Anyone who still feels that learning to use new technology has to be a frustrating, mind-numbing experience should have been at the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit here in San Francisco yesterday.
It was a wonderful example of how a company’s interest in promoting its product—in this case, numerous first-rate learner-centric onsite and online learning opportunities for those in need of technical and desktop training as well as professional development opportunities—can occasionally and easily be combined with a meaningful, very productive day of learning at no cost to participants. And for those of us involved in training-teaching-learning, it was an inspiring opportunity to see colleagues at the top of their game displaying easy-to-replicate effective methods for engaging our learners.
The structure of the free daylong summit itself is well worth noting as an example of how an event reflects the learning approaches it showcases. It began with an informal half-hour slot during which participants could get to know each other one-on-one or in small groups before diving into the learning sessions scheduled throughout the day; the fact that company CEO Damon Lembi, several members of his staff, and several LearniT! instructors were accessible but not at all the center of attention at that point reflected what was obvious during each of the learning sessions I attended: this is a company where learners and learning facilitators work effectively together by creating small, temporary, and supportive communities of learning while they/we are together.
It also included tremendous displays of hospitality and a commitment to creating a social-learning environment in that summit organizers had plenty of food and beverages—including sandwiches, pizza, and salads at lunchtime; coffee and cookies during a mid-afternoon break; and wine, soft drinks, cheese, and cold cuts during an early-evening reception just before the final set of sessions began.
Also well-worth emulating was the way the schedule offered a varied but far from overwhelming set of choices. Each one-hour slot included three different learning opportunities. Participants could attend as few or as many sessions as they cared to attend throughout the day. Some sessions were clearly meant to serve as stand-alone learning opportunities; others offered a clear learning track, as was the case with a series of four interrelated sessions exploring an Agile approach to project management and many other workplace endeavors (including training-teaching-learning)—but even that learning track was developed flexibly enough to accommodate those who wanted to attend the entire series as well as those who may have only been interested in one or two of the offerings. (This approach to letting learners determine how many—and which—modules of a series of learning opportunities they want to pursue is one of the many reasons I had LearniT! as a training partner when I was in charge of the San Francisco Public Library staff training program many years ago.)
The levels of flexibility visible and inherent within the LearniT! approach to the summit (and to its day-to-day operations) played out to the benefit of the company and participants in magnificent ways. While there was not a lot of repetition among the session offerings, at least one—an introduction to Windows 10—was scheduled in two different time slots to accommodate what was anticipated to be a spillover crowd for the initial session and to also accommodate participants who might have opted to arrive later in the day rather than attending the entire daylong event. More impressively, summit organizers realized early in the day that they were facing an overflow crowd for another one-time session, so immediately located a second instructor to lead a simultaneous offering in that same time slot—then notified everyone by making announcements in the classrooms and sending a follow-up email to all registered participants.
When we turn to the heart of what the summit accomplished, we find ourselves focusing on how the various instructors worked to make the subject matter meaningful to those of us in the learner seats. Sean Bugler, for example, enthusiastically covered an amazing array of elements during his 45-minute introduction to Windows 10. His love for the product was infectious even for those of us most cranky about having to go through yet another upgrade and having to learn a new way of doing things we would have been quite happy to continue doing with our current tech tools if the inevitable upgrading of software weren’t forcing us to sift through another set of changes. And his highly-developed ability to quickly, concisely respond to learners’ questions in easy-to-understand terms was something any trainer-teacher-learner could have benefitted from observing. Even before I left Bugler’s session, I was already thinking—and saying out loud—the words I love hearing from any learner: I wanna try that. And thanks to Sean and our colleagues at LearniT!, I know I will.
Next: A Summit Learning Facilitator, an Agile Approach, and Writing on the Walls