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Home / Resources / 5 insights from Learning Tech 2024... that have nothing do with AI!

5 insights from Learning Tech 2024... that have nothing do with AI!


In this overview of Learning Technologies 2024, Sponge's in-house learning strategy experts break down the major themes and insights that emerged around storytelling, personalisation, and proving learning's strategic value.

Once again, Learning Technologies UK brought together L&D professionals from across the globe to discuss all things learning experiences, tech, and strategy. With so much going on at the event, gathering insights that cut through the trends du jour can be a real challenge.

That’s why the learning experts from The Practice, the brains behind Sponge’s strategic approach to learning, carefully curated their time to attend the best and brightest talks at the event – with the aim of providing you with the key takeaways and insights from the exhibition and conference.

Despite AI’s omnipresence in current industry conversations, we’ve deliberately avoided focusing on the topic. It’s undeniably a key talking point – to the extent that it’s drowning out other valuable trends that we think need some attention. So, here are five key takeaways – that have nothing to do with AI – that our experts took away from the event:

1. Storytelling for data.

The power of storytelling was a recurring theme, not just for crafting engaging learning content but also for presenting data in a meaningful and impactful way. Beth Chudley, Practice Lead, emphasised, "Storytelling isn't just for learning; it's a powerful tool which can be used to bring a human element to learning data (such as LMS data) by using different lenses to see - and show others - the full picture."

Kim Boney, Learning Experience Design Lead, echoed this sentiment, noting, "Storytelling is a powerful tool which can be used to bring a human element to learning data." By using storytelling techniques, L&D professionals can transform dry, numerical data into compelling narratives that resonate with stakeholders and drive action. This approach can help L&D teams share insights from learning data in a way that paints a clearer picture to internal stakeholders, facilitating better decision-making, alignment with organisational goals, and convincing arguments for budget deployment.

Storytelling can breathe life into data by creating relatable narratives that contextualise numbers and statistics. By presenting learning data through the lens of real-world scenarios, challenges, and successes, L&D professionals can make the information more accessible, memorable, and actionable for stakeholders. This approach fosters a deeper understanding of the data's implications and can inspire more informed decision-making processes within the organisation.

2. Learning personalisation.

Personalisation was identified as a critical factor in delivering truly impactful learning experiences. Laura Hall, Learning Experience Consultant, stated, "True personalisation doesn't exist in digital learning at the moment, but it's the key to unlocking impactful learning for the future..."

... Our attention should be on developing mechanisms for recognising learners' existing competencies and delivering them support to build those knowledge and skills gaps in a way that has as little disruption to the flow of work as possible.

Laura Hall,

Learning Experience Consultant, Sponge

While personalisation through automation and analytics can enhance learning effectiveness, Kim Boney emphasised the importance of balancing formal and informal learning for successful personalisation. "Personal and self-driven learning can only succeed when it contains both formal, 'top down' learning (i.e., curated content, modules etc.) and informal content, such as learning from others, reflection time, and employee-led social learning which is driven from the bottom up."

Effective personalisation isn't just about delivering tailored content but also providing learners with a blend of structured, curated materials and opportunities for self-directed, informal learning. By combining top-down, formal training with bottom-up, informal channels like social learning, peer collaboration, and reflective practices, organisations can create a personalised learning ecosystem that caters to diverse learning preferences.

This approach empowers learners to take ownership of their development journey while still providing guidance and structure. It acknowledges that true mastery often occurs through a combination of structured knowledge acquisition and applied, experiential learning.

3. L&D: From cost-centre to value-centre.

Practice Consultant, Henry Ball, noted, "Greater maturity in learning evaluation is turning L&D from a cost-centre to a value-centre. It's clear to me that the L&D industry focus has now truly shifted from being on what our tech does, to how we use it to execute true value-add strategies."

Beth Chudley reinforced this, stating, "Being strategic is on everyone's agenda, but demonstrating impact is still a challenge. There was a real emphasis on breaking down silos and pulling on different teams to capture data needed to demonstrate value."

By aligning learning initiatives with business strategies, measuring impact through robust evaluation methodologies, and collaborating cross-functionally, L&D can position itself as a strategic value driver. This shift involves not only adopting a more strategic mindset but also leveraging data and fostering cross-functional partnerships to quantify the return on investment of learning programs.

As organisations increasingly recognise the strategic value of learning and development, L&D teams must evolve from being perceived as a cost centre to becoming a value-generating function. This transformation requires a shift in mindset, where L&D initiatives are meticulously aligned with broader business objectives and strategies. By implementing comprehensive evaluation methodologies and leveraging data-driven insights, L&D professionals can quantify the impact of their programs on key performance indicators, such as productivity, employee retention, and organisational growth.

4. Smart approaches to fast business evolution.

Fostering human development to enable change enactment emerged as a crucial role for L&D in the face of rapidly evolving business landscapes.

LJ Beaupre, Associate Learning Experience Consultant, stressed, "Our job is not to brute force the knowledge into people, but rather to encourage curiosity and creativity, and to create environments where learners feel comfortable experimenting."

Jess Anderson, Associate Learning Experience Consultant, added, "Changing a learning culture requires a look at systems (ways of working), behaviors (what is encouraged/discouraged), symbols (where is time and budget allocated), and storytelling across the business (what are people's beliefs)."

