Our Takeaways from DevLearn 2011

This week I attended my first DevLearn, and as hyped as it was in the months prior to the event, it did not disappoint.

DevLearn is one of the largest events in the learning industry; according to the conference website, 1,747 people registered for the event. Surprisingly, though, it didn’t feel impersonal to me. I knew many people there from #lrnchat and the communities that the eLearning Guild has helped to cultivate, and I met many others at the conference itself. Here are my highlights.

It’s About the People…

My last tweet during the event itself reflected Brent Schlenker’s closing comment about our industry:

@bschlenker: "At the end of the day, it's not about the technology. It's about the people." At that's #DevLearn.

Update: And by the way, Brent’s actual Twitter handle is @bschlenker. I got it wrong once and now it’s stuck in my autocorrect.

So though I know that this thought would make a warm and fuzzy conclusion rather than an opening, I’m going to come out and say first thing that the biggest highlight was spending time with, meeting for the first time, and getting to know better some of the smartest people in our industry… not the least of whom were my boss, Diane Elkins (who is on the opposite coast, so we rarely see each other) and some of our clients. Working remotely from each other and most of our clients gives us a lot of flexibility, but it’s also great to meet up and strengthen those connections a few times a year. And more than the “it’s great” factor, getting to know each other better helps us work and communicate faster and more smoothly.

…And It’s About the Learning

I was very pleased that there were tons of sessions I wanted to attend as a learner. I spend a lot of time staying informed throughout the year, so when a conference makes me make some tough decisions about what to go learn about, that conference is doing a good job pushing my envelope. I only wish I had had fewer conflicts with my own presentations and preparations.

Here are a few highlights for me:

One thread that I hear over and over from designers is that we can’t see enough of each other’s courses, and I agree! So I have to admit, I went to Cammy Bean’s Avoiding the Trap of Clicky-Clicky Bling-Bling mostly to see her work. She showed some great examples of using graphics and multimedia in an engaging and effective way without going overboard, and what I appreciated even more, she consolidated research from some of the top thinkers in our field that discredit the overuse of multimedia. Anyone who attended should have some solid ground with which to make decisions about multimedia when they go back to work… and even to counter arguments from stakeholders who are impressed by whiz-bang animations that serve no instructional purpose.

I made Friday my “stretch” day with extra coffee and two sessions that expanded my knowledge of backend analytics, tracking, and reporting.

The first of those sessions was Aaron Silvers’ and Mike Rustici’s Beyond SCORM: Supporting Future Learning Experiences. While I’ve been hearing a bit about this in the last few months, it was eye-opening to see Aaron and Mike break down what tracking learning may well look like in the future. It’s much more granular and much more based on the activities the learner performs than the broad strokes we can measure with SCORM today. See some prototypes of activity stream-based tracking and even build your own at Project Tin Can; while this technology may not be in common use for another few years, it’s very interesting to think of how these new capabilities will affect our designs and the tools we use for development.

The final concurrent session I attended was Dr. Phil Ice’s Applying Analytics to Instructional Design. Phil is an incredibly smart statistician who works for the American Public University System and he showed us some of the tools and techniques that they’re currently using to measure student engagement with the material. Even better, he showed us some far simpler, scaled-down versions of those techniques that could be used in pretty much any company, such as Google Analytics and Adobe Captivate’s still-in-beta-but-coming-soon backend analytics engine. And even better still, he showed how having access to those statistics can (and probably should) inform your designs and workflow.

It’s always lucky when you have friends and colleagues attending who can fill you in on the things you weren’t able to attend (at least until that whole cloning thing gets figured out). Diane and I thought we’d do the same with our readers, so here are some of her takeaways from sessions and the Expo Hall.


Rick Raymer’s Gamification – Using Game Mechanics to Enhance eLearning

  • It is your job to make the student feel clever. If they get lost in your design, then they feel stupid, and you haven’t done your job.
  • 100 small rewards are better than 1 big reward.

Karen Burpee’s Theory Into Practice for Instructional Game Design

  • Games are for learning, not assessment.
  • You cannot remove the right to fail.
  • If there is no risk of failure, then there is no challenge.

Viswanath Shivaswamy and Lieve WeymeisUnleashing Captivate 5’s Full Power Using Advanced Actions

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay for the whole session, but I did learn that in addition to using actions to jump to a specific slide, you can use advanced actions to jump to a specific frame of a slide. She has a blog post that explains the procedure.

Heather Johnson and Carolyn Stoll’s Thinking Outside the Bubble: Learning with the iPad in the Real World

This session highlighted how the University of Cincinnati is using iPads in higher education. The session ended with a very useful group discussion on everyone’s favorite learning-related iPad apps. A few that were of interest to me:

  • SyncPad lets you share a whiteboard with other ipad users or anyone on the internet.
  • DisplayLink lets you use your iPad as a second monitor for your computer (wish I had known this during my presentation at DemoFest!)
  • ShowMe lets you create a screencast (with audio) of what you are drawing on a virtual whiteboard.

We saw a lot of our favorite vendors displaying our favorite products, especially Articulate, Captivate, Lectora, and ZebraZapps. What was new and notable to me was Yukon Learning offering off-the-shelf e-learning content where purchasing the course also includes the source files so that you can make customizations and changes yourself. It’s a great option for so many companies who currently have to develop fully custom training when in reality only about 10% of the content is truly unique to them.


Last but not least, we both showed courses at DemoFest and plan to have samples of those online to show you soon. Next year, we’re going to have to find a way to leave our tables and see all of the other great work on display!

All in all, this was an incredible conference experience. Thanks so much to the Guild for putting this fabulous event together and for making such a concerted effort to spread the learning beyond the time and place of the conference through actively supporting the backchannel.

Tomorrow, I’ll post again with the highlights from my sessions: One Learning Challenge and HTML5 Authoring Tool Review. Stay tuned!

Judy Unrein

2 Responses to “Our Takeaways from DevLearn 2011

  • It’s not easy to talk about SCORM in any context at 8:30am on a Friday morning — especially at a conference so packed with people and conversations like DevLearn. But (and I’ll speak for Mike, I think), we’re really happy you made it and absorbed it.

    What we’re kicking off is going to be pretty huge and pretty awesome. We’re trying to make it as easy as can be for people to come in and play without a whole lot of legacy know-how about SCORM. We’re pushing a lot of the complexity in the places where all the complexity needs to be: the vendors and implementers of stuff that doesn’t exist yet. If you’re already making content, we’re trying to make it easier. If you’re already doing Legacy SCORM content or systems becuase they work for what you do, we want to make sure that’s still supported. 🙂

    • Aaron, thanks for stopping by and sharing! I feel like I really need to play with those Project Tin Can prototypes more before I really get the feel for the implications of this, but I certainly appreciate all the time you’ve taken explaining it to me and the industry at large. I’ll play and write more soon.

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