I have just come back from New York, where, for the fifth year running, I attended the International Conference on E-learning in the Workplace (ICELW). As well as taking place in one of my favourite cities, ICELW offers an interesting mix of attendees from 34 countries and from both business and academia.

Toolwire hosted a post conference drinks reception in a very cool NYC hotel so that gave me a great opportunity to ask everyone what had been of the most interest to them at the conference.  The overall message from the views I gathered was that people had enjoyed the talks and presentations on new approaches to learning, and just as importantly valued the reminders of retaining the best of more traditional approaches.

Learning platforms must continue to be relevant in context

This overview strongly reflected the different styles and expertise of the keynote speakers at ICELW. Jane Hart created interest, debate and discussion with her presentation looking at social learning and the shift in workplace learning from a controlled training environment to one that supports, enhances and enables informal learning. Jane used a catch phrase that I then heard many people repeating on many occasions throughout the conference – ”Learn the new” .

Dr. Will Thalheimer reminded the audience of the powerful benefits of ‘remembering the old’ by demonstrating how research has proven the value of using repetition and spacing in a ‘subscription’ model of learning in order to overcome the ‘forgetting curve’.

Patrick Blum, Inside Business Group, Germany was very interested to hear about repetition for sustainable learning. As he told me, ”It’s old and forgotten by many, but still critical.’

Dr. Thalheimer’s presentation prompted many to consider how they could incorporate such techniques into their own resources. Imogen Casebourne from Epic reflected on how she used to use that technique by sending out learning nuggets every month, and plans to now review the studies Will shared.

David Guralnick, the conference organiser cited the inclusion of experiential learning as critical. He highlighted the need for learning to be relevant and in context, which creates an emotional experience that suits the audience and fits into the workflow. Daan Assen, Atrivision, shared with me that for him this really reinforced the continuing need for good instructional design for formal courses.

In my informal survey over drinks, several people identified the various presentations on the use of simulations as particularly useful. Gratifyingly, this included my own presentation!

Paul Jacobs, HAN University of Applied Sciences commented on the gap between the US and European learning cultures and summed up his conference takeaway as ‘don’t analyse everything, just do stuff that works’.

A very lively panel debate on the final day generated animated discussions around the future of L&D departments, the use of informal learning and the increasing need for performance support tools to help people do their jobs better. The range and breadth of speakers at ICELW certainly inspired participants at the event to pause and think about how to introduce some of ‘the new’ and build on the strong foundations of ‘the old’.