Chloé Priestley, Learning Experience Consultant, highlighted the need for a change mindset and agile thinking to navigate the rapidly evolving L&D landscape. "It has been predicted that L&D is going to go through more change in the next 3 years than it has in the past 30...”

... The trick will be progress over perfection – just make a start on a project rather than contemplating it for too long.

Chloé Priestley,

Learning Experience Consultant, Sponge.

As L&D professionals, fostering a culture of continuous learning, experimentation, and adaptability is crucial for organisations to thrive in today's rapidly changing business landscape. This involves not only equipping learners with the necessary skills and knowledge but also empowering them to drive positive change within their organisations. Adopting an agile mindset, embracing cross-functional collaboration, and prioritising progress over perfection can help L&D teams navigate the changes ahead effectively.

5. Holistic, accessible learning experiences.

Delivering a holistic learning experience that considers learners' mental health and well-being was another recurring theme, reflecting the increasing recognition of the interconnectedness between personal and professional development. Jess Anderson emphasised, "Learning becomes more holistic, acknowledging not only what we want them to gain in terms of their skills, knowledge, or behavior but how these aspects directly benefit the individual."

Chloé Priestley also noted, "There is the emerging trend of inclusive learning that has well-being at its heart. This democratising of quality content is well overdue and by considering how learning serves, it becomes a force for good."

LJ Beaupre highlighted the importance of usability in accessible learning, stating, "There has been a sharp increase in recent years in companies wanting their training to be accessible, and in authoring tools making it easier to meet the guidelines, however it's important to remember two things: they're only guidelines, and technically accessible is not the same as useably accessible...”

... It's not enough to ensure every checkbox is ticked in an authoring tool - you also must ensure that the target users can navigate the product as intended.

LJ Beaupre,

Associate Learning Experience Consultant, Sponge.

As L&D professionals, fostering a culture of continuous learning, experimentation, and adaptability is crucial for organisations to thrive in today's rapidly changing business landscape. This involves not only equipping learners with the necessary skills and knowledge but also empowering them to drive positive change within their organisations. Adopting an agile mindset, embracing cross-functional collaboration, and prioritising progress over perfection can help L&D teams navigate the changes ahead effectively.

6. BONUS: (Alright, we fibbed...) The emerging critical lens around AI.

To fail to comment on the ubiquity of AI at this year’s event would be to lead a giant elephant into the room and steadfastly ignore it. However, one reflection from a visitor at the exhibition summarised many people’s feelings about AI representation at the event: “Yes it will be important, but right now it’s all crap.”

Josh Cardoz, Sponge Chief Creative and Learning Officer, put a little more colour around this viewpoint...

"A much-needed, slightly more critical lens is developing around the use of AI in L&D. While the hype is all still very much alive, I could sense there was an emergent collective critical lens on getting to meaningful use cases, beyond experimenting with generative AI."

Some of the more astute and interesting approaches to the use of AI were summarised by consultants in The Practice:

Tom Griffiths, Lead Learning Experience Consultant, said, "AI continues to be one of the hottest topics in L&D and beyond. However, this year felt different from 2023, as the discussion has shifted from AI being a risk to job security to being primarily viewed as a time-saving tool. There's definitely more to come here, and I'm not sure L&D have gotten the best out of this technology yet."

Henry Ball highlighted the importance of "learning for AI," stressing the need for organisations and learners to understand and adapt to the AI-driven world. "Before we (as an industry) get too carried away with 'AI for learning,' let's invest some time thinking about 'learning for AI.' For all of us to adapt to a world with AI, we need to understand it, we need our leaders to understand it, and we need our learners to understand it – THIS is the opportunity for L&D."

As AI continues to evolve, L&D must look beyond surface-level applications and explore how it can drive transformative changes in learning design, delivery, and analytics. While AI offers immense potential, our expectation is that L&D professionals will be looking for vendors who approach it with a critical mindset, focusing on practical use cases that align with organisational goals and learner needs, rather than simply adding ‘AI-powered’ to the front page of their branding.

For all the noise and hype shared at these events, there are always sprinklings of gold dust throughout the speaker sessions and conversations on the event floor.

This year, the learning strategists at Sponge highlighted these emergent idea trends:

  • Storytelling should be used beyond the learning itself, and applied to add meaning to learning data for powerful stakeholder buy-in.
  • New, multi-touchpoint approaches to learning personalisation are increasingly sophisticated, offering more real personalisation
  • The first essential step to getting anywhere with demonstrating learning's business impact is through cross-functional collaboration – step one is to break down those silos!
  • Major organisational change is often best supported by an L&D function that can create an environment for curiosity and creativity.
  • Prioritising learning experiences that integrate mental health, accessibility, and well-being empowers learners and drives engagement and resilience.

And, when it comes to AI, right now, it’s a game of incremental innovation. Look for use cases that are immediately practical and relevant, and, if necessary, seek support from vendors who can help you find these. With these points in mind, you can develop strategic learning experiences that prepare your people and your organisation for the future.

Learn more about Sponge’s approach to learning strategy and start exploring what unforgettable learning might look like at your organisation.

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