#LT20UK round-up: Diversity, data and more

Martin Couzins distils day two of the Learning Technologies Conference 2020 into your handy five-minute read.

Reading time: 5 minutes

Artificial intelligence, brain science, curiosity and learning culture. That was the order for day two of the Learning Technologies Conference 2020.

A couple of new things which have been added to the conference format are also worth reflecting on and praising.

The second day in the conference hall started with the chair of the conference, Donald H Taylor, introducing 30 L&D professionals aged under-30.

This group had been invited to join the event at a reduced fee and it was great to hear their positive experiences of attending the conference.

And it was great to see this group make for a more diverse audience. The industry needs to do more of this, to provide ways to broaden access to the expertise and experience available at these events.

Another new development is the addition of shorter conference workshops at lunchtime. I attended a Women in Learning workshop which explored the barriers to progression facing women in learning.

Data shows that men outnumber women in senior positions within L&D. The discussion showed that there is a groundswell of desire to change this situation.

Senior women in L&D shared their tips – and horror stories – about progressing into senior roles. Their stories show there is still much to do.

AI, brain science, curiosity and learning culture. That was the order for day two of the Learning Technologies Conference 2020

The good news is that conferences such as Learning Technologies are now providing a platform for these discussions to reach more people and have more impact.

It wouldn’t be a Learning Technologies Conference without a talk about artificial intelligence. In Daniel Hulme, we had a super-smart speaker who both lectures on the topic at University College London and runs a company that builds AI for organisations.

Hulme’s message is that we need to understand the opportunity of data. And that is that if we use the right AI tools effectively we can shift from thinking about data, information and knowledge to understanding and wisdom.

He says we should be less concerned with data science and a lot more concerned about decision-making.

AI is great at seeing patterns in data but does that help organisations make better decisions? That’s a key issue right now, he says.

Hulme made some interesting points about how technology could be used for key people development practices.

For example, in his company Satalia, AI helps drive decisions on salaries. Staff make a public recommendation of what they feel their salary should be for the year ahead (ie the pay rise they deserve) and then everyone else can vote on that.

The AI mines aggregated data from all the contributions an individual has made to projects, plus their relationship with other employees, to establish how a person’s vote should be weighted.

Hulme says that this approach highlighted the fact women in the company tended to downplay their pay rise.

Satalia is a 100-person company that has no managers and a flat structure. It uses technology and AI to help make decisions about organisational design and work processes. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on to see how AI could impact your organisation.

Away from the complexity of technology, cognitive neuroscientist Dr Itiel Dror was guiding us through the complexity that is the human brain.

It wouldn’t be a Learning Technologies Conference without a talk about artificial intelligence

The good news, according to Dror, is that you don’t need to be a cognitive neuroscientist to use neuroscience in learning. Just understand some basics of how the brain works and you can design far more effective learning resources. So what are the basics that L&D professionals need to take notice of?

Well, start by acknowledging that the brain has limited resources. Always reduce the amount of information. Then think about how you can reduce the cognitive effort – ie provide brain-friendly ways of presenting information.

This includes reducing the amount of text and using titles and headlines that are direct and unambiguous.

Sometimes you need to shock the system to help break out of habits. Dror shared an example of what they might look like, which you can see here.

Finally, make sure you produce something that engages employees. If you can’t do that then you are doomed before you start, he says.

Engaging employees might be less of a problem if they were more curious. This idea of curiosity is growing in popularity across L&D.

It was interesting to see what enabling curiosity looks like for organisations. For pharmaceuticals company Novartis, the approach was more like a marketing campaign.

Its #iamcurious initiative involved creating online and offline spaces for employees to share their curiosity.

Nina Bressier Murphy, global head of enterprise capability at Novartis Learning Institute, says the organisation needs curious and adaptable employees to help the company reimagine medicine.

The #iamcurious campaign involved senior leaders sharing how they learn and their development plans. This proved to be a powerful way to engage employees around curiosity.

In his talk on curiosity, author and researcher Julian Stodd highlighted some of the factors that can kill curiosity. Fear, consequences and control are factors that are all too familiar in organisations and they can all stop employees from being inquisitive.



The message here is this: be aware of those factors that can negatively impact on curiosity. And work on them if you are looking to nurture curiosity.

In the final talk of the day, two companies – beauty products company Deciem and drinks producer Diageo – shared their tips on building a learning culture.

Both companies focus on the employee experience and making resources available in the way employees want them, when they want them and how they want them.

The culture is also lived in different ways. At Deciem, employees are encouraged to be teachers. For example, the company ran a video challenge to encourage colleagues to share their insights.

At Diageo, ‘influencers’ blog about learning. This provides communications around the thing – learning – they are trying to promote and enable across the organisation. Communications around learning are also a key part of building a learning culture at Deciem.

You might want employees to take control of their learning but if you don’t make it easy, relevant and show them how they can do it, how do you expect it to happen?


About the author

Martin Couzins is head of insights at Insights Media


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