LearnX 2013

It’s not everyday that you get the opportunity to go to a learning conference with your colleagues. I jumped at the chance when I was asked as they were going to receive an award for the best accessible eLearn course at LearnX.

As it was in Sydney, a city I don’t like to visit often, it was more like an adventure for me. I like to see what other companies are doing in learning and development as well as meet more of my personal learning network – maybe even win an iPad mini too.

This year’s LearnX conference seemed smaller than the one in Melbourne last year. Sometimes I go to these expecting huge turn outs much like DevLearn and I’m slightly disappointed. I have to remind myself that our market is a lot smaller.

Our first guest speaker was Dr Gary Renker who spoke about the evolution of coaching. Admittedly, despite his content and talk being interesting around having a global mindset and being aware of the political agendas in an organisation, I think it didn’t hit the mark with this audience of trainers, instructional designers and learning managers. My interpretation of his content stemmed towards personal learning networks (again!) and I likened having a ‘global mindset’ as having an awareness of broader issues at play and this can come about when you are connected globally to people in a wide range of industries. However, I think he had a point. Coaching skills are going to be critical for everyone across the board. Think about it. If people are in an informal learning environment, the skills of effective questioning techniques and feedback is going to be needed. I think Dr Ranker may have needed to customise his talk to how L&D people can use this information to support their business clients so they could have put context on his talk.


Dr Ralphe Kerle, Founder of the Leadership Forum and The Creative Skills Training Council was the second speaker. I enjoyed his talk immensely. It was straight to the point, he told it as it was and the basic message was if an organisation isn’t creative, it’s irrelevant. He showed a slide with some research saying that in one company, he found more implementers than ideators (a term I have seen recently from Stanford Uni Design Thinking model) and that’s a dangerous mix. It got me thinking that I should come up with more ideas as I tend to the ‘implementation’ more. Sometimes my ideas work sometimes they don’t. I made a mental note to explore more of his notes and articles as this lies in future capabilities and development needs of an organisation.

Third speaker was Professor Laurie Burruss and she is the Senior Director of Lynda.com. Their videos put ours to shame although I can attest that some of our organisational podcasts by internal clients who have embraced the camera and film podcasts to present information and learning to their own business are brilliant. A certain senior business leader uses his to connect with his people around the world and integrated with his business planning team meetings. His people look forward to them every week. Even I enjoy transcoding these podcasts we receive from him because they are interesting, engaging and sometimes amusing. Of course, it’s not amusing when they use copyrighted music in the background and don’t understand why I ask them to remove it! Laurie highlighted an important fact. Video will become more important and critical with time but we need to be smarter with producing videos that are short and engaging. One book I can recommend on this topic is, “Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck”. (I like straight to the point titles don’t you?)


Connor O’Keefe who is the Manager Interactive Learning of government organisation DEEWR talked about a mobile learning program that his team developed and its outcomes. There was trial and error along the way but through an app, they were able to develop a program for their fire wardens. Mobile learning is something that we would be keen to explore in our organisation.

Fifth speaker was my friend Con Sotidis, a Director of L&D at the Australian Tax Office where they have an internal team who undertake full evaluations for all their learning programs. His slides were quite detailed but rich in information and outlined the process of how they worked to ensure that the learning programs designed and delivered actually close business performance gaps. Hearing his presentation made me recall my days in Defence where evaluation of learning programs was a critical fuction. Many corporate organisations do not go to this level of detail, nor do they have separate dedicated teams to do this. In all honesty, in my years in corporate L&D, it’s only ever mentioned as Level 1 ‘smiley’ sheet evaluations which are ineffective. However when you do ask to do full evaluations, it’s always discounted because “it’s too expensive”. Con is more than happy to share his slides and experience if this is something you’d like to explore.

Luke Campbell is a Learning and Development specialist with a background in the Army. He spoke on how to identify, lead and educate innovation through problem based learning in the workplace. I would have loved to hear more of actual examples, case scenarios or situations – what was the problem, why was it a problem, how was it solved. I think this may have made his presentation that more relevant to a tough but quiet audience.

