Learning Technology 2016

This is Fraser's review of the conference. Click the images below, or use the red button at the bottom of the page, to jump to Karen or Rob's.

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Trade shows like this can be hard work.

It's easy to lose perspective, when faced with a barage of people, each telling you that your learning department is lagging behind the industry, and the only thing that can save it from abject failure is the product that they just happen to be selling.

It's refreshing to report, therefore, that the overwhelming thing I took away from the day was that, with the skillset and existing output of the Design team in Knowhow, we are actually already far beyond many of the attendees, not to mention quite a few of the exhibitors and speakers! If an illustration of this is required, the largest crowd I saw of any talk that day, by some margin, was one which was giving "10 easy tricks to transform your PowerPoint slides”.

That's not to gloat. Simply to observe that many of the ideas being touted as the way forward across the industry are things we are already doing:

  • bite-sized learning
  • mobile apps
  • Interactive video learning
  • learning games and animated exercises

Crucially, we already have the skills to do this all in house. Of course, we shouldn't rest on our laurels. There were plenty good ideas on display and there's always more that we can do. But there's at least room for a brief pause here to give ourselves a pat on the back. We're all bloody good, and we keep getting better. As long as we keep doing what we're doing...challenging ourselves to do something new that pushes us out of our comfort zone with every new project, we'll be ok.

Go us!

But what hints and tips did I take away from the day?..

"learners who use their own mobile devices to access learning demonstrate a higher level of engagement, are more productive and get better results."

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Learning and performance on the move: how do we support the mobile worker?

Genny Dixon, Head of Research, Towards Maturity

The first talk I attended was looked at how we can most succesfully deliver training to a remote, mobile workforce. The talk drew heavily from the Embracing Change report, which Towards Maturity publish every November (Executive summary, Full report) and was crammed full of interesting statistics.

In the US, learners now spend more time on mobile devices than they do on 'traditional' computers like desktop or laptop. Of that mobile activity, 89% is app based.

Around 80% of companies surveyed now offer some form of mobile learning content. Only 39% provide their staff with mobile devices, however. The remainder use a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy.

Test results show that learners who use their own devices to access learning demonstrate a higher level of engagement, are more productive and get better results. It's thought this is because, mobile devices are such a personal thing, that people immediately feel more at ease, and the training feels more personal, when delivered on a personal device which is set up exactly as the learner likes it.

As an aside, she also mentioned a case study (one of 20-odd available on their website) for an award winning training piece from last year for the Resuscitation Council which used the accelerometer and haptic feedback of the mobile device to simulate a heart massage which reacted to the level of pressure the learner applied to the screen. A great example of thinking outside the box and designing for a platforms strengths rather than shoe-horning existing content from one platform to another without considering how it can best be delivered.

Collaborative training delivery - your choices

Jon Knight, Business Development Director, Smarter Interactive

The next talk I had planned on attending was blighted by technical issues and couldn’t get their slides to show. I bailed after 15 minutes waiting for them to start and managed to catch the end of the presentation by Smart board manufacturer, Smart Interactive. I’m glad I did.

Their stand had already caught my eye and I had intended to pay them a visit later. They seemed to be using iPads to write notes then swiping them up onto the smart board in front of them, where someone else could then rearrange the notes, edit and otherwise interact with them.

It turned out the technology delivering this was a piece of software called Span by a company called Nureva. They called it an ‘Ideation system’, which is a terrible name for an incredibly impressive bit of technology. See the video above for an example.

It creates a virtual 40 ft long canvas onto which you can can send images, handwriting or any other content from any number of other computers or mobile devices. They claim that it works on any device with an internet connection.

You can just project it from a laptop like our trainers already do with training content, but for the full effect, displaying it through a smart board allows the trainer to write directly on the canvas and move content around on the board using their hands, like Tom Cruise in Minority report!

Imagine trainers asking learners to answer questions, and they used their own devices or desktop PC’s to write the answers and send them directly to the board. A cutting edge company like Sky should absolutely be doing things like this.

