The DevLearn 2010 Write-up #DL10

It took me a week to let the excitement settle from DevLearn and reflect. I wanted to make sure that what I shared in a reflective post was what was more likely to stick with me, and shake loose the bright and shiny that I’m often drawn to.

The week was so packed with people and activities that it deserves its own mix tape, with each day having its own theme song.

I’ll save everyone the big half-hour read below and get to the major take-aways for me:

  • Think about the last time you coordinated a learning event for 2,800 people over a five day period, with at least 1,200 attendees participating virtually, without you intentionally accomodating them? Not only is it an affordance of the design sensibilities of the eLearning Guild, but it’s very much because of a social bargain that is unspoken but struck between attendees and their counterparts on the other side of the touchscreen.
  • Face-to-Face is not dead; it’s not even close to dead. It is a vital accelerator of rapport-building because it allows people to share context in the same time, space with full use of the senses. Can it be done with other ways that scale more? Yes, and technology — especially social communication technology — is extremely critical to this. But there’s no virtual replacement yet for the warm fraternal embrace of kindred spirits giving each other a hug after talking to each other online so often and for so long. I was just so happy to be among so many of my tribe last week. I was happy to be there for them; I was happy so many were there for me.
  • What sticks with me is not the content of the week (I have books by the speakers, contact information, notes on Twitter, reflective blog posts, speaker notes, slides for all of the content). What sticks with me is the context and the contact. What sticks with me is how much my belly hurt because I laughed so much and so hard, how I would tear up at heart-wrenching detail of struggle and the hope that it inspired. What sticks with me is how many friends we have in this space, and how some mediums have allowed us to grow closer in-between events. What this event allowed me to do was add some shared stories for us all to share; and make new friends.
  • Though it seems trite by comparison, I need to get me a presentation coach, because I saw bars set for public speaking that I’d like to measure up to.

10/31, Everyday is Halloween – Ministry

I flew into San Francisco on Halloween. I didn’t know who else might be around when I made the choice to do this, but I was happy to at least sit down with my teammates (I still can’t believe I get to call these people my co-workers) Jason Haag (@j_haag), Rovy Brannon (@RovyBrannon) and Judy Brown (@judyb).

That evening, while everyone was trick-or-treating, I had a treat of my own and met with a thought leader whose book influenced me heavily in the past year, Pravir Malik (@pravirmalik). Pravir wrote a book I’ve mentioned before called “Connecting Inner Power with Global Change: The Fractal Ladder” and he hosted a Voice of America radio show discussing the book chapter by chapter, which you might remember I participated in.


Despite several delays on the BART due to construction, my lack of familiarity with how the trains are identified and general Sunday slowness (and Halloween insanities), I found my way up to Berkeley to share a one-on-one dinner conversation with Pravir about fractal dynamics, his plans for a follow-up book next year on fractal alternatives to the current global financial mess — and how neither his wife nor mine really get what we do and what we’re into πŸ™‚

Pravir said something that both pumped me up and grounded me at the same time. What he said loses something in the retelling, but basically he asserted that I was walking the walk as much as talking the talk, which means a lot to me.

After dinner, I got back on the BART and hung out with Neil Lasher (@neillasher) and his lady, as we walked around in search of a Chinese joint that was open past 10pm on a Sunday. Alas, we had a club sandwich at the lobby bar of the hotel and called it a night. A nice early-ish night, which would be the last early-ish night of the week.

11/01, I Predict a Riot – Kaiser Chiefs

One of the reasons I came out relatively early was to make sure I hit a couple of key goals for my trip. One goal was to vet some ideas and plans with people I rarely get to sit down and talk with. I was very fortunate Monday morning to have a few hours to have coffee, work on my presentation and commiserate with everyone’s most awesome host, Brent Schlenker (@bschlenker).

After learning from Brent about the kind of work that goes into planning DevLearn, how the vision translates into the event in which we participated both physically and/or virtually, my respect for Brent continues to explode. How many people do we know that both make sense of what the trends are in the industry and basically design a mass learning experience for attendees who may not even be present? David (@GuildMeister), Bill (@BillBrandon), Heidi (@hfisktwit), Juli, Luis — the whole Guild (@eLearningGuild) does such an amazing job that considering how difficult it is to balance the pressures of sustaining a *small* business that requires big investments in creating learning spaces for a large (and very vocal) group to reconnect and march on in the same direction, event after event.

