The DevLearn 2009 Write-Up

Who was at DevLearn 2009, and what were their goals?

There were about 1,200 people at DevLearn (guesstimate) with a large majority interested in doing better E-Learning, interest in serious games and social learning with a subset of that group, maybe 200 people, very plugged into the Twitter community and interested in networking with each other face-to-face.

How was DevLearn 2009 structured?

On Monday, there was an Adobe Software Summit showcasing what’s latest and greatest in their E-Learning development tools, with reception following (which I crashed).  On Tuesday were a number of concurrent all-day certificate sessions.  I attended the track on Virtual Worlds.  Wednesday through Friday held concurrent sessions with breakfast bite sessions, keynote speakers and then sessions running parallel to non-stop tracks on Serious Games (hosted by Alicia Sanchez) and Social Learning (hosted by Mark Oehlert).

As an aside, I sat as a panelist for Mark’s Social Learning Camp on Wednesday afternoon and hosted a Breakfast Bite on “Overcoming Objections to E-Learning” in addition to my scheduled speaking obligation on “Enterprise Knowledge Exchange.”

What were the big ideas I took from DevLearn 2009?

I had several “a-has” from the conference experience. Here’s a couple at the top of mind…

Twitter is the new email.

I have to thank Kris Rockwell of Hybrid Learning for this gem of insight, offered at O’Flaherty’s on the last night of the conference.  “If you think about it, 140 characters is all you need.  If you can’t get a message down to that, then I’ll just delete it, because that’s all I have time for.”

Kris also noted that if it’s really going to be a big message that requires back and forth, why not just pick up a phone and call.  Engagement, using the right medium for the job, is the key learning here.  I think this is a reason why many Twitter users are using their blogs less and why I delete more and more email.

Subject Matter Networks are more important than Subject Matter Experts.

This idea may be penultimate Mark Oehlert wisdom.  Everyone from Andy McAfee (Enterprise 2.0, #andyasks) to Eric Zimmerman (whose site is actually blocked by my work’s firewall GRRRRRRRRR) is talking about how when you throw enough eyeballs on a problem, all bugs are shallow.  What this means is that while the training industry is fixated on a single Subject Matter Expert, we may do well to remember that asking a diverse audience, even in absence of credentials, may produce better answers to our questions.  Sure, there are domain experts – but if you ask the right networks, they’re already there, eager to answer the question no one else in the network can.  Meanwhile, you can get richer, fuller answers to your lower-level questions by hitting the network.

Why does the Intranet suck?

It’s not just my company.  It’s all companies.  Pick one.  Andy McAfee asked it: What’s easier to navigate? The Internet, or your company’s Intranet?  The same organization that puts out a healthy, lively E-Commerce site that puts money in your company’s pocket is also the same organization that tolerates an Intranet that drives people away to outside the firewall to find information.  People are naturally altruistic, especially inside the firewall.  People want to help.

Organizations need to recognize this and lower the barrier for employees to connect and help each other.

What surprised me from DevLearn 2009?

Instructional Design still lives!

I had the great pleasure of meeting Neil Lasher on Tuesday in an opportunity to catch some air.  I’d only been following him on Twitter over the past few weeks as a fellow traveler, but I have found him to be one of the keenest minds on instructional design I’ve ever met.  His ability to tell a story is pretty much tops, but his laser-sharp insight in drawing you in and associating something known with something new was continuously brilliant.  Considering Neil’s pragmatic approach to design, in the same venue as Clark Quinn and Jay Cross – I mean, we’re talking about people who are very much on top of their game and despite the reports I’ve made to the contrary – ISD lives.

People want standardized Social Learning, but no one knows what it is.

I was pretty surprised by the attendance and engagement at the Tuesday session on SCORM and Social Learning.  I wasn’t too surprised by the initial questions — people want to combine things like Twitter NOW with their LMS.  We quickly got past it (hint: use cmi.comments_from_learner or cmi.suspend_data to store whatever it is you want from these feeds).  But that opened up the bigger and more important question: why?  The audience couldn’t articulate what social learning looks like; and imho if it looks like Twitter (as just one example) how would anyone want to track it — what part do track?  Let alone the “why?”  My suspicion is that even though people may not be aware of what social learning looks like, they may have an easier time selling it if it can be back-doored into an LMS that would need to be adopted to keep current with standards, and thereby “bless” social networking inside an organization because it’s a function of the learning.  There’s a post coming in this topic, because my guess is that a straw man needs to be put out there.

