How to make the most out of a conference

Posted 15 May 2017 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: conference

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When I was invited to kick off last week’s AITD National Conference by hosting a breakfast session about Personal Knowledge Management, the last thing I wanted to do was deliver a traditional presentation.

Given the massive scope of PKM, I needed to narrow my focus. And given the contemporary thrust of this event, I needed to do something fresh.

After agonising over the problem for almost a full minute, it dawned on me that the immediate relevance of PKM to the conference attendees lay in how they were going to make the most out of said conference.

But who was I to teach my peers in the industry how to suck eggs? So I ditched the typical instructivist approach in favour of the andragogic. In other words, I crowdsourced the content.

From this fruitful exercise I’m pleased to share with you 8 co‑created tips for making the most out of a conference.

Ryan Tracey at AITD2017 with Michelle Ockers documenting the crowd's ideas.

1. Attend all the sessions.

This one seems too obvious to mention, but a 1 or 2 day conference can be mentally exhausting. You may be tempted to wag a session here or there to relax and recharge, but don’t do it out of sheer laziness.

I’ve lost count of the number of times an apparently unattractive session has turned out to be excellent, or it’s sparked a useful tangential idea.

Remember you’ve invested time and money into these days. They won’t be back until next year, so extract every drop of goodness while you can.

2. Read the blurbs.

Conference organisers are getting a lot better at ensuring the content of the blurb bears some resemblance to the content of the session.

Read the blurb to get your mindset in order, and to consider how the content will help you in your role. Also consider what questions you might want to have answered. Which leads me to…

3. Ask questions.

Some presenters welcome questions during the session, while others prefer you wait until the end. In either case, be brave and ask your questions because by doing so you are personalising your learning experience.

4. Take notes.

The fire hydrant of ideas is too much for the human brain to handle, so you need to distribute your cognition.

You might want to go old-school by jotting your notes down on paper, or type them into a mobile device. Alternatively you could take photos, draw pictures, produce mind maps, or record videos.

I like to tweet my notes because the character limit forces me to zero in on the essence of the message. After the conference, I’ll look up my profile on Twitter to review my list.

5. Use social media.

If you do use Twitter, include the official hashtag in your tweets. Not only does this feed the backchannel, but you too can follow the tweets of your fellow attendees. I find it fascinating to learn their thoughts about the session I’m watching.

If you don’t blog, I suggest you reconsider. Even if you don’t publish your work, blogging is an excellent vehicle for reflection. After the conference, expand on the notes you’ve taken by deep diving into aspects that take your fancy. And if you publish your blog, you’ll be sharing something useful with the wider community.

6. Extend your network.

In the AITD’s discussion forum on LinkedIn, I asked my fellow members whether conferences were obsolete in the digital age. Each of the 20-odd replies I received was a resounding “no”, citing the rich networking opportunities that in-person events offer.

I love catching up with old friends as well as meeting new people at conferences. I used to be too shy to introduce myself to strangers, until I realised I was doing my professional development a disservice.

I also consider it a professional courtesy to speak to the vendor reps at the expo. They financially support the running of the conference, so the least we can do is say hello. I know from first-hand experience how awful it feels to be ignored by attendees. So class up and have a chat. Besides, you might find something helpful.

7. Share your wisdom.

There’s no point hiding your notes in a drawer or keeping them locked inside your head. Share your new-found knowledge with your colleagues, adding your own insights for local context.

In fact, if your employer paid for your ticket, I’d argue you have an ethical obligation to do this.

8. Transform your business.

Don’t stop now!

Review your notes with the intent of converting each one into action. What can you do to make it happen? Even if it’s something tiny, do it to get the ball rolling.

Crowdsourced tips for how to make the most out of this conference.

The overarching theme of these tips is: BE ACTIVE!

When you attend your next conference, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.

5 games every e-learning professional should play

Posted 3 April 2017 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: game-based learning, games

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You can narrow down someone’s age by whether they include spaces in their file names. If they do, they’re under 40.

That is a sweeping declaration, and quite possibly true.

Here’s another one… Gamers are a sub-culture dominated by young men.

