Learning Solutions Conference 2011
The view from the backchannel

By Tracy Parish / May 2011

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With 1300 participants and 200 speakers, this year's the Learning Solutions Conference was another successful and challenging experience. The most common complaint leading up to most conferences—and certainly during the four day event held last month in Orlando—is how to choose which session to attend when the three or four that pique your interest are scheduled at the same time.

The Learning Solutions Conference organizers had tracks of sessions that covered everything from assessment and evaluation to project management, from instructional design to visual design. Overall there were 16 different tracks to experience, each filled with exciting ideas, demonstrations, and techniques to take away.

The conference week began with a two day "Foundations Intensive" program geared toward those just starting out in elearning. The session tracks make up the foundation of the conference with many side stage classes being held throughout the facility as well. These included Master Classes, the ID Zone, the Management Xchange, the Learning Media Studio, and if you were really ambitious the 7:00am Morning Buzz session. Attendees could also register for one of 11 pre-conference one day certificate workshops.

With so many places to learn and people to learn from it could have become overwhelming. Luckily the backchannel of participants blogging and tweeting about their experiences and new learning solutions helped keep everyone involved, even those who couldn't attend in person and instead "tuned-in" from their computers.

Here are some highlights from the keynotes and backchannel of Twitter posts created by attendees. (Please note during the conference my twitter username was "hamtra," I have since changed it "Tracy_Parish".)

"Brain Rules for Learning" Keynote, Dr. John Medina

  • It's a myth that we only use 10% of our brains. We use 60-80% depending on the activity.
  • The built in "gadgets" of the brain work on memory and the crosstalk between them is how memory happens.
  • Declarative information is the information we can declare; if your brain decides it is declarative information, then you can hold seven items of this for 30 seconds.
  • Working memory lasts 60-90 minutes. If you repeat the seven items within 30 seconds then the information goes into the working memory for two hours. Repeat within these two hours and it goes into long-term memory. Repeat again within these two hours and you will hold the information forever.
  • The brain processes the information for 10 years and it is not until then that the information can be retrieved without corruption.
  • We as trainers need to break 60 minute training into 3 x 20 minute chunks that get repeated and reinforced into the learner's memory.

"Resonate: Presenting Visual Stories that Transform Learners and Audiences" Keynote, Nancy Duarte

  • We primarily communicate visually so our training should be created this way as well.
  • There is a gap between what presenters do and what trainers do. Presenters need to focus more on and understand their audience.
  • Knowing your audience and talking to them as if they are your friends changes your posture and voice automatically creating a better effect.
  • Know how you want to transform your audience; you can then plan on how you can move them from one point to another. Start with a BIG IDEA and move them from HERE to THERE.
  • By the end of this journey the audience should be the hero of the "story".
  • Trainers understand that they are mentors to the learners and are there to help them get unstuck. We want to inspire the learners, not train them.
  • Stories do this best. They resonate with the learners and get them invested into the material.
  • Stories have beginnings, middles and ends with turning points throughout. They have a likeable hero, who encounters a roadblock, and emerges transformed.
  • Your learner/audience will transform as the hero transforms.

"From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able in a Digital world" Keynote, Michael Wesch

  • New students coming into the class each year are the early adopter-the people willing to change and try anything new.
  • We don't just use media; it uses us and changes us in ways we don't even notice.
  • We need to move from being knowledgeable to knowledge-able and know how to access the information we seek. Learn the power of collaboration and leverage this to our advantage.
  • Our cultures have been changed by printing press, TV and other media. Not just here but around the world.
  • "Academia has mastered disengagement."
  • People today are searching for identity, recognition and participation. Many are turning to media "tools" to find their identity.
  • There is something new happening, "the Quarter Life Crisis: when you realize you are not the next big thing."
  • "Our learning moments are creating our culture. Not in what we are saying, but how we are saying it."

Two concurrent sessions worth mentioning were "Your Brain On Graphics: Research-inspired Visual Design" with Connie Malamed (Connie Malamed Consulting) and "Micro-Learning: Knowledge in Four Minutes or Less" with Joseph O'Malley (Senior Director-Knowledge Management at Saint Luke's Health System). Their presentations need to be added to your "must see in person" list for future events.

Malamed's enlightening presentation could have been a keynote session. Walking the audience through some research, she explained how and why we are hardwired for graphics. She demonstrated several principles for optimizing the graphics we use in the training materials and courses we create. For instance, knowing that graphics can speed up your message and create greater efficiency in your course is key; and tying your graphics into a story will help the learners to connect through emotions and make the abstract seem more concrete.

Malamed's presentation was exactly what she preached, filled with incredible illustrations and graphics that tied her point to a solid example. It truly was an inspiration to what can be achieved and demonstrated when you have the right graphics to represent the message you are trying to convey. Her presentation handout is available at The eLearning Guild, but seeing her present the material is a must.

The witty and clever Joseph O'Malley, on the other hand, should be booked as next year's entertainment. It's rare to see a conference breakout audience applaud, laugh and learn so much at the same time. Working from the premise that news media can deliver important messages in very short timeframes, O'Malley demonstrated how his organization effectively delivered a training initiative in four minutes. With the use of clever graphics (a recurring theme at the conference) and familiar faces of staff inserted into the material, the topic at hand is quickly and easily accessible to St Luke's learners. Finding a way to have the learners repeat the four-minute module numerous times only reinforced the point from Dr. Medina's keynote, mentioned earlier, of breaking training into small chunks that are learned and repeated.

With five days of learning, composed of seven elements (Learning Foundations, Pre-Conference Workshops, ID Zone, Master Classes, Management Xchange, Learning Media Studio) 150 speakers covering 100 sessions and three side stages of sessions, it was impossible to cover it all, but certainly made attending worth every minute .

*All tweets used with permission from the authors.

About the Author

Tracy Parish has been working in organization development at Southlake Regional Health Centre for 10 years. A diverse educational background of accounting, computer programming, and adult educational training has led her to pursue designing and delivering online training at Southlake. After recently implementing the hospital's LMS, she is now creating and populating it with a catalog of elearning courses. The near future will see increased collaboration with hospital educators to increase this collection of online material.

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