Skillsoft Perspectives (EMEA) 2018

My first of these events and it was a useful mix of Skillsoft product updates/demos, (industry) experts and user/client presentations.  I tweeted a bit during the day but some major takeaways below:

Skillsoft as a company

Like a lot of learning technology companies there has clearly been a push to improve UI/UX of products and inevitably this led to stories of their own ‘digital transformation’, shifts to ‘agile’ development (Percipio updates coming out every two weeks is pretty impressive) and more.  These rounds of buzzword bingo included my personal not-so-fave of lots of “Netflix-esque” experiences being mentioned.

That all said, the “beautiful technology and engaging content” mission they set themselves two years ago has, at least in part, been met.

Indeed there was no lack of ambition from the Skillsoft presenters:

and you suspect they are continuing to have success with this.  The US equivalent of this, single track, EMEA day conference was a full three days in Vegas(!)

Undoubtedly there are advantages to their scale in terms of the workplace learning space, I was intrigued by what analysis of their different clients’ competency models might show:

I’d suspect the answer would be that many an L&D team are reinventing the wheel and stuck in a cottage industry of creating such competency records.

The content development team said their mission is to “help people achieve their fullest potential through learning” and that, hopefully, resonated with the clients and potential clients in the room!  The work being done with MIT on the evidence behind eLearning sounds interesting, and probably a fair few years late.

Percipio vs Sumtotal vs ELSA

The Percipio product has clearly had a lot of investment and looks like it could end the old problem of Skillsoft content being hidden away in ugly client LMS platforms via SCORM/AICC.  However, for reporting and the general usual experience do you want this fragmentation of platforms?

Fragmentation came up in one of the sessions…

…and I wonder if, in part, people are using ‘digital transformation’ as a term for throwing the kitchen sink at problems and hoping something sticks.  However, I suspect DT means many things to many people, as I hinted at:

Sumtotal itself looks much better than when I last looked at it – which must be at least three or four years ago at least – and seems to have been retrofitted to some of the Percipio model, including the “watch, read, listen, practice” break down of activities/resources.  I quite like this approach to breaking the blend down but it does also, reinforce how much this aspect of learning tech is really an evolution of the library world (i.e. the world of my first postgrad!):

The sell for still needing Sumtotal seemingly now being less on the learning side but the integration of that functionality with talent and recruitment components.  Indeed elements like the 9-box grid have been given a UI/UX facelift themselves.

ELSA, on the other hand, is an interesting new development in bringing learning more into the workflow.  Currently a Chrome plugin, we are seeing more and more of this kind of support tool and there is hope (from my side) that this will improve performance support being exposed away from being buried in a LMS or Intranet:

Leadership development

There was quite a bit on this – not least as a key part of the Percipio content puzzle.  There are, of course, mixed views on the value as whilst we are continuing to see increased investment there is arguably little real output:

The challenge I guess here is how bad could things be if we were not investing, certainly I’ve had friends who have burned out in manager roles, in part, due to a lack of leadership development support and guidance.  Obviously, you could argue this is less about formal support and more about their own managers being better coaches, etc.  Perhaps, all in all, a form of self-fulfilling prophecy?

One of the sessions mentioned research at Google (presumably this) that aimed to show the importance of leadership and management was a myth of the corporate world but actually showed the importance.  Perhaps, in England at least, those who really need a confidence boost can get it as a management apprenticeship.  The scenario based, video-heavy, learning in Skillsoft’s library reminded me of a (photo rather than video based) eLearning I built with the help of a vendor a few years back and really just reinforced, to me, that context is key with this and the need for realism in the story telling.

Overall, this was deemed a market ripe for disruption and they were pretty transparent on their instructional design approach and belief that this L&M product can be a big hit:

‘Modern learning’

The Fosway Group session was good, as always, on some of the data in the sector and it’s difficult to disagree with the idea that often learning is still delivery orientated and doesn’t get followed up upon, updated, reinforced, etc.

I recently saw a description of magpie syndrome and I fear how much I fall into that trap.  My problem is less the need for ‘shiny and new’ but rather jumping from one project to another, plus the day-to-day email deluge, without making the impact as one would like.  Do we need to assign L&D time by topic to ensure people are driving the improvement in those areas rather than trying to offer more holistic support?

The session also recalled the need for:
Acquire > Practice > Do
as a model – developed over fifteen years when it was clear blended learning too often focused on medium.  Some things don’t change.

Other sessions picked up on the fifteen year point – if we reflect, are we really in a transformation?  For example, people said much the same as today when talking about video discs and their potential to transform learning.  Personally, I always remember Encarta ’95 with my first PC and how it was perceived as a earthquake for teaching in schools and the encyclopedia industry – *waves at Wikipedia*.

