Online Educa Berlin 2019

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It’s November 30, 2019. I’m on my way back home from Berlin where I participated in the 25th edition of Online Educa, one of the best L&D events in Europe.

Overall reflections

This year I was able to attend the pre-conference SpeexxExchange event turning my OEB experience into a packed 3-day event.

My main reflection is that L&D is maturing topic wise. 10 years ago every event seemed focused on the next big thing. The past years I see a constant of topics. Workplace learning, 70:20:10, Blended learning, Performance support, Artificial intelligence, Brain-science and Learning analytics are the core topics. These topics all greatly connect to the larger theme of value-adding learning and development and we are focusing more on the evidence of learning methods and solutions. The cool thing about this ‘maturity’ is that we are seeing more and more success stories. Business cases that prove the value of learning models and frameworks. The shift beyond formal training remains strong and the proven effectiveness shows in all the amazing business cases presented at OEB.

I noted that next to seasoned L&D professionals there is also a big group of L&D professionals that are relatively new to a lot of these things. Something we ‘veterans’ should not forget. Every L&D professional and the organizations we work for have different maturity levels. It can be easy to frown upon certain sessions or ideas and think, I’ve heard this before but that surely does not go for all of us. I am always humbled to see people fairly new to the field share their successes and how they are moving forward. We are all in this business to have a positive impact in our field and in our organizations. Our starting points might differ, but our goals are the same. I warms my heart to see all this positive intent in the actions of my L&D peers.


The SpeexxExchange was an awesome pre-conference day. They had a nice variety of speakers on various topics. Basically, it’s a mini-conference all in itself. I won’t go into all speakers and topics just highlight the main reflections.

Two of the first session where on Virtual Reality in learning. It painted a nice contrast of VR being used by a Humanitarian organisation vs Commercial application. The work both had done was impressive but the question that arose in my mind was about context. The commercial organisation had created a VR game for leadership training. I had the opportunity to do a quick test-run in between sessions and liked how they had designed the whole journey with pre- and post-briefings and how they paired up two people (one in VR and one in the real world). In the VR game you were controlling a vehicle travelling over the Mars surface and you were having issues with your vehicle. Together with your teammate back on Earth, you needed to solve the problems. This way you were practising communication and problem-solving. It was fun to do and although I only played for a few minutes I feel unsure if practising these skills so far out of the context of my job will actually help me apply what I’ve learned (if anything at all) in real life. The Humanitarian organisation’s approach, on the other hand, was connected to real-life situations and felt more valuable because of it. I’m pretty new to the VR for learning game so I need to dig up some research to see if context has an actual impact here. My thinking would be that it is.

Another thing that stood out at the humanitarian organisation is that they experimented with many different formats for different situations, always looking at the existing evidence of effectiveness before starting their experiments. They talked about predictive learning, offering learning solution suggestions before known events. This is something we could apply in the corporate world as well around typical annual events such as appraisal chats, recruitment talks etc.

Jane Delay from Towards Maturity showed us the latest data about the role of AI in high performing learning cultures (HPLC) and talked about transactional versus transformational L&D. She described transformational L&D as L&D with more intent, looking at organisational pain points, improvements and always acting evidence-based. She spoke about how HPLC are eco-centric and focus on the future of work. I asked what kind of skills we as L&D professionals need to have if we evolve from transactional to transformational L&D. The wordcloud activity with did with the group strongly showed skills you would see in performance consulting. Laura Overton pointed us towards the report “Who moved my skills” (check link at the bottom of this post). I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Towards maturity final report on this topic. A very inspiring discussion!

As I said there where many other interesting speakers but I’ll leave it at this for now.

…On to OEB19!

Discovering learning – Julian Stodd

“If it’s not evidence-based then what are we doing?” This is one of the main statements I walked away with. Sounds obvious? Too obvious maybe? It should be, but reality paints a different picture. Organisations and L&D professionals often bypass the question “What does the research tell us?”. I know I do it too from time to time. I’m pretty comfortable in the things I think I know or that I believe I have seen work. Reading (all) the research is a different thing. What would happen if you would add ‘Check the research’ to your to-do list next time you are coming up with a solution? In the two days after OEB I already saw two great examples from L&D professionals about using net promotor scoring to measure learning (via Arun Pradan) and the impact of video-based learning (by Donald Clark) that gave some good insights in what the research says what works and what doesn’t.

The session went much deeper than that. I love how Julian’s mind works, his line of thinking and the philosophical parts always hit home. If he’s not on your radar, he should be!