"Ask yourself ‘would I pay to play this?’ If the answer is no, it’s not good enough"

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How to create truly engaging learning games for Gen Y

Mike Hawkyard, Managing Director, Amuzo

Amuzo gave a presentation looking at how to create learning content which appealed to generation Y (roughly those born between 1980's-early 2000’s). It actually served as a really good primer on both game theory and engagement theory, as well as how to make learning games ‘sticky’ so players want to return to them rather than just doing so because they are told to.

And Amuzo should know what they’re talking about. Although they also operate in the Learning Games field, they come from a background of ‘real’ games and their team includes the creators of such huge selling games as Tomb Raider and Lego Star Wars.

I took a lot from this talk, but a few highlights:

  • When they took over the Lego contract, Lego already had lots of games on their website but had no mobile app content. They convinced Lego to let them convert the existing content into mobile apps. They saw an immediate 400% increase in traffic and 300% better retention on the same content, purely because it was served as an app rather than on the web.

  • Crucially, they said, your content has to look at least as good, and as professional as anything you can buy on the app store. If it looks like ‘work', learners will not be compelled to use it. It’s easy to get carried away with the enjoyment you have building a piece of learning, but ask yourself ‘would I pay to play this?’ If the answer is no, it’s not good enough.

  • The most requested feature for any games that they produce isn’t the ability to beat your friends or even just to play against your friends. The most requested feature is the ability to 'level up’. Players like to build up the skill level and and experience points of their online profile to make it as strong as they can. Every question answered or skill demonstrated should result in some sort of reward, be it points or actual prizes (think of all the freebies we have in Sky for assorted promotions).

  • Users should also be rewarded just for coming back. When they log back in for the second time, give them a small prize. again, this can be points or an actual prize (Go home half an hour early, was the example they gave) this feeds the reward mechanism in their brain and will make them want to keep coming back.

  • Add an element of randomness. A lucky dip for example, or just occasionally throw in an extra prize for no reason. When rats were in a cage with a button that if pressed when a light came on gave a treat, the rats would just press it when the light came on. If the dispensation of the treat became randomised, the rat would just press the button constantly.

  • Sometimes their non-learning games will be free and financed by in game adverts. No one likes adverts, but in some games they will have the option to ‘watch an advert for a bonus 200 points’ for example. To apply this to learning games, we can take the less desirable but necessary sections and wrap them in the same way. offer extra rewards for doing them so the learner won’t mind as much.

Transport for London: Case Study

Ian Tatton, Digital Learning Specialist Lead – Skills and Capabilities, Transport for London
Toby White, Bespoke Content Lead, Kallidus

Transport for London delivered a case study on the massive restructure they have been undergoing over the last few years and how they went about building a robust learning package that appealed to a broad audience and got results.

The company was entirely restructuring. Staff who had been back-office, in some cases for decades, found themselves out of the office and customer facing. Resistance to the change was high. All staff were issued with iPads on which they could do their work, but also where they could work through their training.

This was bite-sized and used the London Underground as a metaphor. as the learner travels around the virtual map of the underground, they get off at each stop, complete a bite-sized learning piece, then continue on their journey.

The learning had a blend of styles, from photo-realistic to cartoon, as demonstrated in the video above. It was shot through with a thread of humour to keep it compelling. They are now working on a ‘Golden Ticket’ game where learners can challenge themselves to apply their learning and compete against colleagues for real prizes.

"How does this help sell more beer?"

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The 'uberfication' of workplace learning

Gerry Griffin, Director, Skill-Pill M-Learning

There were a few other talks I attended but never really took anything from. The final talk of the day worth mentioning was Gerry Griffin from SkillPill who delivered a talk on “The Uberfication of eLearning”.

