I was lucky to attend the Learning Technologies 2012 conference in London’s Olympia 2 this week. I was covering the event for Personnel Today (see my day one and day two reviews) and spent the majority of my time in the conference sessions.

Thanks to see some inspired speaker selection, delegates were treated to a range of thinking from the keynote speakers which, although related to learning and development, was way beyond the day-to-day practicalities of the job.

The three keynotes, Edward de Bono, Ray Kurzweil and Jaron Lanier, took us from thinking and creativity to machine intelligence and our humanity in the face of technological advances. Big themes set in the real world context of fast and big technological change.

Edward do Bono struck a chord for me as his focus was on us as individuals and how our brains process information and how we make decisions.  I liked his concept of being able to ‘move things on’. Instead of thinking in terms of right or wrong we need to be able to think about how we can challenge ideas and thinking in order to improve something.

Sounds simple but de Bono has made a very successful career showing others how to do this. Organisations are terrible at moving things on, enabling employees to challenge perceived thinking in a way that enables others to want to keep developing ideas. My experience of challenging has been mostly that it just creates negative responses from those being challenged.

We talk about collaboration and innovation but are we really that good at it? de Bono shows us how we can be more effective and I buy his thinking. To be better at innovation we need to be able to open up to ideas and challenge current thinking and perceptions around that.

This focus on individuals was interesting as a key theme at the conference was the role of the individual and how individuals learn. We seem to be moving away from indoctrination (telling employees what to do) towards enlightenment (employees discovering for themselves)* so the onus is now on the learner and supporting their ability to learn and their ‘learning journey’.

But that throws up huge challenges for organisations. Why? Because for learners to find what they need they will need to use networks to find others in order to learn from them and in order share what they know with others – Joanne Jacobs talked in depth about trust networks and identifying experts.

Discovery requires an organisational openness and tools to help learners actually discover what they need to know and who they need to talk to. And this is where the wheels come off the tracks if you have legacy IT systems that were not built for enlightenment. And nor were many organisational structures, but that’s another post.

A typical learning management system, for example, hosts learning materials that the company wants you to look at – we have designed and built this for you so you have to use it. That’s the indoctrination model.

They might then try and add social functionality but does that really help with enlightenment? Isn’t it just the same content with a social layer bolted on?

Joanne Jacobs, Donald Clark and Steve Wheeler all talked about tools that put learning in the hands of the learner. The tools – many 0f which are free – are there for learners to enable them to find and share relevant content and experts.

And if employees are walking down the road to enlightenment, wouldn’t it be a better use of an organisation’s time to focus on making that journey as easy and intuitive as possible for the learner whilst at the same time capturing their learning/expertise for the benefit of the wider organisation?


*Thanks to Ben Betts who I bumped into at the learning Without Frontiers festivals, which was taking place next to Learning Technologies at the same time. Ben had seen Noam Chomsky’s keynote at LWF and he talked about indoctrination and elnlightenment. Not sure if I have adapted the ideas in the way Chomsky was talking about them, but our conversation sparked my train of thought for this post. Thanks Ben!