Technology has a lot to give L&D

Written by Richard Fisher on 1 May 2013 in Features
Features

Richard Fisher outlines how using interactive technology can improve training events

A recent survey independently commissioned by my company, IML Worldwide, and conducted among our event stakeholder clients (a significant number of which use our services to add value to their L&D events) found that, despite this supposedly being the age of big data, engagement and the social business, 90 per cent of the respondents believe they are not maximising the audience insight they gather at events via interactive technology.

This key finding is concerning, particularly for our L&D-focused clients. These clients, often with ongoing, programmed and budgeted event schedules complete with attainment targets, have more pressure than most to deliver measurable ROI and full accountability. If they are consistently 'leaving value in the room', they are missing the opportunity to make the most of intellectual capital and insight when they hold each training event.

Why is this? Well, there is little doubt that L&D professionals value interactive event technology. More than 80 per cent of our survey respondents reported that it was important when contributing to measurable ROI of an event and almost half said that the insight gathered is important for driving business decisions.

But it does seem that the rapid march of technology and the multitude of audience insight options now open to L&D professionals have created a knowledge gap that needs to be addressed. Stakeholders structuring their sessions and how they might work need to be fully aware of all the opportunities open to them. At the moment many organisations or key decision-makers within them are simply unaware of all the options available to them and exactly how the technology can be harnessed effectively for their L&D purposes.

What are the new technologies available and how can they be used to help L&D professionals?

We are talking about technology that helps event organisers and training professionals effectively assess what each attendee knows and then works within a preferred structure to teach them what they don't. At the core of this process lies individual hand-held devices that allow each attendee to communicate in a number of ways and at a number of levels with both trainers and other trainees. Clearly these devices and the individual feedback, responses and input they generate need to be orchestrated. The data harvested requires effective 'back end' software that makes sense of it both individually and collectively. Often this will be required in real-time so that this valuable data and insight can be utilised within the context of the training event as it is actually happening. Good systems can facilitate real-time testing and scoring throughout your event, without the added paperwork.

However, while the devices might be easy for attendees to use in themselves, pre-planning is essential for their effective introduction. Before getting started, it is important that stakeholders meet and discuss their training event with the technology consultancy providing the equipment. This way they can discover all the tracking and certification needs and decide what solutions and products best fit within each event and will best achieve the end goals.

How this might work in practice is as follows: Upon arrival at the event attendees are issued with a smartcard, which tracks their individual answers and activity throughout the training session. Receiving real-time test results helps the event stakeholder identify the training areas in which knowledge is weakest and correct the course as necessary. The technology solution should also create faster and more dynamic discussions through the use of built-in microphone and messaging features on the attendee's hand-held devices.

Post-training, stakeholders can generate reports that align attendees with their answers, scores and any other keypad activity, providing insight into knowledge retention and methodology. Stakeholders are also able to send feedback to specific attendees based on their individual responses or questions.

An outline of the sorts of technology features that can now be built into these handheld devices is as follows.

Wireless microphone

Putting a high-quality microphone in the hands of each attendee lets people immediately share their comments or ask questions directly from their seats. It can also feature a queuing system, in which audience members wait in a virtual queue for their turn to speak. The person wishing to speak simply activates the microphone with the click of a button and talks into the device just like a handheld microphone.

Portable microphones can be activated instantly to facilitate live audio feedback from the audience, enhancing Q&A sessions and debates and avoiding the hassle of a roving microphone.

Messaging

The audience can text in questions or comments, using a full wireless QWERTY keyboard, which can be displayed on a monitor in front of the audience, the event stakeholder or both, allowing thoughts and responses to questions to be captured and enabling the discussion to be steered in the direction of the audience's interests.

Portable PA

Each device can have a built-in speaker along with its handheld microphone, enabling the devices to be used as a distributed PA system. This reinforces participants' hearing while other audience members are speaking into the microphone. The speakers are small and discreet, drastically reducing the set-up time required for a sound reinforcement system.

Multiple audio channels

Multiple audio channels can record important meeting conversations or be used as a tool to assist hearing-impaired people. They can also be used to play different streams of audio, allowing users to select which one to listen to.

Enhanced voting solutions

Ask the audience questions in a wide variety of formats, including multiple choice, value, rating, prioritisation, text response, XY matrix and resolution voting. Receive greater audience participation and honesty through anonymity or track individuals' responses via smartcards - perfect for auditing, training and certification.

The results of votes can be instantly projected onto a main screen for everyone to see; they can be discussed immediately or collected for further analysis later on. Trends, opinion shifts and responses can all be measured in real time, enhancing the seminar experience for stakeholders and the audience, and making every event one to remember.

Greater audience participation through interactive devices means a more successful training event. By actively involving the audience in presentations, you ensure that everyone's opinion is taken into consideration and, through audience participation equipment, those opinions can be quickly and easily collated into useful data.

