Learning Skills & Learning Technologies 2013 Review

Is this the year that e-learning explodes within the UK, and is there anything that is head and shoulders above the rest?   What about exciting new providers of “soft” skills training, are there any that are bold enough to do something different and stand out?  What about those who practice Accelerated Learning rather than just talk about it?

Optimus Sourcing’s Blake Henegan and Paul Judge set out to find out.


The first thing that stood out was the new layout, all on one floor rather than on two floors like previous years. For us this new layout felt better, less cramped and more airy.   To get from seminar to seminar was an easier task than previous years.  Unfortunately it made the job of acoustics harder so sitting near the front was a must on all seminars we sat in on. This was fairly difficult as they were very well attended with nearly all completely full so people were having to stand to the side and to the back of the seated areas.

Learning Technologies, the longer running and lead exhibition took the far greater floor space and used it well.   However large stands meant large numbers of people all eager, sometimes desperate to talk with you. Learning Skills created a more intimate place to walk around, peruse and talk to the providers. The Learning Skills area was mainly made up of training providers exhibiting with Learning Technologies having e-learning and learning management system providers.

Following sitting in on the free seminars and from talking to some of the providers that were exhibiting there the real takeaway feeling for us was that L&D is changing. For all of us working within L&D this means the need to flex what we are doing to ensure that we continue to meet the learning and development needs of our delegates and customers. Technology is changing and fast and we need to embrace new technology and include the use of technology within our learning. More and more people have smart phones and tablets now and they want access to learning ‘just in time’ so the here and now – read our blog on the subject.

A great example was given by Jessica Hills from Ashridge Digital about how the failure of HMV and Jessops to flex their business to take advantage of the opportunities in the digital arena ultimately cost them their business. We thought this was a great example to demonstrate how we need to embrace new technology and to move with it to ensure we don’t get left behind.

Although we have access to all this new technology we think it is important to understand that there will always be a place for classroom learning, one to one coaching and group based learning activities but this can all be backed up by the use of all this new technology to create a really strong blended learning approach.

Stand Out Seminars

“Analysing & Identifying Learning Needs of Managers” - Peter Caseball of Goodpractice.

This seminar did what it said on the tin – gave a good 30 minute break down of what to consider when carrying out a Learning Needs Analysis on Managers, the questions to ask and ways around any challenges.

Their 6 key ingredients to consider were:

  • Have structured recorded interviews – get the qualitative information
  • Use surveys – get quantitative information
  • Discuss and use development plans
  • Discuss and use business plans
  • Discuss and use business metrics
  • Analyse search terms – intranet v internet usage as it’s useful to know what managers are searching for.

A book was suggested – Design for How People learn by Julie Dirksen and it was only in the final few minutes that they mentioned their own resources however this was a free toolkit which is a great site for L&D Professionals to access - http://toolkit.goodpractice.com.

“The Fantastic Revolution” - Alan Austin-Smith of Fantastic IP Ltd

We  really like what he’s promoting, don’t be just good, be fantastic. 50% of the stuff that makes you fantastic has nothing to do with your job – to be fantastic you need to have these 7 characteristics:

  • Passionate
  • Creative
  • Delighting people
  • A performer
  • Be alive inside
  • Always learning
  • Have fun

What was also mentioned is the idea of 15 minutes of learning every day. This is a perfectly manageable amount but equates to 90 hours a year! Therefore it is an excellent way to develop – something we explored in our blog.

Try something new, make small changes every day and always ask yourself is it working? Read more at http://thefantasticrevolution.com/

“Aligning your digital learning strategy with business need” - Jessica Hills of Ashridge Digital

The seminar explored good examples of how companies didn’t react quickly enough to the digital age and the opportunities it could have brought; examples were HMV, Comet and Jessops. This really showed in a real life context the consequences of reactivity rather than proactivity. The pressures on modern businesses were also described including Mobile, Social and information overload and the fact workplaces are multi-generational. Finally the key to digital learning success was shown to be overcoming barriers to learning, customisation and personalisation.