Therefore, perhaps we have no real perception yet on what transformation looks like?  My view would be that this is going to be continuous and we just have to acknowledge that.

In the panel session I was pleased to see recognition that lots of people are not interested in the learning opportunities we can make available.  This is a tough one as it is about push v pull (as the panel discussed) but also how as a country/culture we need to realise the real transformation is that companies are going to come and go – with reskilling through a career essential.  Again, there is a balance here between snobbery, assumption and a need to bring people along for the ride:

The bringing people along piece has surely been a challenge for RBS due to their size and recent historical issues so their client case study was particularly interesting in how they are trying to adapt their approach:

as was how the National Trust is supporting their disparate workforce and volunteers via Skillsoft, including IT technical skills for their IT apprentices.

Diversity

Just a nod to an excellent, no slides used, presentation from Harriet Minter on women in leadership.  The session included some stats I’ve heard before and some new in terms of the importance of diversity and evidence of positive impact, with the easiest diversity to implement being gender.

 

Unleash18 London

I took a different approach to Unleash than my normal focus at events – instead of making lots of notes, to  reflect on later and blog from, I tweeted throughout most sessions (each session a different Twitter thread) with a view to save links to the tweets here with a few reflective notes.  All slides from the event are here.

Looking back at the tweets I’ve realised I didn’t stick to my own approach of adding comments in [square brackets] or after >>> marks.  Anyways, hopefully they were some use for the twitterverse and in capturing key points from what, in the most part, were pretty quick fire 20 minute presentations.

The day after Unleash I needed to update a paper that I last updated in April 2017.  My main point in that paper last year was that someone needed to decide on the Digital Employee Experience and what that might look like.  If I take the call of the conference, to be “unleashed”, then deciding and implementing that experience is an action for me…

Day 1

Opening and other MC/intro duties

A tough gig for the always excellent Deborah Frances-White – trying to get a crowd going after long registration and cloak room waiting on day one.  I for one, sans coffee, was far from in the mindset I think the organisers were going for with the very loud, movie trailer start (“Let’s make a better place to work and live…unleash your people”.  As MC for the keynotes DFW mixed some new (to me) content and some of what I have seen used before – for example at LearningPool’16.  I did like the call to “presume inclusion” – i.e. dont wait to be invited or asked to do something, be like a kid at kindergarten: introduce yourself and get involved.

Opening keynote: How do you DISRUPT and Change the World of Work?

Lots of naughty words and pretty controversial ideas from Jonas Kjellberg.

By his own admission people are quick to want to get rid of him but he’s clearly a disruptor who has had a lot of hits (like iCloud and Skype) and misses.

As I tweeted (outside of the above thread) I did love the beaver – i.e. reward people for being willing to take the chainsaw to old ways of doing things:

As a way of signifying the disruptive mentality of this role I might well have to have a look at the ‘Gear Up’ book’s approach too:

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Future of Learning: PA Consulting

Pretty broad content here, which was perhaps deliberate in opening the learning stream (one room) of the conference.  Nothing too earth shattering or revolutionary but a fair summary of current thinking.

I did like the concept of the course > resource > guidance > automation paradigm to explain how automation can fit in:

“Best Practice Evaluation and Transfer of Learning” project at Icon PLC.

A decent example of showing a fairly traditional blended leadership programme could be evaluated.

“Build an Employer Brand in 100 days”

Really energetic presentation this one – I always like when consultants, rather than selling directly, give up some ‘secrets’ from their methodologies – definitely one where the slides are worth picking up.

“Assessing future leaders digitally at Royal Bank of Canada”

Moving from standard psychometric testing in graduate recruitment to a more bespoke assessment.  Overall, sounded good and potential to move it away from the focus on graduate centric approaches to existing staff.  Makes me wonder again what the best way of judging potential is for internal candidates to our own programmes/talent management.

“Empathy in Action”

On reflection, a more challenging session, focusing on the need for workplaces to be more empathetic.  Whilst it’s difficult to argue people should be more empathetic I’d also be tempted that it’s not something that is naturally energising to everyone – as Strengthscope states empathy is a strength where:

“You readily identify with other people’s situations and can see things clearly from their perspective”.

Brexit as an Opportunity for Business

A quick run through of Brexit history, current situation and possible solutions.  As always with this topic there were some things you could agree with and other bits where that was less the case.  Overall it really just highlighted that many things are still up in the air and that overall, from a country-wide workforce perspective, things really have not been managed very well at all.  For a session that was supposed to be the ‘opportunity’ from Brexit it was pretty depressing.

