Last week was the Learning Solutions Conference 2023. I have attended and presented at LSCon every year since 2017 (including the online events in 2020). This year was another great experience. I enjoyed catching up with folks I have seen at past events, meeting new people, and learning from the sessions. The keynotes this year were also excellent.
One of the ways I have learned to get more out of the conference is to both take notes during the sessions and then to review those notes after I get home. I always try to pull out one or two ideas from every session as key takeaways.
I always try to attend Presentation Roulette because it’s generally a highly entertaining start to the conference. It’s essentially a 5-minute improv with slides you’ve never seen on a topic you don’t find out until right before you speak. The Guild program team prepares decks of 20 slides of weird and interesting images. The images are deliberately disjointed and unusual, with no obvious connection to the topic or each other. The topics are always something that’s the opposite of the best practices and good points we all make in our real presentations. For example, Tracy Parish did a great job talking about how elearning isn’t supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be torture. The best ones really lean into whatever terrible topic it is.
Just before Presentation Roulette started, I was chatting with some of the Guild team. One of the other speakers who had planned to participate had flight delays and couldn’t make it in time. So, with 8 minutes advance notice, I volunteered to fill in. I’ve forgotten the actual title I was given, but the topic was about how you should add more bullet points to your elearning. Doing Presentation Roulette was honestly so much fun! I think it was maybe a benefit to not have any advance notice or any time to worry about it.
David Kelly’s opening
David Kelly always opens the conference with the logistical info and a story about his kids. But he also said something I wanted to capture. What’s important about LSCon isn’t just what happens there at the conference when we’re together. What’s really important is how we take that back to our organizations, apply it, and share it with others.
Keynote: Mike Massimino
Mike Massimino’s keynote focused primarily on his training as an astronaut. One of the things that stood out to me was how he talked about training for culture because that’s a really hard thing to deliberately teach. (We often do train people on culture unintentionally, but that’s a separate topic.)
For example, NASA’s training reinforces the culture of people helping each other. It’s hard to get into the astronaut program, but once you do, there’s always help available. That value was demonstrated right at the beginning by having strong swimmers help weak swimmers pass their swimming tests. At different times, different people had strengths that helped others. But they set it up right at the start with the expectation that people were going to help each other–and that you needed to accept that help when you had a weakness.
Chris Loyd: Streamlining Serious Game Development with Modular Design
Chris’s session was interesting because so much of his experience really is in interaction design and game design, not just elearning. He showed several examples of learning games where you play against the computer, which requires a different level of planning and programming than most gamified projects. Even something that seems simple, like a tic-tac-toe game, requires a lot of checks on the back end for the computer to know how to play strategically.
Chris explained the benefits of a modular design:
- Easier for someone else to pick up and understand
- Efficient, flexible
- Reuse functions multiple times
- Easier to modify and debug
- Code can potentially be used for other games later
This is a session where I’ll need to go back and review the code snippets to see it in detail, but the overall planning of data structures with variables and objects made sense as a plan for different types of games.
Tim Slade: How to Design eLearning That Gets Results
Or, Why Most eLearning Sucks and What To Do About It. I liked Tim’s list of 3 questions for needs analysis:
- What are people doing?
- What do we want people doing?
- Why aren’t people doing it?
Julie Dirksen: Systems Thinking and Learning Design
This was a thought-provoking session with some interesting research and sources I hadn’t seen before. The idea of pace layering was completely new to me, for one thing.
One concept I’m still thinking about is how often when we train people and they start to apply it, their performance initially suffers. Because they’re trying something new, they’re not initially very good. That means their immediate feedback tells them at the new method isn’t working. We don’t do a great job of helping persist through that initial period of lower performance. That’s a harder thing for me to help with as an external consultant, but it’s worth thinking about what I can do.
Keynote: Kate Biberdorf
Kate Biberdorf’s keynote on “Blowing Up Stereotypes in Learning” was a lot of fun with demos interspersed with her stories of working in science. One useful takeaway from this keynote was the connection between emotion and memory. Do something that gets an emotional response (in her case, an exciting or surprising chemistry demo), and then teach something right away while they are engaged.