Beyond neuroscience

 After the opening session on the 2nd day, I was in doubt what session to visit. If you’ve been to OEB before you know there are a dozen sessions running at the same time and I often find 4 potential topics I’d really like to follow. I ended up in a session called Beyond neuroscience. I was a bit sceptical as I feel the learning industry is abusing the whole neuro thing just as they did the micro thing a couple of years ago. This session, however, was a breath of fresh air. Run by the ‘Brainladies’ we looked at how our are brains set up, the S.C.A.R.F. model and hopped around the room displaying brainwave activity. A ton of fun and with some really good insights. Again, check the evidence before jumping on the Neuro-bandwagon. Be deliberate on how you apply ‘brain-science’ to your learning solutions to make sure they add to the performance outcome you are looking for. You can check out a link to their whitepaper below.

Value-based L&D

70:20:10 is a well-established learning framework by now and during this session Jos Arets from the 702010 Institute shared how the thinking around it is maturing into true and proven value-based L&D practices that help us shift from the traditional order taker model, that basically sets up L&D to be seen as a cost to the organization, into a model of a performance enabler and thus value creator. Jos has been working the past 3 years on 2 new books that will be coming out and researching, practising and refining the working methods in organizations with great success. This was all supported by case studies from AkzoNobel and Leo Pharma which really show the difference you can make as Learning and development when applying their model.

As mentioned earlier, you can check out a link to their whitepaper below. Oh, and be sure to check out the Rummler model!

Blended learning for engagement and impact

This year I was asked to chair one of the panel discussions at OEB. This is a great way to participate and meet new people. In this session Manuela, Robert, Eckart and Manuel shared some of their challenges and successes. It is so cool to see such a mix of organizations, ranging from coast guards and border patrol to language training institutes to manufacturers of speciality products, deal with similar challenges and finding ways to add value by looking at the root cause of a problem and trying out new ways to address it. 

The key takeaway from these talks is that you need to look at the actual problem (the pain) you find in your organisation and analyze what would help solve that pain. A one-off classroom or e-learning event won’t be the solution. Find the things that will impact the desired outcomes and these together will be your (blended) solution. Make it relevant and appealing to maximize engagement and impact. We spent over half an hour taking questions from the participants and could have gone on had we not run out of time :).

Adaptive learning and learning analytics

After a good intro about the basics you need to know about getting started with learning analytics by the first panellist, Donald Clark took to the stage sharing his work on adaptive learning and AI. I was quite impressed with the work he shared and the idea that AI could support people navigate their learning journeys and present adaptive paths. A call-out to drop the ancient SCORM standard and embrace xAPI struck a chord and make me realize that I too need to go back to my organization and see where we are regarding xAPI possibilities as this opens up our ability to gather and use proper data. Data that we can use to enhance user experience in the future. I loved the statement from one of the panel members that learning analytics is not just for dashboards but best used to create adaptive learning experiences. First thing I did when I was back in the office to check in the with our solution architects to ask about the status of xAPI capability in our LMS!

What’s next?

OEB is always a lot. Many things that you could jump on but what to focus on? Reflecting on the train ride home and talking with my colleague Lizanne I’ve decided to focus on the following. First, there are a couple of whitepapers I’ll be diving into that are freely available:

Secondly, I’ll be revisiting some books that I’ve read a while ago or that are on the ‘to-read’ pile I have at home.

Thirdly, to see how I can apply these things in my daily work as much as possible, connect with peers that are doing this today and see how I can share and influence my own organisation to be better!

Thank you!

Next to all of that OEB is a great place to meet peers from the industry. I love how an event like this draws in so many professionals and I am happy to connect with new friends and meet old ones. I want to specifically thank (in random order) Lizanne van Zyl, Channa van der Brug, Donald Taylor, Laura Overton, Charles Jennings, Armin Hopp, Julian Stodd, Ola Söderlin, Nikolina Talijan Hinic, Binnaz Cubukcu, Miriam Neelen, Joe Pokropski, Tony White, Jos Arets, Carin de Weme, Helena Bargiel, Ria van Dinteren, Stella Collins, Katelijn Nijsmans, and many others for the conversations we had, some short, others longer. You all gave this event that little bit of extra that always makes me realize how lucky I am to work in this field and has me longing for the next time we meet!

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Jeff Kortenbosch

Jeff is a performance, change and learning business partner professional that believes in making learning relevant again!

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