Brexit and GDPR started day two so I skipped for time on the trade show floor although that then did mean lunch on day two dragged a bit.

Day 2

Lloyd’s of London’s “Bigger than the business”

Good example of corporate L&D team offering services to the ‘extended enterprise’ and becoming a profit centre as a result.

“Virtually Learning”

Possibly the best example of VR in workplace learning I’ve seen – a clear productivity gain by moving a practical session from ‘real’ to ‘virtual’.

Mazars U on LinkedIn Learning launch

A session that would be familiar to the library and information world – trying to get external content providers embedded into culture and systems, *spoiler*: it’s tricky.

“It’s our time are we ready”- event close

A deliberately challenging session to finish.  I did comment more on the presentation as it went (below thread).  Overall I’d say digital is pervasive and I agree the ‘waiting for IT’ excuse is growing old, however, whilst I always remember an old conference presentation from BBWorld in the US that said “tech should just work” in reality (as with Mazars above) things are more complicated.  Coming to this conference not from a ‘classic HR’ background probably impacted on my view of the talk of digital, experiences, performance and collaboration – i.e. that a lot of this was really a call to action that could have been made a number of years ago in many ways:

General comments on conference:

The “Unleash” themed seemed to fall a bit flat with the dancing aliens (or whatever they were) and loud music not really getting the crowd going.  Perhaps a cultural thing and the North American crowd, in Vegas, would be more into it than those isolated in the always rather isolated ExCeL?

The event app was good for tracking the agenda but I remain as having two notifications that would not shift during the show even though it shows as having cleared everything.  Really not sure what was going on there – perhaps an issue in using the work iPhone rather than my Android?

What am I using: March 2018 Edition

Four years on from a similar post, this is a recap on my current tech use and how that impacts my professional practice and work/life balance.

Home machine:

Home use is still my iMac – now about 10 years old it’s going strong after a recent hard drive failure and replacement.  Kudos to aamac for the work saving the data and transferring everything over.

Phones:

My biggest recent change is that 12 months into my 24 month phone contract I’ve given up on my Microsoft handset and instead switched back to Android, with a Moto G5.  My employer previously switched us from an earlier (not great) Moto to an iPhone so I was a little hesitant about all the glowing G5 reviews (for example it made it into The Guardian’s top tech items of 2017) but the low price (£150 on offer at John Lewis) meant it was a sensible move.  The final push away from my Windows phone was it constantly dying on me whilst I was away from home visiting family.  Vodafone had offered to send it away for possible repair but it would work fine for a week and then have a week off, where it would only work plugged in. These technical issues combined with the dying support from Microsoft (including the LinkedIn app’s removal from the Windows Phone store) meant I was pushed back to Android (even with my previous concerns).  I would say I still prefer the Windows Phone interface over Android (even with the Microsoft Launcher I have installed) and iOS but with Continuum failing to live up to my expectations there isn’t much to be lost by going back to Android.

Websites: still really the same as 4 years ago.  Trying to use Twitter more – especially handy for when waiting around in the yard for the dogs to finish doing their rounds!

BETT2018

Unusually I was quite looking forward to BETT this year.  The usual trepidation ahead of fighting through slow-moving crowds perhaps tempered by knowing I wasn’t doing “the new year double-header” with Learning Technologies:

The positive vibes for BETT were perhaps also coming from some hope regarding a new ‘learning space’ in our HQ that would need fitting out with appropriate tech.  So, whilst I used to always ignore the ‘physical’ classroom stuff at the show, this year I found myself drawn to wipe clean glass desks, chewing gum resistant tables and laptop trolleys.  All in all it was quite an eye opener checking out some stuff that I’ve only really had a passing interest in over the years.

There were only a few seminars I had earmarked as worth attending so it was to ExCeL I went with the usual expectation that making it around the show floor would take most of the day – the particular sessions I did attend are reflected on below.  Also some general notes from the floor:

General thoughts from the floor

One of the major criticisms of BETT is that it is the hungry pigs at the trough of school spending/funding.  So soon after the Carillion collapse this perhaps stood out even more this year – with Capita and Microsoft probably having the biggest stalls to show quite how much of a “market” education now is.  Of course this is a little harsh on Microsoft who are often playing the long game in getting kids and uni students used to their tools on the cheap so they then query employers as to why they are still using Excel 2010 and/or Apple and/or Google.  I’m totally one of those suckers…

…pretty sure I said something similar about discussion boards in c.2004.  There’s also plenty of big ‘learning’ players at BETT – working across BETT (for schools), HE, workplace and more – such as Techsmith, Kaltura, Canvas, Claro, D2L, McGrawhill and 3M.

