A few weeks ago, I landed in Las Vegas for the DevLearn Conference. It’s always my “if you only have budget for one conference a year” recommendation to colleagues. Like other conferences, DevLearn has the standard formula of keynote speakers to inspire, pre-conference workshops to hone skills, breakout sessions to dig a little deeper on a variety of topics, and a conference hall full of vendors that span the learning ecosystem.
But DevLearn is unique because it focuses on best practices for designing and developing in the learning technologies industry.
This post is a look-back on what was a somewhat exhausting, yet highly rewarding, week!
Know why you are there.
There’s much to balance at any conference: the seemingly endless rows of vendor products, widely dispersed breakout sessions, acquaintances to catch up with, and so on. In Vegas that also means trying to beat the coffee line in the morning while being surrounded by the ringing of slot machines.
It’s a lot.
And, as with any conference, to get the most out of DevLearn you need to know your role and the outcomes you want. Not everyone’s plan will be the same, and it shouldn’t be.
For example, my primary role at EPI is client services. This includes upfront analysis and strategy for training and leadership development solutions. But I can’t be an expert at everything. So, when my clients say things such as…
- “I’m frustrated with my <insert LMS name> because it doesn’t…”
- “I wish we had some tool that generates personalized training content versus a blanket solution…”
- “We have a small training budget, so we use <insert tool> because we can’t afford those full-suite products.”
I want to be a true partner and point our clients to the appropriate vendor or outside service I trust. With that in mind, my goal at DevLearn was to work through the conference hall, talking to vendors to understand what they do, and connect their work to EPI’s services.
In contrast, our Creative Director focused her time at DevLearn on the morning coffee meetups and breakout sessions to hear case studies and learn from others’ experiences. She and I have very different roles in our company, so we made sure to use DevLearn to enhance the individual work we do for clients.
Don’t miss DemoFest.
Admittedly, I’ve done this. But I’ve definitely learned it’s a mistake. DemoFest is at the end of the conference. And yes, by this point you feel you can’t possibly shove another item into your carry-on or your brain. Still, don’t miss it!
DemoFest is the frosting on the DevLearn cake. Scrape it off… and you just won’t be satisfied.
Not familiar with DemoFest? It’s like the science fair of DevLearn, with an assembly of presentations on technology-based learning projects (minus the tri-fold poster board and ubiquitous volcanoes). Attendees walk around to each project, hear the challenge, and see the solution that was developed.
This year EPI was selected to present at DemoFest, and it was an incredible experience!
We showcased an eLearning hiring game EPI created for a local government agency, and we’re quite proud of the game and its effectiveness. So, even though it required a lot of energy to repeat its story at rapid-fire pace and step through the game countless times, it made for a particularly fun DemoFest!
But whether you’re presenting at DemoFest or not, this mini science fair is an amazing chance to be inspired, learn from others in the industry, network, and expand your creative abilities.
Sidenote: Shout out to our many friends and colleagues from the Twin Cities area for bringing us beverages and offering moral support, photo documentation, or tech support. We appreciate you all!
And this brings me to the final point…
Find your support system in the industry.
DevLearn is the perfect opportunity to network with globally dispersed industry professionals in one location. My colleague and I enjoyed attending sessions and mingling with industry experts and thought leaders at the booths.
After all, the purpose of DevLearn is to keep up with the business of what we love: education.
This means staying current with research and being part of ongoing discussions in our field. DevLearn is always a great reminder that to grow and stay relevant in our fields, we should:
- Know that learning doesn’t stop. Many of us have an undergraduate degree in a training-related field or went through an instructional design certificate program later in life. That’s an excellent foundation, but it can’t stop there. Much of what I learned in my master’s program 10 years ago is no longer true. We must remain ever vigilant in our learning!
- Join (and actually attend!) professional development organizations. Stay tuned in to the conversations in your field! Attending local professional development organizations is a simple way to stay accountable in your area of expertise. I have the privilege of being a @PACTMN member. The organization is nearly 50 years old, making it one of the oldest training associations in the US. As its mission statement says, “PACT provides opportunities for learning, networking, and the exchange of ideas among technical training professionals.” I’ve had the honor of holding various PACT board roles and have witnessed its value firsthand.
- Follow trusted thought leaders. We should stay engaged with our industry’s leaders. I’ve followed and learned from some of the best, including (but certainly not limited to): Julie Dirksen (@usablelearning), Josh Cavalier (@joshcav), Kassy LaBorie (@kassyconsulting), Tom Kuhlman (@tomkuhlmann), and Will Thalheimer (@WillWorkLearn). A great gift of social media is how we can track new research, its applications, and be a contributor to the ongoing industry dialogue.
Conferences such as DevLearn are wonderful opportunities. But remember: Those same people and talents are in your own backyard! Reach out virtually or chat over coffee. Find your people.