This declaration, however, is stone-cold wrong. In fact, 63% of American households are home to someone who plays video games regularly (hardly a sub-culture). Gamers are split 59% male / 41% female (approaching half / half) while 44% of them are over the age of 35 (not the pimply teenagers one might expect). [REF]

In other words, the playing of video games has normalised. As time marches on, not gaming is becoming abnormal.

Woman and man seated on a couch playing a video game.

So what does this trend mean for e-learning professionals? I don’t quite suggest that we start going to bed at 3 a.m.

What I do suggest is that we open our eyes to the immense power of games. As a profession, we need to investigate what is attracting and engaging so many of our colleagues, and consider how we can harness these forces for learning and development purposes.

And the best way to begin this journey of discovery is by playing games. Here are 5 that I contend have something worthwhile to teach us…

1. Lifesaver

Lifesaver immediately impressed me when I first played it.

The interactive film depicts real people in the real world, which maximises the authenticity of the learning environment, while the decision points at each stage gate prompt metacognition – which is geek speak for realising that you’re not quite as clever as you thought you were.

The branched scenario format empowers you to choose your own adventure. You experience the warm glow of wise decisions and the consequences of poor ones, and – importantly – you are prompted to revise your poor decisions so that the learning journey continues.

Some of the multiple-choice questions are unavoidably obvious; for example, do you “Check for danger and then help” or do you “Run to them now!”… Duh. However, the countdown timer at each decision point ramps up the urgency of your response, simulating the pressure cooker situation in which most people I suspect would not check for danger before rushing over to help.

Supplemented by extra content and links to further information, Lifesaver is my go-to example when recommending a game-based learning approach to instructional design.

2. PeaceMaker

Despite this game winning several prestigious awards, I hadn’t heard of PeaceMaker until Stacey Edmonds sang its praises.

This game simulates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which you choose to be the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President, charged with making peace in the troubled region.

While similar to Lifesaver with its branched scenario format, its non-linear pathway reflects the complexity of the situation. Surprisingly quickly, your hipsteresque smugness evaporates as you realise that whatever you decide to do, your decisions will enrage someone.

I found this game impossible to “win”. Insert aha moment here.

3. Diner Dash

This little gem is a sentimental favourite of mine.

The premise of Diner Dash is beguilingly simple. You play the role of a waitress in a busy restaurant, and your job is to serve the customers as they arrive. Of course, simplicity devolves into chaos as the customers pile in and you find yourself desperately trying to serve them all.

Like the two games already mentioned, this one is meant to be a single player experience. However, as I explain in Game-based learning on a shoestring, I recommend it be deployed as a team-building activity.

4. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

As its name suggests, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a multi-player hoot. I thank Helen Blunden and David Kelly for drawing it to my attention.

In the virtual reality version of the game, the player wearing the headset is immersed in a room with a bomb. The other player(s) must relay the instructions in their bomb defusal manual to their friend so that he/she can defuse said bomb. The trouble is, the manual appears to have been written by a Bond villain.

It’s the type of thing at which engineers would annoyingly excel, while the rest of us infuriatingly fail. And yet it’s both fun and addictive.

As a corporate e-learning geek, I’m also impressed by the game’s rendition of the room. It underscores for me the potential of using virtual reality to simulate the office environment – which is typically dismissed as an unsuitable subject for this medium.

5. Battlefield 1

I could have listed any of the latest games released for Xbox or PlayStation, but as a history buff I’m drawn to Battlefield 1.

It’s brilliant. The graphics, the sounds, the historical context, the immersive realism, are nothing short of astonishing. We’ve come a long way since Activision’s Tennis.

Activision's Tennis video game on a vintage TV featuring two blocky players on court.

My point here is that the advancement of gaming technology is relentless. While we’ll never have the budget of Microsoft or Sony to build anything as sophisticated as Battlefield 1, it’s important we keep in touch with what’s going on in this space.

Not only can we be inspired by the big end of town and even pick up a few design tips, we need to familiarise ourselves with the world in which our target audience is living.

What other games do you recommend we play… and why?

Virtual Duality

Posted 7 March 2017 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: virtual reality

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Something struck me during this year’s Virtual Reality Working Out Loud Week.

