Saturday, November 3, 2012

DevLearn 2012: Day 3

The final day of the convention. I find final days hard because, despite the fact that you're ready to pass out from sheer learning exhaustion, you're also deeply aware that there's ever so much more for you to learn about.

Also, despite the tiredness, there was a part of me that was only just finally getting in to the swing of things by Friday. I was getting super comfortable with my Twitter set up (iPad on my lap for following the DevLearn hash tag. iPhone in my hand for Tweeting and photos), I had a good sense of where everything at the convention was, and had managed to get acquainted with some fabulous people. By the end I wanted to take a 3-day nap, but I also didn't want it to be over.

But, alas, it is. So, until next year (I hope), here are my final insights about the DevLearn sessions I attended:

1) Getting Started With Mobile Learning
Speaker: Craig Taylor
There were two sessions at DevLearn that got me particularly inspired about what I can do in this industry: the first keynote and this presentation. It's not surprising since both touched on the power we have to create spectacular things for our learners (and help THEM create spectacular things as well). I can't help it, I'm clearly a content creation/curation junkie.

In general, this session was about broadening our definition of what "mobile learning" can be. It's one thing to believe that yourself, it's another to have that belief confirmed by a DevLearn speaker (plus, having that backing of a conference speaker will add substantial weight to my arguments for mobile learning at work).

Mobile learning doesn't just have to be done on the usual suspect devices (smart phones and tablets); it can be done with single-use devices (like cameras, e-readers, mobile gaming systems, or dictaphones) or even non-electronic means (like paper maps). If you're on the go and learning, then it's mobile learning. I imagine this is a relief to people who can't be guaranteed that their learners will have access to expensive devices or those in my situation where the device your learners DO have access to is deeply inferior (sorry Canada pride, but old Blackberrys just don't cut it... Especially when the company disables some of the existing features before giving them to employees).

The rest of the session talked about some of the ways we can easily start increasing our ability to do more mobile learning (without a large amount of risk or even cost):

  • Make sure your company/school website is mobile friendly.
  • Do the same for your RSS feeds...
  • ...And your LMS/online collaboration platforms.
  • Take advantage of existing social media platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google+).
  • Even consider "old school" mobile options like text messaging (which, I admit, reminded me of this scene from Community)
  • Use mobile learning as an easy way to do follow up training to increase information retention.
  • Use existing apps rather than custom-made ones. The Apple and Android app stores are both teeming with apps. If you've thought of an app idea, there's a reasonably good chance someone else has too.

Another key message I took from this session was how phone, tablet, and web apps are doing an amazing job of making it easy and cheap for training developers and teachers to put together mobile learning for their students. For example, this session was preceded with online homework that included weblinks to useful content creation apps and a video that Taylor had created that prepped attendees for the session. Putting together this prework site 10 years ago would have taken obscene amounts of time. Now, I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that Taylor put it together in under an hour on a tablet. That's not to say that prework site was poorly made... It's more a comment on how easy it is to put a site like this together on the fly and still have it look professional.

Side note: this was the only DevLearn session I've ever attended where the speaker asked the attendees to actually create something IN THE SESSION. I know that's not something all session speakers can fit in with their topic, but I greatly appreciated it in a practical application session like this one.

2) iBooks, Google+ Hangouts, and the Future of Learning Technologies.
Speaker: Alex Lindsay
Lindsay used this session to talk about the work he's done establishing low-cost but high-quality learning programs for students in Africa. His solution was a clever one: create blended learning that incorporated self-paced learning with iBooks, in-the-moment assistance from facilitators, and expert lectures/lessons using Google Hangouts. This solution did a good job of providing consistent training to all students, assistance to those who needed it, less barriers for those who understood the content quickly and wanted to move on, and allowed access to expert speakers who were unable to be on-site.