I attended a few bits and bobs on other stalls, including a good one on the Microsoft stand considering PISA and the future competencies learning professionals need to be supporting:

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Anyways, whatever your political persuasion and thoughts on capitalism’s influence on the classroom its likely you would still look twice at the presence of the Russian, UAE and other nations’ stalls.  They seemed more pronounced (to me at least) this year but I probably think that every year.  That said, the French stall had a few interesting startups and a pleasant amount of stereotyping in the branding:

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Overall I fleetingly pass stalls when in BETT, in part as I don’t have a particular budget I’m looking to spend, some reflections from this year’s wander:

  • Whiteboards, screens, etc – 4K seems to have given this area a boost although a session I started to watch (facilitated by two wonderfully confident early teens) soon turned into the usual Smart farce when the software wasn’t working properly.  Still feels like a software-lite solution is best in this space so one less thing can go wrong (even if Tango and others seem to have nice additional software) – one of the worse inventions ever was the Smart TV turning a previously immediate boot device into something that has to ‘load’, update and crash.  I was though intrigued by a few claims related to “eye care tech” built into devices.
  • Laptop safety – as mentioned above, device security is potentially going to be of interest to me in coming months so it was interesting to see how the tech in this space has developed with an array of tablet-friendly lock and charge systems – as well as wireless/contact less charging.  Wireless charging remains, for me at least, still slightly magical yet the sowed it is very much deployed and ‘in the real world’.
  • GDPR was out in force with some data regulation, hosting/protection suppliers having (literally) stuck it on as an additional to their stall’s advertising.  The impact on education was also in a number of magazine and flyer takeaways.  Presumably, as with other industries, there will be a lot of people failing to prepare for this and others cashing in on the general misunderstandings and malaise.
  • VR seems to be developing along but still seems of most use where there are clear experiences to be gained – the idea of experiencing a WWI trench in VR sounded intriguing and akin to the use for highlighting the issues Syria faces: http://www.360syria.com/intro .  I’m torn on if we would ever want ‘rapid’ VR authoring or if that will open the floodgates to awful VR in the way PPT to SCORM converters did for eLearning.  Although templated AR might be useful?
  • LMS.  You would think in a school environment that the LMS/VLE would be a central tool.  However, you still get the feeling that Google for Education and Office 365 are central (on the authoring and deployment side) with student information systems the data coal face.  Perhaps due to budgets, it is seems increasingly that another (LM) system isn’t a priority – perhaps as schools will also be face-to-face focused in the first instance.  Also there seemed to be growing numbers of add-ons to 365 (such as https://www.livetiles.nyc/ that do some of the job).
  • Mobile: Nice to see that, at least some, classrooms and taking advantage of students carrying powerful devices with them by leveraging them in the pedagogy – for example with: https://www.wooclap.com/ and https://nearpod.com/
  • https://www.iridize.com/ (for context sensitive employee performance support on systems) and a few others looked less ‘BETT-y’ and perhaps more suited for the LT show.  TootToot for feedback/safeguarding would also have uses outside of the target school models and they are apparently working on an enterprise version.  Similarly Derventio’s performance management tools were clearly suitable outside of the school market – but, as always, do you want integrated HRM or multiple systems?
  • Furniture: a few worthy mentions for interesting products – Mirplay, Learniture, Freedesk, Folio, Wall Art and, surprising to see at the show, John Lewis (for Business).
  • AI: wasn’t as obvious as might have been expected.  No doubt many of the publishers (even Britannica who were celebrating their 250 anniversary) are working this in and there are other products out there like https://www.tassomai.com.
  • As well as the usual programming, robots and other cool stuff:

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Talk 1: National College for High Speed Rail on the 4th industrial revolution

Didn’t really feel like it went anywhere this one (perhaps ironically considering the home org of the presenter).  Useful I guess if people were not aware of the ‘IR4’ buzz/argument but with little direct applicability beyond a call to the attendees to be innovative.

Basically argued that the college is set up, via apprenticeships and innovative approaches, to tackle modern workplace challenges.  Yet I thought that whilst it is all well and good that this new style of college exists to “disrupt” – the use of new tech in “everything we do” sounds a little like setting itself up to fail (or at least retract when budgets are cut in the future).  Interesting bits like their use of Azure for combining data didn’t sound like they were too ‘new’ – instead leading to early warning indicators like Starfish and other solutions have in the past.

Talk 2: Leading a digital learning strategy

An impressive school turnaround story from a headteacher who put digital at the heart of the school approach.  Really a rare cultural success story with a successful 1-2-1 device programme.

