Apr 012011

Learning Solutions 2011: Moving Learning and Culture Beyond “Whatever”

By Bill Brandon, March 31, 2011, Via Learning Solutions Magazine


“If we are to move from making people knowledgeable to making them knowledge-able, and so transforming the culture, we must apply the lessons from all three keynotes.”

The program for many conferences is like the menu at a “casual dining” restaurant. There’s a theme for the restaurant, and there are a lot of items on the menu. The items don’t necessarily have a lot to do with the theme or with each other, even though individually they may be quite good. This year’s Learning Solutions Conference offered an opportunity for an entirely different approach to enhance professional development and the advancement of learning.


Attendance at Learning Solutions 2011 set a new record.

Now, it is true that the program at Learning Solutions contained a great variety of sessions and activities, and anyone who wanted to order a la carte (as it were), according to their specific needs, could do so. However, for those who wanted to explore and open up a bigger context for the use of technology that goes beyond learning applied mainly to day-to-day tasks, deeper understanding was and is available. But it took a little digging and reflection to see it.

The key was in the keynotes: View 1

In her opening remarks, Heidi Fisk, co-founder of The eLearning Guild and this year’s host, said that she had chosen the keynotes to build on the tag line for the Conference, “Find the spectrum of solutions.” The arc of the conference did capture every current aspect of e-Learning, and offered content for management professionals, for instructional designers, for developers and others who use software and hardware to produce content, across the range of experience levels from exploratory and beginning to expert.

One spectrum Heidi could have built on would have referenced the spectrum of the last 50 years of interactive learning technology, from filmstrips to iPads and Android tablets. Another spectrum could have involved technology, learning, and business. The spectrum she decided on, however, was the spectrum of learning, from its beginning (in the brain) to its destination (in the work and life of the learners).

To support this spectrum, Heidi chose three keynote speakers who could talk about the beginning, delivery, and destination of learning.

First keynote: Brain Rules

The opening keynote was Dr. John J. Medina, a developmental molecular biologist with a lifelong fascination with how the brain reacts to and organizes information. He is the author of the NY Times best-seller, Brain Rules, an affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and director of the Brain Center of Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. He spoke about how the brain sciences might influence the way we teach people, with a particular emphasis on the subject of e-Learning. He provided a fascinating hour-long look at how the brain learns, especially in the area of information acquisition.


Dr. John Medina

Dr. Medina’s talk focused on 3 of the 12 brain rules that he discusses in his book, and how these apply to learning – especially the ten-year journey from short-term memory to permanent memory (which may in fact not be permanent). While even a summary of what he said would go far beyond the length of this article, readers can access many of the points of his talk by following these links to similar discussions on the Web site for Brain Rules:

He concluded by revisiting learning models, specifically fluid intelligence (the ability to improvise) and crystallized intelligence (the ability to memorize). These have particular importance to the instructional designer. People need to crystallize information first (be able to recall it), and then they must be required to improvise off of it almost immediately.

Second keynote: resonate to transform

The second keynote was Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design. She demonstrated how to apply the methods in her book resonate: Presenting Visual Stories That Transform Audiences (each person in the keynote audience received a copy). Modeling the approach she spoke about, Duarte’s fast-paced presentation used stories from her personal experience as well as stories known to everyone (Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech), and a steady stream of visuals.


Nancy Duarte

Much of her personal story dealt with her transformation from a “presenter” (“Presenters think they are the heroes,” she said) to a trainer and mentor (“A mentor brings a special gift or tool to help the hero get unstuck.”) Along the way, she learned what instructional designers know, but presenters do not know, that you must know your audience and you must know your audience. In fact, she says, you must obsess over knowing your audience. You must also remember humility: your idea will die if the learners do not latch onto it.

To get learners to latch onto an idea, Nancy showed a series of tools, adopted from playwrights and screenwriters, that can put a heartbeat into training through a story. It is necessary to get learners to resonate with your ideas and to move or transform themselves.

This is hard work. You must make your story and your training more interesting than the learner’s inbox, she says. You must make it engaging. You must incorporate well-done stories. In fact, Duarte’s term for the ideal presentation (still an essential part of training) is that it must be “lickable.” It is also important to have at least one “STAR” moment – STAR stands for “Something They’ll Always Remember.” The tools she showed do this and they also help you map out the learner’s journey, from where they are to the glorious new world they will have once they adopt your ideas. A number of her points and tools appear on the Web page for resonate.

Third keynote: Something in the air

In the third keynote, Dr. Michael Wesch, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, traced the path we must take to move learners from being “knowledgeable” to being “knowledge-able” and to change culture and society through the impact of social media. After Nancy Duarte’s keynote called on stories that have a large emotional impact, Dr. Wesch gave a truly moving and inspiring summary of his three-step process that engages learners to solve real problems by leveraging social technologies.