Sales Seminars

The reason a lot of seminars didn’t make our list is for the following reasons - organisers of the exhibition and seminar speakers please pay attention:

  • Seminars should have engaging speakers.
  • Seminars should be on topics relevant to the audience.
  • Seminars should encourage discussion and questions.
  • Seminars should be thought provoking.
  • Seminars should not be a sales promotion.
  • Seminars should not focus on the speaker’s company, products or services.
  • Seminar content should match the title of the seminar – not a tedious link which unsurprisingly relates back to their product or service.
  • A good seminar will result in attendees approaching the speakers.

Now there were some great seminars that we saw including those listed above as well as People Alchemy (Paul Matthews) and Tree of Knowledge (Gavin Oattes) however too many were like the examples listed above.  We spoke to quite a few attendees and others feel like we do.   We are on a mission to ensure that all seminars are useful, avoid being a sales promotion and benefit the attendees.

We would like to be talking next year (hopefully) and our approach will be to have an engaging seminar that offers a new view on a topic and gets the attendees thinking.   If afterwards they want to talk to us that’s an added bonus. 

Stand Out Suppliers

Two Bald Blokes

Only one of them was bald and there are more than two of them.   A stand out name with a stand to match.  They had some great posters and postcards and their manner made them very approachable, they were very laid back and easy to talk to.  Their policy is to design programmes to fit your organisation. Rarely will an off-the-peg solution meet your needs, so they listen to what you want and design a programme that will be creative, challenging and insightful. Their aim is to make an emotional connection that will inspire and interest you and your people: http://www.twobaldblokes.com/home

Your Big Pic

We feel this could be the modern day business game replacement.   The concept is simple, to give everyone in the business the opportunity to take a step back and look at how their role fits into the business and what impact their actions have - http://yourbigpic.blogspot.co.uk/

Team Gym

Perhaps it was the fact that our stomachs were rumbling that made us stop and talk to the woman in chef’s gear hoping for a free feed!  Turns out this company in addition to providing coaching also have created what they call “Probably the best team build in the word”, which is the Pop up Restaurant Challenge.

A single day of designing and creating their own brand of restaurant, prepare a menu and cook for real customers!  Then spending the next day reflecting and reviewing on their actions - http://www.teamgym.co.uk/full-width/high-performance-team-events/

Towards Maturity

Towards Maturity are a not for profit organisation focusing on improving the impact of learning technologies at work.  It was nice to come across an organisation that is working to benefit learning and is continually providing research and information on the Learning & Development industry.

If you have the budget and want to benchmark your company against a decade of research then the Learner Audit could be a worthwhile investment http://towardsmaturity.org/static/learner/ 

Overall we were very pleased with the quality of the exhibitions and what we got out from it. We would definitely recommend it to anyone for next year and hopefully we will see you there – in a seminar format!

Paul Judge and Blake Henegan – Directors of Optimus Sourcing

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  • Good review, and thanks for the mention of my seminar. Nice to know I made the 'worth attending' list :-)

    My best wishes, Paul

  • Great and insightful review thanks for sharing. I've been attending LT since 2008 and it's the one exhibition I would always attend as a customer  / learner and now on the 'other side'. We exhibited in the LAS area and had some great conversations and some great banter.

    Couldn't agree more with your take on seminars and most are thinly veiled sales pitches led by people lacking in charisma and personality. I did see some good one's though and liked the fact that more people were using Prezi than I've ever seen before.You've got the right approach - create value and people will want to talk to you regardless of product or service.

    I'd like to think my seminar provided some value and sparked some interest rather than just being a sales pitch. We got some positive feedback on the approach and style and I'm doing the same one again at HRD so have time to refine it ;-)

    Great to see Big Picture on your list. I'm a Big Pic practitioner and love the tool and the people involved and now BigPic Zap is available it's a fantastic online collaboration tool well worth a look.


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