Training’s Online Learning Conference Strikes a Chord

Attendees enjoyed a combination of fun and learning, including a kickoff event at Buddy Guy’s Legends Club, keynotes by The Simpsons writer Joel Cohen and Second City improv artists, a “speed-dating”-type tips coffee klatch, and nearly 50 wide-ranging breakout sessions.

By Lorri Freifeld

Attendees of Training magazine’s recent Online Learning Conference were singing the blues—but in a good way. The conference, held September 17-19 at McCormick Place in Chicago, kicked off with a special event at Chicago blues landmark Buddy Guy’s Legends, owned by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and five-time Grammy Award-winning bluesman Buddy Guy. Attendees swayed to the beat of Brother John (former Buddy Guy keyboardist) and his band.

And that’s not all—they learned tips for navigating the “Muddy Waters” of online learning from Jane Bozarth, e-learning coordinator for the State of North Carolina and Positive Deviant (someone who can get it done when others can’t) and a band of L&D experts, including Sivasailam Thiagarajan, Joe Ganci, Lou Russell, Karl Kapp, Shannon Tipton, Tom Stone, Kassy LaBorie, Nick Floro, Arthur Kohn, Jason Bickle, Allison Anderson, and Lisa Stortz.

The fun and learning continued the next day with keynoter Joel Cohen, who found success in the corporate world before becoming an Emmy-winning writer for The Simpsons. His experience as both a “creative” and a “suit” gives him a unique perspective to discuss creativity and its place in business. Cohen offered the 300 OLC attendees a glimpse into the writers’ room at The Simpsons as he shared how they find, evaluate, implement, and discard new ideas. The heart of the process, he explained to attendees, hinges on:

  • Incorporating relatability
  • Building on ideas (and reinforcing the fact that there are no bad ideas)
  • Drawing on people’s diverse backgrounds
  • Creating a respectful, collaborative, supportive environment
  • Fighting your first instinct
  • Keeping it in context (it might be the best great idea, but not in that setting)
  • Applying a humble filter (not just for you but for the group)

Cohen moved seamlessly from his presentation into participating in a few skits with Second City improv artists Mark Sutton and Lori McClain, who demonstrated how thinking on your feet can be a valuable asset in training. They also offered some critical communications tips, including:

  • Listen to understand, not just to respond. Don’t miss the rest of the story by tuning out after the beginning in order to plan your response.
  • Active listening is more than eye contact. Let people know you are ready to listen before they even start talking, using verbal and non-verbal cues.
  • Resist the temptation to interrupt. Beware of using interruptions to jump to conclusions or refocus the conversation on yourself.
  • Word choice can make a difference in the direction of a conversation. Remember, “should” is more directive and useful for making final decisions. “Could” is more collaborative and is a great tool for brainstorming or empowering others to initiate or contribute to the conversation.

Conversation was the name of the game during Thursday morning’s Coffee Klatch, which featured three 12-minute “lightning-round” sessions of 14 learning professionals sharing tips from what’s working in their organizations. Topics included Accelerating Speed to Market in E-Learning Development; Creating Effective Simulations to Train Workplace Skills; Leadership Skills Gamified; Engaging Learners in the Virtual Classroom; Essential Elements for Successfully Onboarding Sales Professionals; and Video: Low Budget, High Impact.

Keeping with the tips focus of the conference, here are some helpful hints from just a few of the nearly 50 Breakout and Sponsored Lunch and Learn Sessions:

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Strategy: One Set of Data, Multiple Devices, Lisa Stortz, Strategic Relationship Manager, Allen Interactions Inc.:

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. When considering a variety of delivery methods, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Figure out what modalities are available to you.
  • Assess your capabilities to create using those modalities.
  • Consider the investment in both time and money.
  • Ensure cultural fit.

Defusing E-Learning Landmines: Jennifer DeVries, Chief Solutions Architect, BlueStreak Learning:

E-Learning landmines include course delivery (learning management system), SME time, revisions, and scope creep.

Tips for course delivery:

  • Test the delivery platform early.
  • Load a prototype in the LMS.
  • Test on a target audience computer.
  • Focus on items that may stop or distort the course, i.e., firewalls, corporate IT policies, Internet connection speed, browsers, screen resolution.

When it comes to SME time, be clear up front how long it will take. For example, explain that it takes on average three hours to interview a SME to produce a 30-minute module. Explain the various options for gathering and revising content:

You interview the SME and write the content, which the SME reviews, revises, and answers questions.


The SME writes the content and you reformat it.

Either way, don’t expect the SME to be the learning designer.

For revisions, discuss how many times you will go back and forth on changes. When you have more than one reviewer, appoint a decision-maker to consolidate the reviews into one list. Hold a revision meeting to discuss the changes. Keep your revision cycles and versions clear. Make sure you discuss the cost (both in time and money) of revisions and obtain agreement from managers and stakeholders.

For scope creep, compare the scope to current status regularly. Review any issues with stakeholders. Establish a tracking system to monitor the project regularly.

Beyond the Buzz: Designing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for Behavior Change—Bert De Coutere, Solution Architect, Center for Creative Leadership:

Tip 1: Find your incubator protector bubble so you can create without folks looking over your shoulder.

Tip 2: Start with everything you know about online learning.

Tip 3: Create personas but remain open (keep in mind who are you designing for?)

Tip 4: Don’t do it yourself; use an existing platform. Ask yourself, “Is my Mooc mostly about content or people?”

Tip 5: Create a blueprint.

Tip 6: There are no established business models, so get sponsors for your first one.

Tip 7: Build in interaction early and often. If you ignore your course, so will your participants. Curate each week—share the discussions that happened this week and the videos people sent in.

Tip 8: Always remember that it is not about you, the designer; it’s about them, the participants.

Let Your Content Drive the Tool—Nick Floro, CEO, Sealworks Interactive Studios:

Seven questions define the project:

  1. What is the goal?
  2. What are the objectives?
  3. Who is the audience and how will they use the tool?
  4. What is the timetable/deadline?
  5. What is the current technology in place?
  6. Does the content exist?
  7. What is the budget?

The process should be: Define, Design, Develop, Deliver

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