Reflections on #DevLearn

Reflections on #DevLearn

Last week I attended the eLearning Guild‘s DevLearn conference. This is the best conference I’ve been to for professional development for Instructional Designers that focus on areas outside of academia. The primary audience of the conference are those involved in the creation of eLearning materials or infrastructure for the corporate sector. There are several folks from higher ed, but this conference is definitely not an academic conference. Since I teach instructional design, I thought attending this conference would be a great way for me to discover some new tools / ideas to support my teaching while getting a sense of what the latest trends were.

The first thing that struck me about this conference was that all four of the keynote speakers were women. I’m sure this was an intentional effort on behalf of the guild. There was no compromise in quality – each of the women giving keynotes had impressive qualification. The first three keynotes were amazing. I was sad to miss the last keynote as I had to leave to catch my flight. If I go again, I’ll try to make sure I book things so that I don’t miss any of them.

The conference was a little overwhelming at first. There were over 3600 people attending. Large conferences like that don’t typically help me with networking. I didn’t personally met a lot of people. I gave out 1 business card. I did, however, get a chance to meet someone who was my student 2 years ago. That was pretty cool. I teach online so I rarely have a chance to actually meet students face-to-face.

The conference expo was huge. I spend a few hours walking around talking to a random assortment of people. Mostly I was looking to see the types of technologies that were represented at the conference. There are a lot more rapid eLearning tools (e.g. Knowbly), with several providing access to the tools as web tools rather than things you need to download. Of course the big names were there too (Adobe and Articulate). I got a chance to see the latest version of Storyline, which had some great accessibility features, as well as the new web-based Articulate 360 product). There were a several companies providing tools that create learning games. I was a little disappointed in chatting with games people, as their focus was “games as motivation” rather than using gamification techniques within the classroom. There were several companies providing VR/AR tools and the eLearning Guild even put together a demo area where you could try some VR/AR (virtual reality / augmented reality) tools. One of the examples was teaching learners how to operate a forklift. It was neat to watch them, but I’m a little afraid of the use of them for technology sake, rather than for good pedagogical reasons. I didn’t attend any of the VR/AR sessions, so I cannot speak to how they are actually being used.

The memorable sessions that I attended (each one an hour) were on: xAPI, Voice user interface (VUI) design, Diversity in eLearning, Synch session engagement, and Podcasting.

xAPI: An Intro for Instructional Designers

I attended the introduction to xAPI session. The presenter highlighted that xAPI is not “next generation SCORM” as it does so much more. When someone mentioned that xAPI is a renaming of TinCan, it suddenly became more familiar to me. SCORM, although originally intended as a way to share learning objects, it stands for Sharable Content Object Resource Model, turned into a way to import thing into and between Learning management systems (LMSs). The extent of SCORM data sharing involved very rudimentary things like pass/fail (that is, after completing the learning object, did the learner pass or fail – but provided no information on which parts of the learning object the learner succeed with or didn’t succeed with).

xAPI on the other hand has a grammar (i.e. Actor, verb object; e.g. Clair read chapter 1) that makes it easier for content designers to communicate detailed information about the learners progress to the LMS or any other system that collects learning statistics.

There was very little conversation about whether or not we SHOULD be sending this data, and about the learner’s right to know what data is being shared about their progress, but alas, that is a whole other discussion. This session was much more about what xAPI is and what you can do with it.

BYOD: Beginner’s Guide to Designing a Voice UI Learning Experience

I had never heard of “Voice User Interface” and definitely not within the context of learning. It had never occurred to me that I could use a device such as Amazon’s Alexa as a tool to support just-in-time or inquiry-based learning. In the session which is listed as BYOD – Bring Your Own Device and is meant to be more hands-on – the presenter provided a model or framework to help design Voice User Interfaces. Further, she provided an overview of a few tips and tricks.

I cannot say that I remember anything specific from the session, other than the whole idea that Amazon’s Alexa can be programmed and tailored to your individual need, and the fact that there is an app store just for Alexa. This is a whole new world for me. I’m just not sure yet how it can or will be used for learning.

Wonder Woman, Wakanda, and Work: Make Your eLearning Representative

This was a fascinating conversation about critical eLearning, where we were questioning biases and assumptions in eLearning design. I talk about the need for critical instructional design when designing online learning, but it never occurred to me that this would be an issue also with corporate eLearning. Of course, the whole reason I never thought it was an issue is because I am white and I speak English as my first / primary language. In the environment where I work, I’m see to, mostly, not have an accent.

This, however, might not be the general make-up of a given company. The presenters talked about knowing your audience and trying to make your eLearning both reflect your audience but also challenge stereotypes – for example, in your eLearning is the manager always male but the secretary always female? Are all your characters always caucasian, or do you have the manager as caucasian with an employee that is a person of color? It isn’t that you cannot have these scenarios, just that you should not always have these scenarios. You should be aware of your biases when selecting the characters in your eLearning.

Interact and Engage! Activities for Spectacular Live Online Events

This was my favourite session of the conference. The presenter, Kassy, was engaging. The content was also interesting. She gave me many ideas for ways in which I could do my first sync session of the year and make it much more engaging for my students – both engaging and a way for community building early in the course.

She gave a simple recipe for creating engaging online synchronous sessions such as webinars and trainings:

  1. Identify the goal & objectives.
  2. Determine what’s social.
  3. Map the interactions to the features.

Number 2 really resonated with me, as it is a key aspect of blended learning or using sync in an online form. It implies that if the aspect of the goal and objective is not social, then sync is not the right medium for the presentation.

Number 3 was to look at the tool and really figure out what features you can use that align with the social interactions you want to make. You are always limited by your toolset, but often we don’t go beyond basic functionality. I’m guilty of that.

Kassy and her husband wrote a book : Interact and Engage!: 50+ Activities for Virtual Training, Meetings, and Webinars

I bought the book and hope to find some time to read through it before the beginning of next semester.

Creating Learning Podcasts on a Shoestring

The final session I went to was on podcasting. I find it interesting how podcasting is making its way into corporate eLearning. I was introduced to podcasting as a learning tool back in my early PhD days, as some of the professors in medicine where using them as a way to flip the classroom – specially the anatomy classroom. In the corporate world it is particularly useful for sales training, as it allows for training to take place while commuting. The session encouraged me to try podcasting as a way to deliver some of the “lecture” aspects of my courses that do not require visuals.


Overall, at DevLearn, it met my objectives. I went there to see what the current trends in eLearning where. Along the way, I picked up several tips that will help my teaching. I think it is a valuable conference for all instructional designers.

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