Monday Night Dinner Party
Monday Night Dinner Party

After spending a few hours with Brent over coffee, I went back to my room to hone my presentation for Friday’s General Session. I met up with a few people in the lobby: Neil and his lady, my brother-from-another-mother Brian Dusablon (@briandusablon), Sumeet Moghe (@sumeet_moghe) and Karen Burpee (@kburpee). We hung out in the lobby while the Giants won the World Series, enjoying each others’ company, meeting some great people from the Office of Government Ethics (@mrshepard, @mattscross and @RyanJSegrist) and then headed for a nice long stroll into Chinatown for a lovely dinner and a lot more conversation. I already counted Neil and Brian among my friends, but I was very impressed with Karen and Sumeet and I knew that night that I was going to spend a lot of time last week in their company. They make everyone better just for hanging with them and they’re exactly the kind of bright lights we need in this field and in this world.

At any rate, by the time we were stuffed to the gills with excellent food and sake, we walked back as the riots broke out in celebration of the Giants’ win. A car exploded around the block from us. Was it freaky? Absolutely. We quickened our steps, but we still sauntered on. San Francisco is quite a backdrop to a learning experience like DevLearn.

11/02, Election Day – Arcadia

Halloween, an all-night riot with cars and busses on fire… and then we had a contentious election day on Tuesday — and the conference *still* hadn’t really kicked into overdrive yet.

Tuesday began with Brian and I on a quest for the ultimate coffee; a mission assigned to me by another new best friend, Alexi Morissey (@hybridlex). I yelped a coffee shop but it turned out to be pretty weak. Koreen Olbrish (@koreenolbrish) texted me to join my quest and led us to The Blue Bottle, which would become the focus of my obsession for the rest of the week: one I would introduce to B.J. Schone (@bjschone), Gary Hegenbart (@garyhegenbart), Neil, Alexi, Kris Rockwell (@hybridkris, who already knew of it) and Eric Brown (@ImpactGamesPGH).

After dropping in on Mark Oehlert’s workshop on Social Media (@moehlert), I ran into Alicia Sanchez (@gamesczar) who encouraged me to join her and Anthony Rotolo (project manager at DAU) for lunch. As I snacked on a crab cake, the cavalry began to arrive. Kris and Alexi got in from the airport and joined in on the conversing about mobile, gaming and learning. I left lunch to meet up with the always awesome Jane Bozarth (@JaneBozarth) and incredible Michelle Lentz (@writetechnology), who joined me on a trip to hang out with the Internet Time Alliance — like *all* of them. Tim Martin (@Tim_M_Martin) and Kristen Cromer (@KristenCromer) were totally awesome sharing a ride with us and making for a wonderful talk on the way out to Berkeley (again) to ITA HQ.

Internet Time Alliance Trees
Internet Time Alliance Trees
I know Jay Cross (@jaycross) by reputation and though we exchanged a little bit at DevLearn 2009, I wouldn’t say I knew him well. Being in his context, looking at how he organized his office — how he labels the toys on his shelves, how there are several cameras and voice recorders fully charged and ready to use at any time, in multiple accessible locations, looking out into some sizable redwood trees in his backyard, with every wall in the office ready to scribble on with dry-erase markers — I was inspired by how he’s created an environment where the only barriers to creativity and imagination are what you bring into the environment yourself. I learned a lot about how he works in an anthropological sense.

While there, I was so happy to meet fellow #lrnchat-ter Jane Hart (@C4LPT) and one of my idols, Harold Jarche (@hjarche). I was elated to finally meet Charles Jennings (@charlesjennings) and as became a theme for the week, I hardly got a chance to hang with Clark Quinn (@quinnovator), though I turned the tables on his son, who was doing video interviews with the guests and, in turn, asked him about the challenges he has with access to new and emerging learning technologies (I’m looking forward to seeing some of that video) πŸ™‚

We left the party early as our goal was to get back to the hotel and grab some proper dinner before the conference hit. A pretty large group converged for dinner, including Neil, Jane, Karen (and a friend from Florida, which is killing me that I don’t remember her name) Mel Chambers (@RotteeGrl), Jason, Matt Thomas (who runs the Learning Technology Lab for ADL), Kris, Alexi, Alicia — there were at least 14 of us for dinner and we talked a lot about learning myths — which became a theme for the night. After our wonderful Indian dinner (and kudos to them for accommodating a party of 14 immediately with no reservation), we ran into local learning ideation partner, Marty Rosenheck (@mbr1online). As our party migrated to a park and then to a (surprise) tavern, I finally got to meet the fabled Eric Brown while we debated gamification, the role of cognitive apprenticeship in learning games and how to overcome the objections inside of organizational walls.

It was already the next morning when I finally got to sleep, my head abuzz with the resonance of the day.

11/03, Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine

A morning trip to The Blue Bottle after too little sleep was met with the company of Neil and my good friend, Stephen Martin (@smartinx), both of whom took back their fiery words about how the walk was too far. πŸ™‚

We made it back right in-time for the opening general session with Brent who explained the theme for DevLearn: “The New Face of Learning” What I hadn’t paid attention to in the promotional literature for the conference was the photomosaic of the woman (?) on the banner – it’s people who are attending the conference. The underlying metaphor is a social metaphor — we are redefining ourselves by combining the strengths we can pull on from our communities. I found this to be deeply striking to me and I was surprised that I overlooked the perfect metaphor for the conference all along.