Billed as an event for “anyone who is working with or experimenting with virtual reality, whether that be at home, at school or at work”, this was the second time I had run it. Again I was keen for our peers in L&D and other industries to share what they are doing with this emerging technology.

At the time of writing this blog post, the #vrwolweek hashtag achieved 612,836 impressions on Twitter with an estimated reach of 350,292 accounts. Impressive indeed. Less impressive, however, is the fact that barely a dozen people shared an experience.

And this is what struck me… There is a gulf between those who talk about VR and those using it, and it appears this gulf is widening.

As last year’s 20 real-world examples of virtual reality attests, the technology is being applied by pioneers in various industries. This year unearthed additional examples in healthcare, transport, firefighting, education, special needs, gaming and tourism.

Screenshot of a Virtual Reality experience used to promote surgical gowns.

This year also highlighted folks such as Robert Ibisch, Flemming Funch, Lorraine Minister, M. Lovecraft, Simon Dueckert and Arun Pradhan who are actively experimenting with VR.

Screenshot of a Virtual Reality experience simulating a river canyon.

So that leaves approximately 350,000 people who have nothing to share. Is that because they can’t or because they won’t…? In any case, they didn’t.

As with so many other examples of technology, there is a division between the haves and the have nots. Yet among those who own a smartphone and can afford $20 for an entry-level headset, VR polarises the doers and the do nots.

10 journals every e-learning professional should read

Posted 7 February 2017 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: professional development, research

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I was delighted when Matt Guyan blogged 5 Books Every eLearning Professional Should Read in response to my 5 papers every learning professional should read.

I feel the urge to lob the ball back over the net, so I shall do so now with a list of 10 journals I believe every e-learning professional should read.

By “journals”, I mean academic periodicals that publish the results of empirical research.

By “read”, I mean scan the abstracts occasionally as time permits, while deep-diving into a particular paper if it arouses sufficient interest.

A tennis ball resting on a tennis racquet.

Here are the journals in alphabetical order. Each one is freely accessible.

  1. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
  2. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology
  3. Current Issues in Emerging eLearning
  4. Electronic Journal of e-Learning
  5. International Journal of Advanced Corporate Learning
  6. Journal of Educational Technology & Society
  7. Journal of Interactive Media in Education
  8. Journal of Online Learning Research
  9. Online Learning

  10. Research in Learning Technology

Do you have any others to add to the list?

E-Learning conferences in Australia in 2017

Posted 10 January 2017 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: conference

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Sydney is evidently the place to be for e-learning pro’s who are keen to develop their knowledge and skills this year. Even EduTECH, the darling of Brisbane’s educational technology scene, is travelling south for the winter.

Having said that, there are opportunities elsewhere, and more will emerge as time marches on. The following list of conferences is an organic one, so keep an eye on it as the year progresses.

If you are after workshops, webinars, or other PD offerings that don’t quite fit the definition of “conference”, may I refer you to the Australian Institute of Training and Development. You might also be interested in The eLearning eXperts’ eLearning Events Calendar.

A ferry on Sydney Harbour with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the city in the background.

International Conference on E-Learning and Distance Learning
Sydney, 26-27 January 2017

International Conference on Education and E-Learning
Brisbane, 4-5 February 2017

International Conference on Virtual and Augmented Reality Simulations
Sydney, 18-21 February 2017

Learning Cafe UnConference
Sydney, 23 February 2017

iDESIGNX
Brisbane, 23 February 2017

Gamechangers Summit
Sydney, 28 February – 2 March 2017

Higher Education: Gen Next
Canberra, 1-3 March 2017

The Wheels of Knowledge Management
Melbourne & Canberra, 7 & 9 March 2017

National Blended Learning Conference
Sydney, 14-15 March 2017

Creative Tools for Engagement in the Public Sector
(Gamification)

