Highlights from the Learning Technologies conference

Last week, I presented on action mapping at the lively and thought-provoking Learning Technologies conference in London. It was great to meet and share ideas with passionate advocates and critics of elearning. Thank you, Don Taylor and the hard-working conference team, for bringing us all together!

As some readers requested, here are the main points that I hope people took from my session:

  • The goal of action mapping is to design experiences, not information. We want to help learners practice making the decisions that they need to make on the job.
  • Set a measurable business (not learning) goal for your project. Show how you’ll improve business performance to justify the expense of your project.
  • Identify what people need to do in the real world to reach the goal and determine why they aren’t doing it. Lack of knowledge might not be the real problem.
  • In activities, have learners practice making the decisions that they need to make on the job; don’t make them recite information.
  • Show the realistic consequences of learners’ decisions (Bill is accidentally cut by the scalpel) and let learners draw conclusions from them. Don’t say “correct/incorrect.”
  • Have learners start with an activity, not information. Embed the necessary info in the activity and make it optional, or have learners refer to the real-world job aid.
  • Success in the decision-making activity shows that learners know the information. Avoid fact checks.
  • Surprise and failure are memorable. Let learners make mistakes—they’ll remember them.
  • Everything in your material should directly support the business goal. Have your client and subject matter expert participate in the entire process to get buy-in and avoid having to fight off the “nice to know” stuff.

Are vendors clueless?

The vendors at the conference appeared to focus on content delivery, while several speakers emphasized providing realistic experiences that build decision-making skills or sharing knowledge with social tools. This apparent disconnect between the “upstairs” speakers and “downstairs” vendors inspired some discussion at the conference.

I agree that the disconnect was clear. However, in defense of vendors, many of the ideas offered by speakers at conferences don’t lead naturally to new products. Instead, they suggest new ways of using existing tools.

Also, if the “deliver engaging content” message sells products, is it entirely the vendors’ fault? Who’s buying that message?

Summaries and discussion

Several people at the conference have shared their ideas and takeaways. Here are a few of them.

David Kelly pulls together links to resources and recaps from the conference.

Karyn Romeis offers some initial reactions about the major themes she saw.

Steve Wheeler summarizes his view of the speaker-vendor divide and several others respond in the comments.

Clark Quinn wraps up his impressions of the conference.


By the time you read this, you might be able to see a video of my presentation here (I think they’re still working out the kinks). I was in track 4. Also be sure to check out the many other presentations and Roger Schank’s keynote.

You can see recordings of my other presentations by following the links on my workshop calendar page.

Next: Learning Solutions in March

On March 24, I’ll give a talk (more like a workshop) on how to replace information dumps with realistic scenarios, no matter what tools you have. It’s based on this presentation, which I gave in several places in Australia but which is new to the US.


  1. Sergey says:

    Hi Cathy, saw you there, missed your lecture (was having a meeting with a client) so thanks for the notes. Something to take home as usual!

  2. Anders Bark says:

    Upstairs Downstairs. Came to think of the old British television series from the 70s. Which in turn gives food for thought. Who are the masters and who are the servants here?

  3. “We want to help learners practice making the decisions that they need to make on the job.” I think that sums it all up! Thanks for posting your highlights.

  4. Hi Cathy,

    Just wanted to say that after having reflected on my experience after Learning Technologies in London what gave me the most connected to my job was your seminar on Action mapping. It’s a sharp tool with a clear goal. It’s easy to understand and it makes sense.

    If anyone is interested I wrote a blog post on the seminar which can be found at http://mattiaskareld.blogspot.com/2011/02/reflections-after-learning-technologies.html

    I have already started using the method and will blog about my experience with it as soon as I have my first action mapping project finished.

  5. Cathy Moore says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the comments. Mattias, I agree with your point that action mapping can be used for other types of training, not just elearning. I should make that clear at some point. I’m looking forward to hearing how your first project goes!

  6. Steve says:

    Hi Cathy,

    Your comment about “are vendors clueless?” caught my attention. One might think that based on outside observation. But I don’t think they are. I think vendors see profit in the unhealthy trends of the industry. An industry seeking one button “go tools” to further scale back their labor pools to “jack of all trades”. The trouble with this trend is that it doesn’t save money. Output suffers. Solutions suffer. But vendors are anything but clueless. They see what’s happening in the industry and they are responding to capitalize on the potential revenue stream. This is truly the golden age of the tool vendor.

    The disconnect appears to be between field practitioners, academic research, and business management / HR.

    Business bottom lines and faulty assumptions (many of them conditioned expectations) are the source of the problem, in my opinion. I believe academia and commercial tool producers are merely responding to the telegraphs sent by unreasonable position descriptions, job postings, and expectations. Field practitioners and customers (our learners and performers) are the ones paying the price.

    There are some potential positive side effects once we properly stratify solution layers. I think there’s some promise in “just good enough” solutions. But those cannot be everything. We have to know enough to make a distinction between just good enough in varying situations.

    I, for one, will be glad when we get past this little bump in the road and return to the high cycle of sanity.

  7. @Steve,

    There is no perfection to anything, especially business and the economy. Economists will probably beg to differ. But the truth is they are just talking trash. While economists plan for 20 years ahead, the industry and the consumers need results now. They are good at all the dry theory, how about some wet reality.

    I see no disconnect between field practitioners, academic research, and business management / HR. They all have a specific function and are good at what they do. Would you like them to be connected? Maybe as far as job fairs are concerned.

    Now, what is the purpose of all the blogs? Are the blogs and all the articles meant to change the way things are perceived and make a change in the way things work in political, academic, and business circles? What’s all the blah, blah about? I don’t see the point of upstairs speakers and downstairs vendors, instead I see people that give speeches for the sake of change, when the vendors need to produce, sell and grow. Also, speakers give speeches for reputation, publishing, and recognition. Not all the not for profit organizations in the world will make a difference, without having business as a backbone.

  8. Cathy Moore says:

    Here’s a video of my talk at the conference. It’s a little over an hour long. The slides aren’t always synced properly, but you’ll get the idea.

  9. Rachel says:

    thanks for posting Cathy!


  1. [...] saved me a job. So rather than me repeat the super job Cathy has already done why don’t you check it out for yourself. And just so I feel I have contributed to the list here are a few more. Happy [...]

  2. [...] In her seminar at the Learning Technologies Conference last week, Cathy Moore set out the highlights from her talk (taken from her blog Making Change): The goal of action mapping is to design [...]

  3. [...] Highlights from the Learning Technologies conference: [...]

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