A few weeks ago I attended Training magazine's Training 2009 conference, held—as it was last year—in Atlanta, Georgia. Attendance might have been down a bit due to the economy and travel budget restrictions, but there were actually more people there than I was anticipating. The expo hall, including our own booth and that of our parent company NIIT, had ebbs and flows of activity as all conferences do. Every conference session I went to was well-attended and had vibrant discussion, and the main hall was full for each keynote presentation. Indeed, even my primary presentation—in the very last time slot on the last day—drew a crowd of 40 (more on that in a minute). I also participated as part of a lunch-time panel on Web 2.0 in learning contexts, and this probably had a crowd of 50 or so.
Training 2009's program is a bit broader in the range of topics covered than some of the other conferences I've participated in, with some emphasis on the cutting-edge technology topics, but also coverage of traditional and business-level aspects of learning and training.
As I've done for most major L&D conferences in the US for the past 18 months, I tracked the topic coverage for Training 2009's program. Comparing Training 2009 with Training 2008 (an apples to apples comparison), I noticed a bit of a decrease in traditional ILT and classroom learning topics, though there were still some sessions in this area to be sure. There was an increase in the number of sessions on Web 2.0/collaboration/social learning, and also an increase in sessions on mobile learning. Other "hot areas," such as gaming and simulations, 3D virtual worlds, and rapid e-learning, seemed stable according to my analysis. Not surprisingly, there were a few more sessions this year on the use of rich media in learning programs, such as audio and video (sometimes in the form of podcasts and vodcasts). And I also noted the continued emphasis on leadership development programs.
One area that definitely seemed to be talked about more this year than last year, and seems to be getting increased attention at each conference I attend, is a renewed interest in "blended learning" (see also my comments in Part 2 of my blog posting on the Learning 2008 conference). This term has been used for a decade or more, but what had become a cliché for some is seeing a re-birth for several reasons. Organizations have invested a lot into various learning modalities, and given the current economic situation, they must get as much value from each approach as possible. Cost reduction is a key factor, so many will shift away from classroom ILT towards various forms of e-Learning, but often they'll do so in a way that retains some strategic face-to-face learning experiences in the blend.
And most of all, the explosion of new technologies has meant the very notion of blended learning has been altered. I'll resist using the term "Blended Learning 2.0" (just as I resist "Learning 2.0" or "e-Learning 2.0"), but there really is a sea-change in how people are using the term "blended." My primary presentation at Training 2009 spoke to this directly: "Blending Emerging Technologies with Traditional Formal Learning." This was the first time I gave this particular presentation, but overall I thought it went well. I was a bit rushed in spots, and didn't have as much time for discussion and Q&A as I'd like. That said, the consensus from my speaker evaluations was that the session was quite valuable, and several even indicated it was their favorite session of the entire conference. I'm glad I could end their conference on a high note!
I also handed out my new whitepaper, "Blending Web 2.0 Technologies with Traditional Formal Learning" at this show. In fact, between our booth and my two presentations, I ran out of copies (why do I never bring enough?). If you missed the handout at the conference and are reading this blog post, the whitepaper is now available online so you can get it here.
I enjoyed other aspects of this conference, such as the three keynote speakers. Chester Elton, author of The Carrot Principle, gave one of the more lively keynotes I've ever seen, while Jeffrey Zaslow gave one of the more emotional (no surprise, since he is co-author with the late Randy Pausch of The Last Lecture). And Dan Pink is always fascinating, this time speaking on the explosion of manga's popularity in the United States (following other areas of the world) and how this comic format might one day be used in creating learning content.
Overall, even with all of the current economic difficulties and uncertainty, most attendees seemed relatively upbeat and happy to be talking about their learning and training challenges, and the innovative solutions that are possible today.
For my comments on other recent conferences, see also:
- The eLearning Guild's DevLearn 2008, Part 1
- DevLearn 2008, part 2… or, The Increasing Importance of Social Networking Platforms
- DevLearn 2008, part 3… or, Do You Twitter?
- Elliott Masie's Learning 2008, Part 1
- Elliott Masie's Learning 2008, Part 2
- Elliott Masie's Learning 2008, Part 3
— Thomas Stone (Tom_Stone@elementk.com)