Back-to-basics: The future of learning tech?


Another year and another Learning Technologies exhibition and conference has passed, and it was a great success for Brightwave. Our CTO Mark Aberdour took a look around the exhibition floor...

(To hear Mark's Learning Tech session again, sign up to our new webinar: 4.00pm GMT, Thursday February 15th 2018.)

It was clear that the big-ticket talking points on the exhibition floor at #LT18UK this year was AI, Chatbots and VR.

Learning technology suppliers are often trying to grasp the next big thing before the competition does, but very few of these vendors have anything to show yet with these new technologies. In fact the best chatbot being discussed on the twitter and LinkedIn backchannels, following mentions in several of the conference sessions upstairs, was a mental health consumer-facing chatbot in Facebook Messenger called Woebot (a great introduction to the technology!)

Beyond this real-world example, there were only one or two vendors with chatbot products already developed and delivered, however you'd have been be forgiven from all the hype for thinking L&D chatbots had already taken over the world the market by storm!

Thinking about the next big thing or building buzz is all very well – it's part of the excitement of the event. But the incessant hype about prospective new technologies by vendors with little to actually show distracts the industry from its focus on fixing the day-to-day problems that real users are having in the workplace, and in my view gives the sector a bad name. I don't think I'm alone in this. I've read a number of post-event blogs evidently frustrated by the 'buzzword bingo' situation on the exhibition floor.

As for Brightwave, we made a conscious effort before the show to avoid the hype race. So we didn't take a pair of VR goggles to attract people to our stand. Instead, we went full-steam back to basics!

At the end of the day, we fix problems for users. One of the biggest problems our users have (before working with us!) is that their Learning Management System delivers terrible experiences for learners, and over many years has become bloated with features and difficult to use.

This is the reason Brightwave built tessello 5 years ago. Since then we've continually refined and improved our next-gen LMS, and we're immensely proud of the product we have today. So my presentation on day two was all about designing effective systems for learners, with many points as relevant for building courses as for building a next-gen LMS. The topic clearly resonated well, and we had a packed audience.

Another big problem our users have is awareness of the Apprenticeship Levy and effective digital delivery of apprenticeship programmes. We were kind of making an assumption that it's a problem of course, because a recent survey showed 63% of L&D managers actually have no awareness of the Levy, so there was an awareness-raising angle to this as well, and that's why we chose to focus our other exhibition session on this under-appreciated new topic.

Employers with a wage bill of over £3M are required to pay 0.5% of the bill into the levy, and for under £3M they need to pay a 10% contribution to the cost of apprenticeship training, so it's a big financial issue and one which will slowly but definitely change the way new talent enters the workplace and develops the skills they need.

At Brightwave we've seen the state of the apprenticeship platforms market, it's not much better than the LMS market in terms of badly-designed systems that don't meet the most basic learner needs. We already use tessello for delivering apprenticeships within a number of major UK financial institutions, so we shared our learnings in this space, particularly around evidence capture, online coaching and social learning. The session was standing room only again, so we were really pleased the message had resonated so well among audience members.

Judging by the huge amount of leads from great quality organizations, and the feedback we received after the presentations and on the Brightwave stand, the 'back to basics' message hit a sweet spot.

If you missed #LT18UK this year, my colleague Anna Morris-Peters and I are running our two sessions back-to-back in an exclusive webinar later this week. We're going to tell you all about how we build our learner-focused next gen LMS tech AND how we put it into practice in the exciting new context of the Apprenticeship Levy.

And we'll be doing it all without a buzzword in sight!

Click here to sign up and join us on Thursday.

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