Tips for success were not surprising but good to see a success story for once:

  • Sustainable, not one-off investment
  • Don’t expect tech to make life (i.e. teaching) easier: just different
  • Tech rich, not paper free: still room for outdoor learning, physical science, drawing, etc.
  • Used what was right for them: Chromebooks and GSuite
  • Staged roll-out: staff with pupils so learning together over a three years (not a complete ‘big bang’)
  • Used distance learning software and techniques when relevant (and when needed like school snow days):  including having people collaborate in the same room but at different desks, i.e. get pupils used to workplace digital collaboration style remote working
  • Google Sites for ePortfolio allows for parents to be more involved with the demo of work and outcomes
  • Continuous feedback on teachers via Google Forms to allow iterative improvement.

What was pleasing was the trust evidently put in pupils, with low-level web filtering and pupils allowed to ‘own’ their device.

Still clearly a way to go – for example, they are looking at audio feedback (even though that was well embedded when I worked in HE c. 10 years ago).  I hadn’t seen the immediate feedback available in the education version of Duolingo which looked quite good.

Overall, inspiring and the point made that a lack of IT teacher/department hasn’t held them back – and has probably helped as it means shared ownership in their culture – is probably as revealing about failed projects elsewhere as anything.

Talk 3: GDPR

A decent session that made the point that GDPR is a major issue for schools and that one reason why it is tricky is that it is really made up of three equal parts: cyber security, data protection and information governance that had, previously, been developing separately and experts find difficult to cut across.

Unfortunately were in a world of pretty terrifying stuff – like one school who were targeted by a phishing attack and parents then lost £150k in paying fraudsters a fake school charge.  A key point here being that the processing activity is key – e.g. it’s not IT’s responsibility but rather the user (such as HR teams as they hold personal data).

Getting onto Windows 10 was identified as an easy step to improve compliance and that everyone needs to be clear where they are on meeting requirements – with a way forward plan by the introduction in May – rather than compliant from day one.

Talk 4: Digital transformation

More a summary from the Ludic Group on changes in the last 20 years and some ongoing trends:

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Nothing major here unless, perhaps, people entered disagreeing with his “digital changes everything” mantra and had their heads turned or, indeed (and this is a possibility as the Q&A question was “what is blended learning?”[!!]), eyes opened.

Kineo Connect: Exploring your learning platform’s potential

A couple of really good sessions* at this Kineo client day.

In the same week as the UKeIG event this looked at the digital transformation of L&D and, therefore, the future of workplace learning.  The event took place alongside the availability of Kineo’s “Time to Transform” guide.

The guide is a nice summary of the state of the ‘learning landscape’ and, I would presume, the kind of developments most L&D teams are working on.  That said some of the points, such as “look ahead and promote the resource-based approach”, are not very ‘transformative’ (although I appreciate my background means I don’t have the ‘course first’ mind-set that still plagues the industry IMHO).

* Couple of good sessions:

  1. Time to Transform states “arguably at the heart of all digital transformation of L&D will be the role of data” and the session on xAPI was great.  I made a rather rambling point/question at the end of this, what I was basically saying was xAPI is always talked about in the same way as SCORM – i.e. to track things.  What this session actually pointed out, to me, was that xAPI is instead a standard to help aggregate data.  Using it in this way stops the risk of L&D, or at least an LRS, being a silo and thus largely pointless – indeed the red herring I warned about.  However, this was one of those sessions where I thought, “this is great BUT only really if you happen to be doing it first in your organisation”.  Where organisations are already data warehousing, managing metrics, etc. the Tin Can approach would seem to not add as much value.
  1. “Meeting MABLE from Mitchells & Butlers”, this session felt similar to the xAPI one in that your learning platform can be a fantastic, a ‘go to’ place, but it really only works when you aggregate on it and drive traffic – i.e. you do not have other silos, Intranets, etc. stealing time and attention from your colleagues.  M&B’s presentation showed how their advertising and culture is clearly fantastic and the value in L&D tram’s bringing in external advertising and branding support. The take-up of the platform and clever creation of a persona for the platform (including use of Facebook) – always referred to as “she” not “it” – is clever and in line with some of the cleverer characterisation of other services (such as museum communications via Walrus and library management via ‘cuddly’ penguin).  I also liked M&B’s #learninghero campaign through Totara Social to recognise who had helped colleagues to develop and grow.  This is part of an impressive digitisation, including the carving up of numerous training days into 1-hour Adobe Connect sessions.

The other sessions I attended initial results from LMS platform research – presentation here, nothing really surprising and a session on credentials which will be familiar to users of open badges and related approaches.