FocusOn Learning: My First Learning Conference

A few weeks ago  I went to my first learning conference, Focus On Learning by the eLearning Guild .

What a treat! This was my entrance, introduction, opening scene into the fairly small professional niche I have chosen for my career.

“What have I done?” never crossed my mind. I was totally in my element, and here are a few reasons why.

Well Done!

I sincerely think this conference was put together in a way that was easy to navigate, attend sessions, and spend time exploring and meeting others.

The main tool that made it so easy was the incredible mobile app designed for this conference. The FocusOn conference app was rich with interactivity, engagement, social learning, and conference resources. I could download slides and contact information straight to my devices. I could save sessions to my “agenda” which gave me a day by day schedule customized by me.

Also, there were breaks every few hours to get coffee, debrief with colleagues, call your dog…er… children, and schedule posts to social media. This was really helpful because it allowed me to digest information and synthesize ideas with new industry friends. It alleviated much of the conference fatigue I have experienced in the past.

Professional but Playful

The expo hall at this conference was full of color, demos, and games. I had a particular moment of learning when I asked someone what their company was there to show off. Although I wasn’t a target customer, they happily showed me all of their demos and had an extended conversation about medical simulation fidelity and effectiveness.

At the end of the conference, they had the Demo Fest. Have you ever been to something like this? It’s akin to online dating only for innovative strategies to learning. There were 20+ tables set up in a ballroom at the conference center. We had 2 hours to drink and eat appetizers while we bounced around to each demo table to see what the competitors were showing. Everyone voted for their favorite demos in the conference app (What!? Did anyone say “Genius”?) At the end, they had an energetic (complete with pop music excerpts) awards ceremony where they announced the winners.

And, let’s be clear, the demos were impressive. Each person had a great elevator speech complete with a demonstration of their program. For instance, Sarah Gilbert with MeLearning showed off using xAPI with eBooks and publishing. This is innovative because by using xAPI, she could pull up her Learning Record Store of what interactions there were in the eBook. For instance, she could pull up when the learners opened links or visited pages. This allows for the learning facilitator to track learner progress through something like an eBook. There were many more demos and all of them were inspiring.

And the best part of Demo Fest was that I got to use virtual reality to be a monster and dodge objects being thrown by the other players. It was my first enjoyable experience with virtual reality. And let me tell you, I was out of breath by the end. There is so much to come of VR and I can’t wait to see what we can do with it for learning and education.

Laid Back and Friendly

This was the first time I was in a room of people exactly like me. I felt right in my element. I found myself feeling confident in my level of knowledge, experience, and expertise. I believe this confidence was due to the ever present professional but playful personalities of the people I was meeting. I met people who had their own instructional design firms, built their own Learning Management Systems, and even can be seen as industry leaders and innovators. Every single one of these people showed genuine interest in what I was doing, where I was in my career, and why I chose the direction I was headed. All of my conversations were full of good humor, respect, and even some encouragement.

In fact, at one point, a series of people sent me to each other to ask questions about using xAPI with cmi5. Prior to this conference, my knowledge of xAPI was slim and my knowledge of cmi5 was negative. In this string of recommendations, I got an education beyond an answer to a question by people who are pioneering the uses of these programming languages for learning. It was a humbling experience. Each of these people took the time to understand the dilemma and problem solve with me.

I’m So Happy with This Direction

If you cannot tell already, this conference was a good experience. I met many people, was introduced to many new ideas, and even got to spend time with some people I have only ever seen as “online bloggers” or intangible learning design celebrities. My mind is expanded beyond what I could have expected. I am enthusiastic with the direction I am headed.