A Small Conference with Big Reach

By Jeannette Campos / June 2012

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The Eighth Annual Innovations in eLearning Symposium (IEL) was held earlier this month, on the George Mason University (GMU) campus in Fairfax, Virginia. The symposium is an event jointly sponsored by the Instructional Technology program at GMU and the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). Likewise, the symposium attracts a blended audience of higher education professionals, federal government employees, and a smaller subset of workplace learning professionals from the corporate and non-profit markets.

The symposium is relatively small in comparison to other conferences, providing a very intimate and manageable learning experience for attendees. In spite of its size, the symposium's goal is to help attendees "build new skills for a global workforce." Creatively, by design, IEL is an event that is organized and deployed locally, with the intent of reaching a worldwide audience.

True to its global intent, the symposium attracted international keynote speakers George Siemens (Canada) and Jane Hart (England), as well as Mitch Kapor and Tony O'Driscoll. The balance of keynote speakers appealed to the diversity in the audience, offering content that was relevant to higher educators, researchers, and workplace learning practitioners.

Concurrent sessions during the symposium focused on one of three topics; 1) informal learning and social media, 2) learning and performance analytics, and 3) competitive edge through innovation.

The informal learning and social media track broadcast that the majority of learning for performance is achieved through personal networks and socially mediated spaces. From a review of Dave Snowden's Cynefin framework, as presented by Harold Jarche, to a cameo appearance by Australopithecus afarensis (the earliest tool user), as presented by Mark Oehlert, participants were exposed to a range of models, metaphors, and approaches for making their workplace learning programs more informal, which, Jane Hart, during her keynote, defined as, "unstructured, continuous, in the workflow, social, and serendipitous."

The learning and performance analytics track made one thing very clear; this is a nascent field that is just beginning to take form. There are no experts yet, just dedicated professionals committed to shaping the path through collaboration and shared learning. This message was reinforced in sessions presented by Dr. Ellen Wagner and during Dr. George Siemens' keynote.

The competitive edge through innovation track encouraged attendees to think both in terms of innovative design and innovative deployment of learning solutions. Participants were asked to consider such questions as, "What are new and better ways to design this content?" and "What are new and better ways to deploy this content?" Whether it was chunking content for deployment as micro-lessons on a mobile device (DAU), or reviewing the 2011 Gaming State of Affairs (Dr. Alicia Sanchez), participants received both the strategic and tactical advice required to bring learning for performance into its next generation.

Of interest was the seemingly inevitable clash between conventional training models with these newer approaches to learning for performance. For example, discussion of learning and performance analytics aroused an audience-initiated comparison to Kirkpatrick's Model of Evaluation and the mythical calculation of return on investment. Informal and social approaches to workplace learning were dismissed on the assertion that they lack the rigor commonly associated with learning objectives and lesson plans. A defense of learning styles made an appearance during Thursday's keynote. One of the more frequently voiced refrains from a vocal minority was, "That simply isn't possible where I work, because…."

It begs the question, "Why, is this avocation of learning for performance, so hard to change; especially at a conference that intends to highlight innovation?"

A highlight of the symposium was the Twitter feed and live blogging shared by attendee, Craig Wiggens. Craig's indefatigable backchannel was a demonstration of a new type of skill that will help our practitioners reach a global audience of learners. Using the symposium hashtag, #IEL12, eLearning enthusiasts could follow the conference in real time, from anywhere in the world.

The Innovation in eLearning Symposium offered a cozy conference experience, with a range of powerful speakers and leading thinkers within the industry of learning for performance. The targeted session topics provided a range of discussions of both theory and practice, leaving the conference attendees fully equipped with new tools and new skills to reach their global workforce.

About the Author

Jeannette Campos is currently an Instructional Design Project Manager with the United States government. Prior to joining federal service, Campos served as a Project Manager and Senior Instructional Designer to multiple contracts awarded by the United States Department of Defense and Department of Labor. She is a graduate professor of Instructional Systems Design at UMBC and held an adjunct faculty appointment at The National Labor College.

© 2012 ACM 1535-394X/12/05 $15.00

DOI: 10.1145/2241156.2318856

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