After lunch, there was a panel on Connected and Supported Learning and Performance with Denise Meyerson, Steve Young, Paul Rasmussen and Kathleen Bosworth. I don’t mind panels because that’s where people actually say their stories. Denise recounted a story of a lady who was a brilliant learner in one of her classes years ago. She did well, submitted work in time, attentive in class. But when they rang her employer to offer her an award, her employer said, “but we fired her because of poor performance!” It just goes to show that the workplace or the environment that you work in also affects your performance.

Last speaker was Alistair Box from TLC Solution who talked about accountability. This was interesting presentation for me because it linked with my question around differing motivations of L&D people – how we need to take charge of our professional development. Alistair didn’t say this exactly but I applied the themes of what he was saying to my own workplace context. He challenged the notion that you cannot create a culture when there is an absence of accountability in the workplace. Denial, blame, inactivity are danger signals and we need to explicitly call out expected standards of performance and quality and provide meaning and context in work tasks.

Our last presenter before the LearnX Awards were announced was Professor Michael Bernard who talked about High Performance mindsets are needed to drive high performing organisations and used the example of Collingwood FootballClub Coach Nathan Buckley. Much of what he said about the key attributes of high performers seemed logical and we all know people in our lives who demonstrate this mindset and don’t allow life’s little challenges get them down.

Professor Saul Carliner was a guest speaker who challenged the 70-20-10 but I’m going to refer to his blog for more information as he drilled down what kind of learning could occur in the workplace. His key message was to “invest in quality content” which I interpreted as we need to have our ‘crap’ filters on or as L&D people help others turn on their ‘crap’ filters and not to accept blindly what is out there.  You can check out his presentation here.

I had a great discussion with him at the conference and asked what he sees was the difference between Australian and USA and Canadian learning and he mentioned our accreditation and training frameworks. Our education institutions are in the Top 50 in the world – maybe it is because of these standards?

Overall an enlightening day and it was nice to hear more on what companies are doing in their L&D space. However the focus was still heavily on eLearning content development and not demonstrable examples of performance support, informal/social learning and networks and collaboration.

I hope that we can also have some new people join Twitter and the conversation as there was only a handful of us actively tweeting or sharing thoughts.

Let’s see what Day 2 holds…

About Helen Blunden

My unique super power is that I see learning experiences in everything I do. #alwayslearning
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6 Responses to LearnX 2013

  1. Pingback: What I Learned in September: What’s the Point of Sharing, Really? | Activate Learning Solutions

  2. Pingback: What Did I Learn Today? | Activate Learning Solutions

  3. Thanks Saul, I too enjoyed our conversation. ‘Crap filters’ was what was going on in my mind as I had recently read Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart which is where he delved into the term. However, I have never heard it mentioned in any corporate learning circles at all – only in the higher education conferences I attended. Also, reading Doug Belshaw’s posts on Digital Literacy skill sets – I think he calls it ‘Critical’ which is probably a term that businesses would prefer to use ‘critical thinking’ than crap filters but the meaning is the same. Howard’s is more hard hitting and memorable. I believe it is an important tool not just in the context of school or work, but in general life. We get bombarded with information and ‘stuff’ every day but we don’t take the time to drill down into the intent of the message.

    Enjoy the stay in Australia and happy and safe travels back home!

  4. saulcarliner says:

    Enjoyed our conversation at LearnX, Helen. I wish the topic of crap filters had come up then. The term might sound nutty but the concept is kind of fundamental to surviving in a world of information overload when a lot of the information is crap. I’m integrating assignments in my graduate courses to help students develop their personal crap filters. I’m curious to see if it works. Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Thanks for reblogging this Paul. I agree, Saul had some interesting things to say to get us thinking and challenging it. Hope you enjoyed LearnX!

  6. pauldrasmussen says:

    Reblogged this on Organisational Learning and Development and commented:
    Rather than blog about LearnX directly I am just going to be lazy 🙂 and reblog Helen’s observations. My one observation is that my standout for the conference has been Professor Saul Carliner. Who was more than happy to challenge some accepted myths, but also had a range of interesting and insightful things to say.

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