Dr. Michael Wesch

Dr. Wesch became well-known in 2007 after he posted his videos Web 2.0 – The Machine is Us/ing Us and A Vision of Students Today on YouTube. Building on many of the ideas behind those videos, he offered us a 50,000-foot/12,000-year overview of cultural change. In particular, he summarized what he learned about culture and identity from his experience doing research in New Guinea: we know ourselves through our relationships to others, and when we lose those relationships, we no longer know who we are. Much of modern life has been marked by increasing isolation and anonymity, and movement toward increasingly self-centered modes of self-fulfillment.

Technology and media, however, also mediate relationships. When media change, relationships change. With mobile technology and the media associated with it (especially video but also texting), the “something that is in the air” is the expanded social connections that this technology makes possible.

One theme that ran through Dr. Wesch’s presentation was the evolution of the way people use the word “whatever.” If we are doing our job, those of us who are using technology to teach and to inspire can move the culture to transform “whatever” from the present day “whatever – I don’t care what you think” to “I care – let’s do whatever it takes, whatever is necessary.” Again, while it is not possible to adequately summarize his presentation in a short article, you can get a sense of what Dr. Wesch shared with us through these links:

The deeper connections between the keynotes: View 2

The idea that there might be a deeper thread running between the keynotes became clear after Dr. Wesch’s keynote. If we are to move from making people knowledgeable to making them knowledge-able, and so transforming the culture, we must apply the lessons from all three keynotes.

Dr. Medina, almost in passing, referred to the need to make what we deliver compelling. He also introduced the idea that there is crystallized intelligence (things people memorize) and there is fluid intelligence (the ability to improvise around what is crystallized), and both are vitally important outcomes. Present-day e-Learning, especially in the United States, often concentrates on memorizing, while classroom education often concentrates on improvisation. It is important to accomplish both, in both delivery modes. This is the first bit of deeper learning from the keynotes.

Nancy Duarte did a spectacular job of showing us how to make our content compelling, and to facilitate its storage in working and long-term memory. Those are the functions of stories. She also tapped into one of the Brain Rules that Dr. Medina did not address in his keynote, namely Rule 10: Vision trumps all other senses, including hearing. We are incredible at remembering pictures. If you hear a piece of information, three days later you will remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you will remember 65%. Pictures also beat text. This is related to what Medina says the brain does well (“The human brain appears to have been designed to solve problems related to surviving in an outdoor setting, in unstable meteorological conditions, and to do so in near constant motion”). Medina even advises “burn your current PowerPoint presentations and make new ones.” He suggests that you get 3 times better recall for visual information than for aural, and six times better recall for information that’s simultaneously oral and visual. These elements are the next bits of deeper learning from the keynote speakers, and they relate directly to the transformation of culture and learning through Dr. Wesch’s three-step process.

Recall that Dr. Wesch began by exploring a concept from anthropology: we know ourselves in terms of our relationship to others. Making use of the Web to work with others – no matter where they are in the world. This is improvisation on the grand scale. (It was not accidental that Wesch’s closing examples were musical in nature – where improvisation is the key to being effective.)

“We have to create learning environments that enable people to practice this ‘knowledge-ability.’” Wesch has a simple 1-2-3 process to accomplish this. First, identify a real-world problem that is relevant to the people you are working with, and that they want to engage in. That should be pretty easy in the environments where we work. Next, work with the people to create a community that is going to engage this problem in some significant way. Social media and the Web facilitate community creation and support in many ways. Last, leverage web, social, and mobile technology to make this happen.

Technology comes third in this process. It transforms the learning environment from one organized to transfer a dead object (knowledge) from an expert to amateurs, to one that is organized around a living subject, so that each person in the community respects the others as co-knowers that know something about the subject and you engage in the subject in an ongoing conversation.

Wesch does this in his classes at the University of Kansas by organizing his students around real projects that the students want to be involved in. They find new ways to work together, harnessing multiple collaborative technologies in a blended learning environment. As a result, they produce documentaries that are viewed by millions of people, that are reviewed in the NY Times, and this is all done in 16 weeks. It is so much more than doing a Blue Book exam that is then thrown into the trash. Instead, the students do real and relevant things.

This is the deeper learning that many of us gained through the conference and the keynotes.

About The eLearning Guild and the Learning Solutions Conference & Expo

The eLearning Guild began in January, 2002, when the co-founders, David Holcombe and Heidi Fisk, inspired by Etienne Wenger’s work on social learning systems, decided to apply their years of experience in the computer technology training field to establish a Community of Practice for designers, developers, and managers in the then-emerging field of e-Learning. From that beginning, The eLearning Guild has grown to 42,000 members in 150 countries. Learning Solutions Magazine, originally called The e-Learning Developers’ Journal, came into being in March, 2002, and has now published hundreds of articles by hundreds of practitioners (no freelancers) in the Community. In addition, in 2009, The Guild launched a Group on LinkedIn; this Group now has nearly 16,000 members, and is growing at the rate of 100 or more new members every week.

