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min read

How do we make Learning Technologies more Human-Centered?

Published on
May 23, 2024
Two members of the Solvd consulting team are working together at a table to build a prosthetic hand as part of a David Meade Lightbulb Teams session
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We don’t know.

Say it with me. We also don’t know that training will fix your problems. We don’t know how to get users on your LMS, and we don’t know how AI will be used in L&D in the future. To try and sell your off-the-shelf ‘solutions’ or get people to attend your seminar with claims to the contrary is dishonest.

I think we’ve got a bit ahead of ourselves.

In the beginning, there was the humble blackboard. A subject matter expert would impart knowledge to a room of people, and we’d all nod along. Then, we would go out into the world and figure it out for ourselves, either through practice or failure.

Getting information from ‘subject matter experts’ to ‘learners’ in a way that’s equally palatable to compliance teams and the leaders who sign the purchase orders is a fundamental part of our industry, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Strip away the graphic design, the LMS, and the VR headset, and we’re still staring at a blackboard, nodding along and hoping no one asks us a question.

Reinventing the Blackboard

It’s easy and profitable to update the blackboard every year without addressing the fundamental human connections that make innovation in our industry possible.

A few Learning Tech Conferences  ago, the blackboard was VR, so we could simulate using a fire extinguisher in a way that’s less fun than using a fire extinguisher.

A few before that, we were obsessed with video, so we could film ourselves delivering training and then put the footage on an LMS.

At my first Learning Tech, it was all about ‘mobile learning’. i.e. Doing eLearning on your phone.

Now, all the vendors are talking about AI, a technology with the potential to upend the world of work.

In L&D, however, most vendors use it to write bad content quickly and replace the scarce human contact we do have in the workplace.

It’s no surprise then, that we get the most value from the ‘fringe’ events. The few hours when the exhibition lights are off, where we awkwardly gather in pubs around the Docklands and reflect on the day. If you’re lucky, you make lifelong friends and form powerful creative partnerships over a shared disdain for your subject matter experts.

It’s these conversations where networks are formed, the vendors are chosen, and we as an industry are able to innovate around shared experiences and crucially, shared problems. We then go back, bleary-eyed for day two, and listen to an inaudible, text-heavy presentation about making learning accessible.

Left to right: DJ at ocean-themed immersive Solvd Together event, a plinth with an origami suitcase and a plant for a leadership event in a brightly coloured engaging space, Wake the Tiger, a fibonacci style tunnel made of sections with tiered lighting in Bristol
Set design can overwhelm and immerse in equal measure. Making use of spaces to create shared purposes is an important part of experience design. (L-R: Solvd Boat Party, 2022 | Lead the Way (Heathrow x Solvd) | Wake the Tiger, Bristol)

Don’t Consume. Collaborate.

What if we collaborated to solve some of the industry's biggest challenges instead of gathering once a year to sell and be sold magic beans?

For years, L&D has asked:

•   How do we measure the impact of our interventions?

•   How do I get stakeholder buy-in for L&D?

•   What technology will help me deliver a solution?

•   Why aren’t people using my content?

Nowhere but Learning Technologies will you find your audience, designers, data, developers, SME’s and stakeholders in the same place simultaneously.

These are the people who can answer these questions for you, and for the most part, they’re sitting in seminars, experiencing sensory overload in the exhibition, or have already escaped to Costa.

How do we get the learning industry to stop obsessing over the next shiny thing?

We don’t know.

But I’m certain that the answer isn’t on a stand at the ExCel Centre.

L-R: a reset even with discussion many people seated in a room in a semi circle, mid-workshop sticky notes pens, cards, on the table, two participants sit in the distance, the final part show people seated on the floor playing a card game
We workshop, preview, pilot and test very rough ideas as soon as we can. More importantly, we do this with our audience and stakeholders to collaborate on what’s working and what won’t land. (L-R: Lead the Way, Solvd x Heathrow | Solvd x Unilever | PEM Reset, Solvd x Heathrow)

Well, what can we do?

To fully understand the problems we're solving, we need curiosity and creativity in equal measure, which can only be achieved through human connection.

This could be with wide-reaching and dedicated research programmes, using more curated experiences like workshops and hackathons, or playing a few rounds of ‘Cards Against Conferences’ at a nearby bar. These shared experiences are essential to understanding how people interact with the world so that we as designers can inspire change.

Cards Against Conference card deck sits on a table a top a document saying Forced fun with Solvd Together
Play together. Making and playing games together helps you leave your ego at the door, and allows us to literally redefine the rules of a given situation or experience.

Here’s how to make your next learning conference more human-centered.

Step 1

Find some people who use learning solutions. (If you’re at a conference, this is already done for you).

Step 2

Ask them some meaningful questions about work (the easy bit):

•   What problems are you facing as an organisation?

•   What affect are these problems having on people in your team?

•   How will you know if the problems have been solved?

•   What do you wish people at your organisation could DO well?

•   What would you like technology to be able to do for you?

Step 3

Ask them some meaningful questions about themselves (the hard bit):

•   What do you REALLY care about?

•   What’s the last thing you saw that inspired you?

•   What habits are you trying to change?

•   What’s one thing your employer could do to make your life easier?

Step 4


If these conversations lead you towards a new LXP, a skills management portal, an AI-powered content library or a course, plenty of one-size-fits-all solutions are there for you to implement. Fill your boots.

But for the big questions; the ones that move us forward as an industry?

The answers are in the room if we take the time to ask.

Two members of the Solvd consulting team are working together at a table to build a prosthetic hand as part of a David Meade Lightbulb Teams session
Face-to-face time is precious. We don’t see each other often, so our team days are ring-fenced time to connect around a shared purpose. Notable mention to David Meade’s Lightbulb Teams.