The theory he was espousing was that eLearning is ripe for ‘Disruption’. Disruption is a Silicon Valley idea, where old, established businesses, set in their ways and resistant to change, are eliminated or revolutionised by a technology firm coming along and doing things better and, crucially, cheaper.

The current poster-child of this idea is Uber (The taxi firm that undercuts old cabs prices, with an app that lets you rate your driver, pay directly from your mobile and track exactly where your car is on a map while you wait) but there are plenty other examples.

From Skype more or less replacing international phone calls a decade ago, through to AirBnB, who are currently creating a massive impact in the hotel and B&B industry, and Slack who are now being used by many companies to replace work email, since it’s less messy and more intuitive (Something else we should be using…The starting price is free so what's stopping us trying it out?)

He didn't give any answers, but said that we should all be looking for how we can disrupt established learning processes and come up with something new. He finished with a story of how, in Guinness, their moto, and business model is always ‘Sell more beer’. No matter what your role is in the company, and how directly or indirectly you are connected to the retail chain, you have to always be able to answer the question of any of your projects ‘How does this help us sell more beer?’. If you can’t draw a direct line, your projects days may be numbered!


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So those were my highlights. I had hoped to make it to Olive Learning's stand, but never managed it. They were showing off how they are using Facebook's pricey Occulus Rift virtual reality headset in their latest learning.

Last year, as part of the Sky Q project, we had the idea of creating a virtual tour video of the Sky Q branded retail stands. We priced 360 degree cameras and looked at feasability of using Google Cardboard (ultra-cheap cardboard frames which, when used alongside Google’s app, allow you to use your own mobile phone as a Virtual reality headset). For various reasons, we didn't end up doing it this time, but the basic 360 degree camera starts around £300 and Google Cardboard headsets are just £1-2 each. Combine this with the ideas around ‘Bring Your Own Device’ mentioned above and the bar is very low for us to innovate in this exciting new field.

For an example of how this looks, watch the video below in Chrome (and use the arrows at the top of the video to look around), or, for the best experience, open on the native YouTube app on iOS or Android (and just rotate your device to look around!). As far as I'm aware, it doesn't work in Internet Explorer (But that's such an outdated browser, we shouldn't be using that either. 95% of the technical issues we encounter in the training rooms would go away if we just switched browsers, and there's no good reason that we're still stuck on it! As a prime example of this, look how this very webpage looks when opened in Internet Explorer vs almost every other browser.

Lynda.com were exhibiting again this year. I've previously put together a business case for getting a corporate licence for Lynda.com within the team. They have literally thousands of online learning courses for almost every creative field. Photography and Photoshop, video editing, design, animation and management skills to name just a few. To keep on top of our game, we should be encouraging our staff to develop themselves, and giving them the tools to do so at their own pace.

Finally though, it was the idea of 'Bring Your Own Device' and embracing mobile technology in new ways which caught my imagination the most. Sky are already starting to make inroads to allowing staff to use their own mobile devices to access work content. Think how we've recently introduced Sky Code and the ability to have a code texted to your phone so you can sign in to Today@Sky and Sky Development. There's also rumours of a Sky Development app which is coming soon.

So imagine an onboarding process for a new Sky staff member where they are sent a link to an app the week before they start. They install it on their phone or tablet and can review details of their induction program. They can already upload a picture to their Sky profile and, through Chatter integration, introduce themselves and chat to their new colleagues who will be going through induction with them, as well as their trainers.

It would add details of the full induction schedule to their calendar, and, once they had started their training, access additional course material and ask the trainers, and their colleagues questions relating to specific sessions.

We could also build a game aspect into it, whereby they can score points for things like taking part in quizzes, or answering colleagues questions.

Think how engaged staff were with the Advent Calendar on Today@Sky last December, collecting sprouts. Imagine that was ongoing and encouraging our staff to earn points by enhancing their learning or helping each other.

The overheads to creating such a system would be minimal. All we'd need is time. We already have the technology and skills in place. We just need to build the tools to connect them all. Give me the word and I'll start today!