The Learning Solutions Conference & Expo, originally called The eLearning Guild’s Annual Gathering, was the first event launched by The Guild, in the spring of 2002. This conference has also grown every year since. This year, 1300 people attended in Orlando, the largest number ever. The Learning Solutions Conference and its summer and autumn siblings, mLearnCon and DevLearn (see the information at the end of this article), provide the largest, most comprehensive set of professional learning and development opportunities in the world for organizations and individuals at every level of skill who design, develop, or manage technology-supported learning, including mobile, social, informal, and traditional e-Learning formats.

In the case of the Learning Solutions Conference, the program serves organizations and individuals seeking to start or improve their e-Learning initiatives. Attendees come to discover the strategies, tools, technologies, services, and best practices for success.

Learning Solutions Conference 2011 organizers put together a program and agenda that provided more learning opportunities than any one participant could possibly attend. The conference offered over 200 learning activities, delivered or facilitated by over 130 presenters. These included pre-conference Certificate workshops, the Foundations Intensive program, the daily Morning Buzz groups, three keynotes, a major panel presentation, many concurrent sessions, four learning stages with virtually continuous presentations throughout the Conference, a very large Expo, and ongoing networking among participants over breakfast, lunch, dinner, and morning and afternoon session breaks.

To deal with this level of overload, we always recommend that those who attend Guild events should either come with colleagues from their workplace, or they should form alliances with other attendees to “cover” the maximum number of sessions and agree to share their notes.

To aid attendees in their planning and networking, The Guild now provides applications for all major mobile devices. These apps give immediate and convenient access to all session descriptions, speaker bios, Expo exhibitor information, and facility maps. Where speakers have provided their handouts and slide decks ahead of time, participants can also access those media from the apps. In addition, the apps offer links to key social media, facilitate sharing of contact information between participants, and support emailing event notes. There is even an “Around Town” section that will help you find places for dinner and sightseeing.

If you don’t have a mobile device supported by the apps, you can obtain much of the same information, including the handouts and slides, through the mobile browser version of the conference site (http://bit.ly/ls2011webapp), even if you did not attend the Conference. In addition, David Kelly attended vicariously, through Twitter, weblogs, and Facebook. He has created a repository of the resources he collected: http://misadventuresinlearning.blogspot.com/2011/03/learning-solutions-2011-ls2011.html.

David Kelly is writing an article about this experience, and it will appear in Learning Solutions Magazine in the coming weeks.

Upcoming events from The eLearning Guild

  • mLearnCon 2011 Conference & Expo: June 21-23, 2011 in San Jose, California. Explores every aspect of mobile learning in-depth. From mLearning management strategies and best practices to content and design considerations for tablet and smartphone technologies, you’ll find the answers you need here. Whether you are working in an academic, corporate, government or military setting … this event will give you the ideas, information, and community you and your organization need to succeed. Keynotes include Jeremiah Owyang on mLearning strategy, Amber MacArthur on power mLearning, and a panel of eight mLearning gurus who will address mLearning insights, challenges, and solutions.
  • DevLearn 2011 Conference & Expo: November 2-4, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. North America’s leading e-Learning event. This event is designed to cater to seasoned e-Learning professionals who are out on the leading (sometimes even bleeding) edge of the emerging technologies our industry will put to work for learning. This is a highly technical audience of senior managers and practitioners who gather each year to explore the latest and greatest technologies for learning. DevLearn 2011 will attract between 1,600 and 1,800 participants. To get a feel for the event, see last year’s event site.
  • Online Conferences: Online Conferences offer focused content on a wide array of relevant and current e-Learning topics, presented by professionally coached and engaging speakers. The Online Conference content and format allows you to achieve real learning, resulting in both improved job performance and professional development. Every event is offered live virtually and in a recorded format using state-of-the art learning technologies provided by Adobe. The schedule of upcoming Conferences is available here.
  • The Thought Leaders Webinar Series: This Series is a showcase of the latest ideas for Learning professionals based on important books that are hot-off-the-press and written by many of our industry’s leading thinkers. Each hour-long webinar will connect you directly with the author(s) so you can learn about the ideas, techniques, and strategies that they discuss in their books. Held monthly, these Webinars are available at no extra cost to all paid membership levels — Guild Member, Member Plus, and Premium Members — but space is limited so advance registration is required. Access information about the April and May, 2011 Thought Leaders Webinars here.



To Discuss how these Solutions will add value for you, your organization and/or your clients, Affinity/Resale Opportunities, and/or Collaborative Efforts, Please Contact:

Tom McDonald, tsm@centurytel.net; 608-788-5144; Skype: tsmw5752

learning, McDonald Sales and Marketing, LLC