My conference preparation is probably very weird to most people. Basically, I try to go in as cold as possible to the event and learn “in the moment” so I can be as open to what is being shared as I can. I feel like I can do this effectively because of years of ideating and creating on the fly — improvisation — has allowed me to hone to some degree a sense of being open, without filter, to what’s being shared. I consume… then reflect. I knew of John Seely Brown (@jseelybrown) by reputation alone. I had not read his book; I was not aware of his involvement in the National Educational Technology Plan. I tend to take people as they are. So as I sat next to my very good friend and influencer, Marcia Conner (@marciaconner), tweeting (and sharing my MiFi connection to compensate for the Marriott’s inability to scale WiFi access), what struck me from JSB was how well he articulated the shift that’s happening. We live in “exponential” times. The only thing that is constant now is, likely, the math that calculates the exponential rate of change. If found it really helpful to have my personal learning network available to me on Twitter and in-person as we collectively shared in this experience.

Soon after JSB’s talk, I was surprised (and elated) to run into Wendy Wickham (@wwickha1) and Stephanie Daul (@stephaniedaul). I found myself exhausted by 11am with the amount of people I wanted to talk to and meet — it became overwhelming to a point where I had a rare mental shutdown and took to taking a nap in the afternoon to reset my brain. Later in the day, I talked with a few others and apparently it’s pretty common to be overwhelmed with all the people you want to converse with, and what most people do is either go to a quiet place and shut down for a bit; or take Xanax. Although I don’t like having to hit the reset button on my mental state, it was a learning experience to hit my cognitive limit.

After a little respite, I joined Marcia, Jane B, Karen and Ellen Wagner (@edwsonoma) and Anne Derryberry (@aderryberry) for some casual conversation that put me in a proper, positive and open frame of mind to take in the massive amounts of cognitive input to come.

I joined many of my friends for a path through the Expo floor. This is where I began another of my main goals for the conference: Find vendors that might make for interesting collaborations in new learning technology R&D efforts. Truth be told, I spent a lot of time talking with my longtime friend, Philip Hutchison (@pipwerks) and Ben Clark (Rustici Software) talking about what’s been keeping us all busy. Philip, and his experiments and growth in doing some consulting; Ben and his tenure with and the newly launched Project:TinCan which they’re working on with ADL; me, and my learning journey. Next came the Zebra event, and then dinner. Dinner is where learning for the day really gelled.

I had met Kevin Thorne (@learnnuggets) earlier in the day, finally. At dinner, I was fortunate enough to sit at a small table with Kevin, Brian and Sumeet where we went really deep: about why we are so passionate about learning. What I noted about Kevin’s work was that what I see in his work is “love.” The content of his learning is good and fine — I can’t say with any objectivity that it’s qualifiably better instructional design or better content — but what I see in everything that Kevin does is “love.” He truly cares about spreading joy in his work. I find that incredibly inspirational and a rare gift.

Papa Beard Sweets is Aptly Named
Papa Beard Sweets is Aptly Named

Sumeet, however, pretty much made me cry in his sharing of the deep poverty in India, his work with innovative school projects that are, literally, saving the lives of the children in those schools. I’m used to hanging out with people who blow my minds, but as I stated at dinner, Sumeet sucker-punched my soul. I learned much sitting at a table of giants like Brian, Kevin and Sumeet. I learned that the challenges of the world are very great and they affirmed that it’s going to take ALL of our strengths to make the small changes that emerge as the big changes.

Guinness followed this conversation, as is appropriate for soul-stirring conversations (it’s the Irish way). There was evening and then there was a new day.

11/04, Revolution – Toots & The Maytals

After coffee with B.J. and Gary, I sauntered into the morning keynote by Thornton May with low expectations. I had been told that it wasn’t going to be earth-shattering stuff. I toyed with the thought of working more on my own presentation, but decided to stand on the sidelines of the conference room with B.J. and tweet. That was the best decision I could’ve made. Thorton May was A-MAY-ZING (tee hee). The morning before, JSB talked about how we were living in exponential times. May talked about pattern recognition, which is a valuable skill when you’re living in times of continuous change. Pattern recognition is a big element of what I call “sensemaking” and it is vital in activities such as Coolhunting (look to Peter Gloor, @pgloor). Not only did I find May’s points compelling, I found him to be a masterful speaker. He riveted the audience; clearly tailoring his normal talk to the audience and the shared context of the industry.

After his talk, I strolled the Expo hall to follow up with a few vendors, including seeking out a vendor in particular to personally apologize for a flippant remark I made earlier in the year at another conference. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but I remember that it came out all wrong and it was pretty upsetting to them. None of us is so important that we can’t apologize when we’re clearly in the wrong, and there are some apologies, handshakes and embraces that are best delivered in person.

