitting in a cubicle.
  • Classrooms are an invention, will move back to experiential learning.
  • Can replace and augment, but are physical elements that can still best be done in classroom.

Is humour is missing/impossible in eLearning?

  • Are some good examples, e.g. Video Arts.
  • Mention for John Cleese on creativity, issue is people think serious is solemn.
  • One way is to include Easter eggs for humour, to reward engagement, etc.


  • If difficult to work in, always option to deliver alternatives (inc. coaching) for those who need them.
  • Should get easier with HTML5.
  • Basic stuff should be easy to meet, can always try and familiarize yourself with what your organization needs on top of that.
  • Rapid tools often claim more than they actually can do in this area, especially when compared to Section 508 – tighter than what we have in UK.
  • Need to ensure have alternatives, JAWS compatability, etc. Have to think about it, can code in descriptions for JAWS.
  • Recommendation [that I would echo] for TechDis for advice, etc.

Real faces vs. avatars.

  • Are some virtual humans emerging to supplement training in place of actors, etc.
  • Overall view – better if own face for personalisation.
  • However, to an extent, it depends on the situation – including if want people to be able to fail or provide feedback safely.
  • If honesty needed, should use representation of yourself.

Top tips for starting with mobile.

What will be the next big thing?

  • Ability to measure the unconscious via neuroscience enhancements.
  • Wearable devices will be big thing, inc. recording of unconscious and emotions (Japanese – ears and tail!).
  • Need to be more scientific in use of data, including for personalization.
  • We need to change and do things differently not about tech per se.

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader ( and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

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