Ashley Chiasson: Working with SMEs
I didn’t take too many notes during this Morning Buzz discussion, but there were several questions about managing time with SMEs and clearly communicating expectations. Plus, it was lovely to see Ashley again–it had been a few years!
Keynote: Steve Burns
Steve Burns, the original host of Blue’s Clues, gave the most vulnerable keynote I have seen at a conference. Usually, the keynotes are very polished and well rehearsed, with slides to help emphasize the points. Steve Burns stood behind the podium with notes. I admit, I was kind of skeptical at the beginning. But I’m happy to admit I was wrong, and it was a very authentic conversation. (And it did feel like a conversation, despite being largely one-way–that’s part of the magic that he learned to do while doing Blue’s Clues.) It was “real real” in his words.
He said, “I was always talking to one kid.” He didn’t think about the millions of people, even though he did reach that many. He said the camera lens is an opportunity to talk to millions as if you are talking to a single person.
The most important thing in Blue’s Clues was wonder. It was “curiosity with a flavor of awe.” Wondering with people made the show work, and that’s one of the elements that helps learning at any age.
Hadiya Nurridin: Getting the Story: Interviewing SMEs for Stories
One of the points from Hadiya’s session that I took away was focusing on keeping the interview on track. Don’t ask SMEs compound questions that require them to give really complex, multifaceted answers where they can get lost. If they go off on a tangent, your job is to help them get back on track. Try to stay inside one story at a time. Look for the change and utility in every story; the stakes, risks, and conflict are important.
Jen Yaros: More Than a Game: Motivating Change through Behavior-Based Games
Jen Yaros’ session had a bunch of great ideas tied to real examples. One thing I know I can use is the checklist for the UX/UI:
- Text easy to read
- Buttons & objects easily selected on all devices
- Interactivity functions
- Consistent layout & navigation
- Don’t frustrate users with unnecessary clicks
- Don’t disrupt the flow with unnecessary feedback
My session: Writing Scenarios: Compelling Characters and Distinctive Dialogue
I had a pretty good turnout for my session (maybe 70 people?). Everyone was actively participating in the practice exercises and typing away when they worked on their dialogue snippets. The feedback I have received so far has all been positive (but of course we’ll see when I read the official survey results later).
While I’m not sure that my handout will be useful on its own without the presentation, I also shared links to name generators and images for characters.
JD Dillon: The Robots Are Here! How AI is Transforming L&D
JD would like us all to take away one major point: Do not put private, sensitive, or proprietary information into a free or unauthorized AI tool.
Morning Buzz: Designing and Developing Scenarios
The Friday Morning Buzz sessions are often fairly poorly attended. It’s early, and it’s the last day. People are packing to get ready to check out, or they’re leaving early to catch a flight home. Despite all that, I had about 25 people for this conversation. I was pleasantly surprised at how many participants said they’re already using scenarios at least some of the time in their work, and some said they are doing a lot of these. I loved the questions and the suggestions from others in the room.
- How do we get the right content from writers and SMEs?
- How do we use scenarios with ILT?
- How long do you let learners go down the wrong path?
Shannon Tipton: Macro to Micro: Turning Big Concepts Into Small Content
It was a pleasure to see Shannon again; I met her last year at TICE. The most useful thing from Shannon’s session was the planning template that helps you walk through step-by-step to take a large topic and break it down to something small enough that you can create microlearning for it.
Mike Roy: Using Story Beats and the Comedy Plot Curve
Mike’s session comes at scenario design from a completely different angle from how I usually approach it, using a traditional plot curve. Comedy here doesn’t necessarily mean funny like a sitcom; this is more the traditional Greek definition of comedy as a story with a happy ending. Comedy is about deception, misunderstanding, and not seeing things correctly–which makes it a good fit for training where we want people to see things differently.
The structure starts with a setup and the “want” of the main character. About 25% of the way through, they get what they want…but with a catch. 75% of the way through, there’s a crisis that leads to the conclusion.
If you missed it
What if you missed Learning Solutions this year?
- While many of the handouts probably won’t make sense without the sessions (including mine), you can access them on the LSCon Resources page.
- You can also find recordings of some sessions from the Expo hall on the Guild website.
- The DemoFest winners are giving a free webinar to show their solutions on May 10.