Review of Learning Technologies 2011

Learning Technologies 2011

Another trip to a vibrant Learning Technologies Show, and a trip around what was a busy and bustling event, indeed for many the “busy and bustling” began on Earls Court Tube station!

Chats with a number of seasoned visitors indicated a feeling that a number of new faces (and one or two old faces) had made an effort to attend. The organisers are to be congratulated. Our conversations with many vendors reflected a mood of optimism as well, with many stands appearing very busy for quite long periods.

Is content still king?

Well it appears to be so, judging by the sizable stands and the stories of success on offer from many of these learning content development companies.

So who was there?

The content developers occupied many of the biggest and shiniest stands, with LINE and Epic having good presence, along with Kineo, all with strong stories to tell. Redtray, Brightwave, Intellego and Tata looked popular destinations for visitors as well.

It was particularly pleasing to see some of the less well-known developers such as Real Projects and PTK in demand, and offering great demos of what they can do. Nelsoncroom seemed very popular as they broaden their offer. It was great to see Saffron with a strong presence at the show promoting the power of video.

Skillsoft was certainly set up for business with a large presence, as were the others such as Jenison. LMKnowledge brought an interesting off-the-shelf approach: tightly focused on leadership and management.

Authoring tools were well represented by many vendors with strong presence from Adobe as ever with multiple stand presence covering all angles. The new Atlantic Link – Kaplan stand was popular. Techsmith and Harbinger were both busy showcasing some neat solutions along with what appears to be some very competitive pricing. This segment will see some interesting competitive pressures in our view in the coming months on price, spurred on by new entrants (such as iSpring, a new exhibitor to our knowledge, with an interesting offer) and new approaches. Mohive, for example, was now exhibiting along with its new parent organisation CrossKnowledge, making for a new and interesting approach in what we believe will be the most competitive of segments.

There were a good number of assessment and appraisal services vendors, including learning evaluation solutions, performance and support systems along with performance management offers. This seemed to be an area with a large number of offers and in our view an area given to a degree of over-complexity. We say this given present thinking that formal learning – which many were seeking to measure is likely only to measure 20% or so of skills acquisition. We did not see any really innovative attempts to measure the role that informal learning can play or indeed SoMe-SoLe (Social Media-Social learning)…or maybe we missed them. Anyway, you can be assured that you can test and assess, manage performance and support performance in a multitude of ways.

Mobile, so long promised as the new paradigm, would appear to be breaking through – thanks be to Apple! And it would appear to be arriving in force, with many vendors moving applications onto mobile and portable pad devices. Coming up the escalator one was met by My Knowledge Map, showcasing its tools for mobile and smart devices. This, in some ways, set the tone for much of LTs with the bespoke content vendors and the niche performance support suppliers all going mobile. K-tango were noticeable high-level sponsors marketing a mobile performance platform. e-Xact (formerly Giunti labs) also continue to promote mobile learning with some vigour.

LMS vendors offering ‘steroid-enhanced performance

This brings us to the many vendors with Learning Management Systems (LMS), with one wag we spoke to commenting that many now appear to be offering some form of “steroid-enhanced performance” no doubt on tap in a cloud!

We are not so cynical about a segment that in many cases has been unfairly derided, which in our view still has an important role to play. The trend toward “talent management” amongst many LMS vendors was marked. What happened to human capital management still remains unclear!

Other platform vendors are promoting and positioning as social learning – social media (SoMe-SoLe) applications/platforms/zones etc…, with many adding numerous web 2.0 features to the core system. Bloomfire from Omniplex looks very interesting as does Fusions Social learning zone. We predict this to be an area of rapidly growing interest as L&D departments come to grips with the power of social networking – Social Learning – the SoMe-SoLe paradigm of fear and fascination!

We noted a number of Moodle-incorporating and enhancing offers from vendors, but perhaps not quite as many as one could have expected, given all the hype and excitement over recent months. Has Kineo run away with this market already?

There were a few new innovative offers that caught our attention: The Working Manager for example was a neat and thought-through approach, we were impressed with the Toolwire LiveLab, and a number of the immersive learning solutions on offer showing that the genre hasn’t completely gone away. Our view is that immersive learning – serious gaming – virtual worlds are still suffering from a post-hype hangover, but will make a lower key comeback, as we have no doubts to their effectiveness when used appropriately.

Perhaps the most disappointing element of the whole show was the presentations given in the exhibition area. While not attending them all, it was very quickly apparent that the majority were delivered in PowerPoint. Where were the learning technologies? Where was the interactive content? Apologies if we missed some that used approaches other than bullet points!
Our overall view….so much vibrancy, so much terminology, but what does it all mean?

As companies and their marketing departments struggle to niche and differentiate their products and services, rush to add new features and functionality to existing products to stay on trend, we must ask can the poor procurer, the confused customer, the client, keep pace?

This is the question that kept coming back to us time and time again. We see solutions offering huge technical innovation. A quick snapshot of some of the strap lines give insight into what the industry is trying to offer: ’empower performance’, ’empower people’, ‘engage learners’, ‘transfer information’ and more broadly ‘stay ahead’ – these are noble aspirations indeed.

It is important that companies market their products with excitement and effect and as an industry we must market our success stories. That was what the European e-learning Summit held in Sheffield in November 2010 concluded. Indeed the summit identified this as a key message in its manifesto. So, let’s not confuse the procurer anymore, there is a good job being done in product and service differentiation already without the call to move on from “e-learning and learning technologies.”

We see no value in confusing the customer still further – indeed it is only 3 years ago that the term e-learning services replaced “specialist training services” as a government recognised procurement term (CPV). For us, the use of e-learning and learning technologies as a term works.

So, to answer our question, can the customer keep pace?

It is right that we see e-learning as part of the overall training market? We contend that the organisational decision-making environment into which e-learning and learning technologies vendors often find themselves selling and delivering is complex, to say the least.

We see too many projects that are bedevilled by organisational inertia or in-fighting. We see too many projects that are badly conceptualised, with unclear outcomes and and goals. So avoid replicating the IT industry where 80% of projects fail to deliver their anticipated benefits, and the other 20% just fail.

Indeed, Learning Light with its tried and tested consultancy methodology can help organisations seeking to derive the undoubted benefits that e-learning and learning technologies offer. There has been no better time for organisations to explore this exciting and innovative opportunity-rich environment and succeed in delivering engaging and effective e-learning.

We have worked with a number of Yorkshire companies helping them understand and specify what they need to successfully commence and deliver an e-learning project.