Canberra, 21-23 March 2017

National FutureSchools Conferences
Melbourne, 23-24 March 2017

Connect Expo
Melbourne, 29-30 March 2017

Disruptive Innovation Week
Sydney, 30-31 March 2017

International Conference on Serious Games
and Applications for Health

Perth, 2-4 April 2017

AITD National Conference
Sydney, 11-12 May 2017

LX Conference
Online, 15-19 May 2017

CeBIT Australia
Sydney, 23-25 May 2017

Chief Learning Officer 2017
Sydney, 23-25 May 2017

EduTECH
Sydney, 8-9 June 2017

Online & E-Learning Summit
Sydney, 20-21 June 2017

Forward Government Learning 2017
Melbourne, 26-27 July 2017

Knowledge Management Australia 2017
Sydney, 1-3 August 2017

eLearnz eLab 2017
Sydney, 8-9 August 2017

Learning Cafe UnConference
Melbourne, 17 August 2017

Australasian Simulation Congress
Sydney, 28-31 August 2017

K-12 Digital Classroom Practice Conference
Melbourne, 2-3 September 2017

LearnX
Sydney, 6 September 2017

Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference ANZ
Darwin, 6-8 September 2017

Educhange
Melbourne, 25-29 September 2017

The Future of Learning Conference
Sanctuary Cove, 28-29 September 2017

ASCILITE 2017
Toowoomba, 4-6 December 2017

Lanyard

If you are aware of another e-learning related conference down under in 2017, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Cognitive Reality

Posted 7 December 2016 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: blogging, e-learning

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Yet another year has come and gone at the speed of light!

For me, 2016 has been the year in which the Virtual Reality rubber finally met the road, while Augmented Reality made a surprise splash into the mainstream via those pesky Pikachu.

As a consequence, VR & AR dominated much of my blogging attention this year. But they weren’t the be-all-and-end-all of the e-learning universe. Plenty of other topics occupied my mind, from 70:20:10 and 3D printing to the extended enterprise and our universally despised compliance training regime.

I hope you found something useful among my musings, and I invite you to catch up on any that you may have missed…

Pulp fiction cover entitled Amazing Wonder Stories: Cognitive Reality: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and other stuff!

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Other stuff

Vintage spaceship

To those who celebrate Christmas, I wish you a merry one, and I look forward to reconnecting with everyone in 2017.

Constructive criticism of Coursera

Posted 23 November 2016 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: MOOCs

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Well it’s taken me over 3 and a half years, but I’ve finally completed another mooc.

I use the term completed loosely, because while I consumed all the content, I didn’t submit any of the assignments. In other words, I completed the course as far as my personal learning needs are concerned, while still feeding the naysayers’ MOOCs-are-a-failure-because-their-completion-rate-is-low argument.

The mooc in question was e-Learning Ecologies: Innovative Approaches to Teaching and Learning for the Digital Age by the University of Illinois on the Coursera platform. I found the Australian accents of the instructors a pleasant surprise, and the quality of the content top-notch.

The course revolved around 7 affordances of e-learning “ecologies”, with 2 presented each week. I have put the word ecologies in inverted commas because I would have used the term “pedagogies” instead. Nonetheless, while most e-learning professionals would be familiar with (or at least aware of) each of the affordances, I found it worthwhile to review them in turn, which also provoked deep tangential thinking.

Speaking of tangents, one of the instructors supplemented his presentations with interesting vignettes about his educational heroes from history, which I found both informative and engaging.

Pulp fiction cover entitled Amazing Wonder Stories: Cognitive Reality: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and other stuff!

Despite my overall satisfaction with this course, however, I experienced yet again a couple of perennial bugbears. Accordingly I offer the following points of constructive criticism to Coursera.

1. Lack of instructor interaction.

I am sensitive to the “massive” in mooc, and appreciate the fact that the instructors can’t possibly respond to every contribution in the social forum.

However, I found their total lack of participation really quite odd, especially in the early days when I seemed to be the only one posting anything.

Given the subject matter of this course, it’s also ironic!

2. Obscure pricing.

It may be widely known among enthusiasts that moocs are free, but this fact is not widely known among the general population.

I’ve lost count of the number of times my colleagues have contacted me to double- and triple-check that the Coursera courses which I have curated for them are indeed free. Either the price (i.e. $0 or “FREE”) is not mentioned, or the effectively meaningless “Audit” is used in its place.

Coursera’s push towards paid courses – which, by the way, are not moocs – only serves to muddy the waters.

I don’t know if it’s due to Coursera’s genesis in Higher Education or for some other reason, but it’s evident they do not understand their prospective customers in the corporate sector.