I had a quick lunch before sitting on a panel in the Social Learning Camp with Alicia, Kris, Harold and Eric. I love panel discussions because they’re so ad hoc and in the moment; I generally approach them as opportunities to ideate collectively with people I really admire and new voices that provide the context I so greatly need. I consider Alicia and Kris to be close personal friends of mine, so they’ll forgive me being a bit starstruck to sit next to Harold Jarche and Eric Brown. The panel was just a warmup for the big show: Marcia Conner.

Marcia keynoting at DevLearn was a big shift for DevLearn. The Guild has been pretty consistent about bringing people in from the outside to keynote; Marcia presenting at a General Session is kinda like having all of #lrnchat keynoting, by proxy — which is very consistent with the metaphor set by “the new face of learning.” Marcia carried all of us on that stage. I thought she nailed the case for “The New Social Learning” with example after example, story after story, meme after meme. She took a difficult task of tying together the big shifts that are happening and made them actionable to the audience. I believe Marcia told the audience — all of us — what we needed to hear: that this shift is real; it is happening; and we’re all able to grow because of it. In short, the revolution is here, and (by the way) it will be tweeted, friended, followed, bumped, linked, blogged, commented, checked-in and liked.

After Marcia’s keynote, I floated between the DemoFest and the live-action #lrnchat where a majority of the #lrnchat moderators were gathered in real-time in the same space. Another goal I had for this conference was to see what was considered among the best of breed for eLearning, talk with the people who are creating it, and determine for myself what, if anything, was groundbreaking or outside of the mold.

As with what I found in the Expo Hall, what I like among the masses are cards I have to keep close to the vest, given my position. I will say that I was so happy to find Kevin Thorn winning the Best In Show for a non-vendor from the DemoFest. Clearly others saw what I saw — his intentional joy put into that content.

Another large group of us converged on Pier 39 for dinner, this time including Matt Cross (@mattscross) and his wife, Marcia, Jane B., Brian, Sumeet, Karen (who did a FANTASTIC job organizing a place where a giant group could converge and eat on the fly), Jason and Allison, Matt Thomas, Neil… I feel like I’m missing a few people from my recollection.

After a nightcap that included Alicia, Kris, Alexi and Eric, I hit the bed. My big day was to come in the morning.

11/05, All These Things That I’ve Done – The Killers

First off, the presentations and the presenters on Friday speak for themselves, but being up on that stage among people I genuinely like and truly admire, I felt really good.

Richard, Cammy and Me
Richard Cammy and Me

Richard Culatta (@rec54) is masterful in an Ignite format, and watching him all I could do was make a personal goal to get myself a presentation coach so I might one day deliver like he does. His presentation on why everything in learning should be a game was freaking brilliant. Cammy Bean (@cammybean) was masterful in bringing her voice and personality into expressing her love for our field, which was followed up with Ellen delivering the goods on why real data, measures of real performance, are so vital.

Ellen, Jane and Gina
Ellen, Jane and Gina

Jane B. blew me away with her stories on social media and how you introduce it matters. Gina Schreck (@ginaschreck) was as stunning as you’d hope she’d be in talking about how and why to practically do video — and she did it in six minutes.

And then it was my turn.

Rockin' the Mic
Rockin' the Mic

I woke up in the morning and was hit with an epiphany. While I was struggling with getting a TED-style performance to cram so much information into the format, I forgot that when we go social, we go in-the-moment, we free ourselves of the constraints of formality and we simply share a context. I looked at my slides, I recognized how awkward I sounded speed-talking my way through a 15-second-per-slide pace — and I scrapped using slides. All of them, as I wasn’t about to freak out about tripping over slides.

What I figured would be ultimately useful for the audience would be to tie the major themes of the conference – the exponential times we’re living in (JSB), the need for pattern recognition to make sense of all this change (May), how social learning works (Conner) and, in my way, explain what I was prepared to do about it. Did it become the spirited call-to-arms-meets-viral-video-clip that would make a million views on YouTube? No. I look at the tweet stream and feel the audience resonated with the big points I wanted to make. I cannot thank Bill Brandon enough for publishing the breaking news about my remarks regarding ADL’s future direction, which is the right way to amplify that nugget of information. What Bill did was completely in-line with what I talked about: we redefine, and we combine.

After a wonderful lunch with Jane B, Ellen, Richard and Stephen, I spent the afternoon walking around the bay with the guys, dinner with Sumeet and a lively evening in the Mission District with Eric Brown, talking serious games without any interruption (but the consumption of more beverages) until the wee hours.

11/06, Already Home – Marc Cohn

I enjoyed one last coffee with Neil and his lady at The Blue Bottle, then it was off to the airport and homeward bound.

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