Individual data tracking

Smartcards provide a simple and efficient way of identifying and tracking individuals' responses. One hundred per cent accurate and secure, smartcards are personal ID cards that automatically link audience members to their keypad activity. Users simply insert their smartcard into the handheld device and the system will automatically identify their responses.

Colour screen

Use a full colour screen to enhance branding and sponsorship, like handheld digital signage. It can also display agendas, speaker biographies and other relevant information.

Simultaneous interpretation

As a receiver for simultaneous interpretation, users can select their language and hear the audio spoken by an interpreter. This provides a simultaneous translation through the conference equipment, ensuring that everyone feels included and encouraging greater interaction and participation.

The tablet option

Many of the functions found on the handheld devices could now be made available through familiar tablets - these provide meeting attendees with quick and easy access to significant amounts of content, as well as voting and messaging capabilities. Attendees can actively engage in the meeting by contributing to and commenting on the subject matter.

In addition, pairing tablet solutions with other interactive offerings can increase audience participation.

All notes generated by attendees on their tablets are digitally stored and can be collected to take action on at a later date - not getting lost in notebooks, never to be seen again.

The software

The software is, of course, essential in terms of being able to make sense of, and utilise, all the information and feedback generated at an event. The right software can collect instant and anonymous feedback with audience polling and messaging systems; it usually runs on several laptops or tablets, enabling groups to collaborate, actively respond to questions and submit messages.

It should easily facilitate workshops and group discussions. A roundtable style engages groups in lively conversations and debates, encouraging thoughts and ideas, and helping them to come to their conclusions. Their ideas and conclusions are collected in real-time and can be shared with the whole room, stimulating further ideas for discussion. The software encourages honest responses, keeps attendees focused and decreases pressure on individuals; ultimately providing stakeholders with greater insight into the minds of their attendees.

Stakeholders have better control over the direction of a training session by filtering comments and messages through a facilitator who decides what is displayed to the audience. This also ensures that the session remains focused and constructive. Choosing to have questions displayed instantly to the audience allows the presenter to quickly identify the most common concerns and react to them immediately during Q&A sessions.

Software should also be able to facilitate brainstorming, discussion and idea-generation sessions - instantly capturing groups' thoughts. Stakeholders should be able to obtain, through the software, a record of all responses sent; these can also be displayed live, stimulating yet more discussion among the groups.

An example of how this enabling technology and the expertise to understand and implement its potential works in practice is a custom audience interaction solution IML Worldwide recently implemented for client Six Degrees Medical Consulting. It enabled more than 3,000 sales reps spread over 78 meeting rooms in three hotels up to 1.5 miles apart to share input, insight and learning during a three-day event in a large US city.

This huge undertaking pushed the technical boundaries of interactive training, and clearly demonstrates how insight and input can be maximised with the technology available no matter how complex the L&D scenario.

The initial event brief from Six Degrees Medical Consulting was a tall order as, in addition to the sheer scale of the operation, we needed to ensure that training sessions and results were delivered quickly, reliably and securely, with 100 per cent accuracy and that the learning could be measured. With these highly complex needs testing the limits of achievability, IML's solution involved both custom development work and the introduction of two preparatory train the trainer meetings, which took place prior to the main medical sales training meeting in January 2013.

The technical solution involved a great deal of testing and troubleshooting as the hotels were spread over 1.5 miles of an urban area dense with competing Wi-Fi networks. IML connected the three hotels via a VPN connection, ensuring everything was secure. The 78 breakout rooms throughout all three hotels were mapped out, detailing which remote base station the IML connectors (small but fully-featured devices including microphone, speaker, multichannel audio, keyboard, messaging and voting abilities, data tracking and a full-colour screen) in those rooms would connect to each other - and they were all patched through another secure connection to the central control room. Backup systems were devised and tested at each step of the process, including laptops, routers, VPN points and servers, guaranteeing that, if any one thing went wrong, it could be patched in immediately and other aspects of the system would not go down as a result.

When the meetings began, the central control room broadcast content to each room, where a facilitator and a moderator helped in its delivery. Delegates viewed the content on screen and answered questions with the polling and messaging functions of their devices. The combined results from all three hotels were displayed instantly on-screen in each room. Instead of relocating when the breakout sessions began, everyone was able to stay in their room and participate in the group work that was better suited to smaller numbers. Pre-tests, post-tests and PIN numbers were used to track responses, reward high-scorers with prizes and measure collective learning.

Clearly this example demonstrates what is possible at the top end of the training scale. However, the same technology can also be used to add efficiency and value to all sizes of training and development sessions. The key factor is being able to bring in audience insight consultants at the earliest stages of event planning - to ensure all the technology enabling options can be considered and accommodated as required. This way, L&D professionals will ensure they maximise ROI as well as achieve productivity targets.

About the author

Richard Fisher is CEO of IML Worldwide, a provider of interactive event technology and audience insight data. He can be contacted via www.imlworldwide.com

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