I feel very strongly that this approach is a mistake, but I’m reading tea leaves — I don’t know for certain that’s what people are thinking.

What are three new things I learned from DevLearn 2009?

Impact of Twitter as a Trust Ladder

I expected to meet the bulk of my personal learning network this week. What I did not expect was exactly how deep our bonds grow, and even though this has happened before (like when I got to #iel09), the assembly of 50-60 people that I *regularly* interact with, converging all in one place at one time — some people like Brian and Philip whom I’ve corresponded with for years — it’s wonderful to the point of being jarring.  Being recognized from afar by people I’ve never met, the little side-jokes that only friends would know about, the instant warmth and camraderie: there was so much joy and laughter at this event.  I truly felt I was among friends everywhere, with every minute literally filled with learning, conversation and just plain fun.

I spend everyday with my learning network.  To actually share the same physical space at the same time? Might be a life-changing event for me to recognize how many people help me do what I do and that I, with humility, have some impact on their work, their lives, their days.

Systemic/Epistemic Thinking is In

Both McAfee and Eric Zimmerman spoke about thinking systemically about problems; that tactics can’t solve for strategic.  While just about everyone loved McAfee’s keynote, Zimmerman got mixed reviews because of his presenting style.  Personally? I thought he dropped some very important nuggets of knowledge.  Example? Emergence.  Four years ago, I was in San Jose and heard Tim O’Reilly speak about “Emergence.” Zimmerman continues. Emergence refers to simple rules that produce a pattern highlighting group behavior from personal behaviors.  There are some who might look at this as a “fractal ladder” (read Pravir Malik’s mindblowing book “Connecting Inner Power to Global Change”).  In systems, you havea set of parts that interrelates to create meaning.  In these systems, our forms of communicating with each other have a certain meaning that, out of the systemic context, may mean something else.  That meaning is relevant to literacy and learning.

What this means is that if I want to talk about the transfer of knowledge from one person or source to another, it must be situated where the learners are in a greater hierarchy.  This also, isn’t so much new, but affirming and highlighted.

The Only Way Out is Through

Zimmerman and just about every encounter I had talking about knowledge exchange in organizations reaffirmed with alarming clarity: to use a system, you must participate in it.  Take system very figuratively here — we can apply this to networks of people in real life or in virtual social networks, tools, services, etc.  If you’re interested in using Twitter or Facebook for learning, you can’t wait for someone to say OK — you need to start using these tools on your own.  If you want to figure out what the “ROI” is for virtual worlds, you need to sign up for Second Life and explore it with people until you can figure out what the “Evidence of Value” is.  These tools aren’t difficult to use.  They don’t need to be used for everything under the sun, but these are transformational tools because they attack hierarchies (that’s Mark’s line).

You can choose to wait them out, but you’ll be waiting a long time.  Organizations (be they people or working groups) are unlocking a whole lot of power and growth by leveraging social tools.

What are you going to do now because of this conference?

I started blogging again after #iel09 because I realized that however infrequent, there’s a lot in my head that I can’t just meter out with Twitter alone.  Now that #dl09 is done, I’m going to plunge into targeting my blogging in my key categories for Social Learning and standards.  I’m also going to prepare some differentiated discussions and/or presentations for next year.  Read next to understand how and why.

What left you unsatisfied from the conference?

Granted, we presented on Knowledge Exchange Strategy against Google Wave — hard to compete with Google and B.J. Schone’s presenting on Yammer. B.J., especially, has some good stories to tell.  I realized after my presentation that DevLearn, like any industry conference, is drawing a wide swath of people.  The majority of these people are so struggling in the mire of how to use their tools effectively to do their jobs and create better learning materials; they’re not armed to deal with how to change their organizations systemically — not just their functional department inside an organization, but the whole thing.  I need to pare my ideas down into more digestible chunks; or write the book.  I’m not committing here and now on writing a book on transformational organizational strategy, but it’s a story that needs to be told and have a lot of sequels if we really want our economy to grow healthy and our work to be something we love.

It bothers me that while I reached a LOT of people, there’s so much left to share.

What are YOUR thoughts?

15 replies on “The DevLearn 2009 Write-Up”