L&D Connect – Unconference November 2013

I was very excited to attend the L&D Connect Unconference this week (L&D Connect Twitter page). Partly the reason I was so pleased and grateful is that Sukh had invited me when there were some spare tickets – being freelance means very little budget for anything more than travel. A few people had attended in this way as people were generous with their spare tickets and it was part of the share and share alike attitude that this event fostered.

What’s in a name?

You may be pondering the “unconference” label. I must admit, I didn’t have much of a clue of what I was getting myself into, but I was up for the adventure. You can join the LinkedIn group here if you want to get more involved or attend another event.

For me the “unconference” format meant that there was no set agenda or speakers and that people contributed what they wanted in order to define the subjects and format of the day. That could be seen by some as a little distressing, not knowing what they would get out of it. However it’s this very freedom that meant the group directed where it wanted to go and there were a variety of topics and conversations to satisfy the development of most people.

I had some prior work booked so I missed the first half of the day. In that time the group had brainstormed lots of subjects/questions for the day and also decided to use “visual minutes” to record their thoughts. 

I really liked it and think it could be used more in different environments:

Today’s fish is Trout à la crème, enjoy your meal

The group had also decided to do some “fishbowls” – a different type of interactive panel discussion, on several subjects:

 The “fishbowl” was three or so people discussing in centre of the group, with time outs for feedback & content comment.

This lead the discussion to question…

There was excellent feedback on the fishbowl concept in the room and on Twitter.

Open spaces

After lunch we went into open spaces:

These were three roughly-half-hour discussions in groups based on the questions at the beginning of the day. They were an excellent involved afternoon session where you would gravitate to the fields you knew about or wanted to know more about and discuss. They were a good way of getting more in-depth conversation and to be able to question viewpoints. How this differs from a normal conference session is that you are speaking with people for a longer period of time and not listening to a sage on the stage. I love my L&D conferences but one of the interesting issues I see is that we often preach about interaction, inclusion, pre-work and knowing your audience, then at a conference sit and listen to a lecture… So this approach where we all had more quality discussion and were able to be knowledgeable and/or question to find out nuggets of information, ideas and answers was invaluable.

Reflections: online training open space

The first open space I joined in with was about the future of “e-learning” and technology – I naturally gravitated towards this as the bulk of my current work is facilitating how to use the online classroom.


I found the question posed in itself interesting. It’s documented as “What’s the future of technology in learning? Will the classroom style be replaced?” and was expanded upon verbally for discussion where the question poser used the term “e-learning” interchangeably with other terms. I usually like to think I’m not a jargon purist, but I contradict myself when I find I want to help people define and understand what terms mean (at least what they usually mean to most people). These definitions can be useful labels when discussing pros and cons of various technologies or approaches. Another reason was because I feel that a lot of technology for learning is tainted by people’s approach to what Craig Taylor always defines as “self paced, click next e-learning modules” that normally live within a Learning Management System.

Something I’m sure a lot of us come across in the businesses we work in or consult for: I was talking to an account manager who works in a branch of a high street bank about my blended learning blog post. This is the somewhat typical conversation we had:

Bank worker: We’ve got that sh!t at work.
Me: Blended learning? Do you mean click next, self paced e-learning modules that are boring, locked in some kind of passworded system that you have trouble getting into, which you have to complete for compliance but don’t actually tell you anything useful for the job you can already do?
Bank worker: Yes, that’s it, blended learning!

And people wonder why technology in L&D can sometimes have a poor reputation?

The conversation in our open space talked about various iPad apps, technologies and MOOCs – which you can read more about here:

I found the conversation around webinars and live online classrooms interesting as people have diverse ranges of experiences, or none, which leads to misunderstanding and many questions. There was discussion about whether the online classroom will replace the face to face classroom over the next 10-20 years (I don’t think so) and whether it can perform as well as face to face for learning (I absolutely do think so).

Some of the resources I’ve been using recently myself and suggest other’s dip into to broaden or deepen their understanding on this topic:

Reflections: the ‘unconference’ approach

For me the best bit about any conference is the talking with like-minded individuals and debate with differing views. This is where I learn and enjoy so much as I’m more active in the conversation and applying my own knowledge to the situation of others and vice versa. So the ‘unconference’ approach is perfect for the more in-depth quality conversations and relationship building you may want to do. I loved understanding much more detail about what people did, their challenges and successes. It was great to focus on how I could support someone else’s development, problem solving and creative thinking and also seeking out those that can help me get my head around my own challenges.

It felt like a community affair rather than L&D hero worship, it was friendly, conversational and without any hard sell or grin-and-bear-it networking. You definitely need to get to the next one and I’ll see you there.

See more resources from Martin Couzins, collating and curating with gusto.

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