Lindsay talked a lot about the idea of filming experts once and then using that content repeatedly (as opposed to training a large number of facilitators who aren't necessarily experts and having them deliver training at a slightly lower quality and consistency). What I liked is that he didn't want to remove in-person instructors out of the picture entirely. He also recognized the need for individual instructor assistance that is available at the same time as the video expert.

This reminded me a lot of the website Craftsy: an online set of craft courses. The courses are set up as a series of expert instructor videos that you follow at your own pace. However, the user interface gives you the opportunity to post text questions during the videos, and the video instructor is paid to continue to answer those questions (the other learners also have the ability to answer questions. Hooray for creating a supportive learning community online!). If this is an idea that intrigues you, I can't recommend checking out the Craftsy website enough.

I admit, based on the title (and complete lack of session description) I expected this to be a session that speculated on future technology applications rather than talk about an existing learning solution. I was still happy, but I really wish DevLearn would be clearer in their session titles and descriptions so that attendees like me would have a better idea of what sessions we should/shouldn't attend.

3) Keynote - 101 Ways to Rock Your World for Success
Speaker: Dayna Steele
And DevLearn ended with a speech on life lessons from a DJ. I wasn't completely sold on life lesson keynotes in the middle of DevLearn, but it did seem like a nice way to wrap up the convention. Nothing Steele suggested was ground shaking, but she did a good job of illustrating her advice with amusing examples from the world of Rock and Roll. Some of her advice included:

  • "Life is too short to have anything but delusional notions about yourself."
  • Always remember to think about your audience, and then cater to their needs and interests.
  • Do your homework! Being truly prepared helps you build emotional connections and encourages people to see you as an expert.
  • Do things for others without expecting anything in return.

The point she made that appeared to resonate most with the people in the audience (at least, based on the Twitter back channel) was to make sure you ask for things, because people will usually help you out. How did she make this point? She walked around the audience and asked people to give her money without even saying what it was for... And they did! Granted, real life isn't quite that simple, but remembering to ask, even if you think the person will say no, can still be much more successful than you might imagine. I'll be honest, when I asked my manager to send me to DevLearn this year I was convinced she'd say no due to budget cutbacks, but I though it was worth asking just so she'd know I had interest. Little did I know that our team had a bit of extra funding sitting around. If I had just gone on my assumption that there wasn't the budget for this conference, I would have never asked to go and I wouldn't be here in Vegas typing up this summary.

I'll post a more through overview of my general thoughts about DevLearn once I get back home. In short, though, it was absolutely worth the trip.


  1. Hi Bianca,

    Thanks ever so much for taking the time to come to my session last week and for participating to such a degree. I'm pleased that the practical activity went down well with you as I saw a small number of people 'get up and leave' once I suggested that they'd have to 'do something'!

    I always try and add some form of practical activity into my facilitated sessions as I believe that it greatly assists retention in conjunction with the attendees hearing and seeing what is taking place.

    Make sure you keep us all updated as to you mobile learning - I mean performance support - endeavours 'post-Devlearn'.


    1. It's kind of hilarious that some people bolted out of the session when you actually asked us to do something. Oh no... you actually have to USE the content you just learned! The horror!

      For those of us not terrified of being asked to make things, I have to wonder if there'd be value in some sort of session (be it a pre-con workshop, 1-hour session, or even an unofficial evening event) where attendees are put into groups, given a learning-related problem to solve, and then given a short time limit to create something on-the-spot with the resources they have on hand. Kind of like Iron Chef or Project Runway, but for learning.

      I know DevLearn has a session a tiny bit like this (The Great ID Challenge), but it's not something attendees actually participate in themselves and it doesn't included working with people outside of the company you work for. Just a thought.

      Anyway, thanks again for the fantastic session and for actually making the effort to have the DevLearn community continue to share what we're doing with everything we learned at the convention. It's easy to be excited and energized right after the convention, not so much later on when you're constantly cutting through red tape to actually try something new/innovative at work. I'm hoping the community sharing will help keep my spirits up during what may be a long and rocky road to the actual execution of my new project plans.