Top Takeaways from the World of Learning Expo 2016

World of Learning

On 19th-20th October, the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham played host the annual World of Learning Conference and Exhibition; two days packed full of insightful talks, demonstrations and the opportunity for L&D professionals to expand their network and learn all about the latest developments in the world of learning. There was so much to watch and observe it would be impossible to talk about everything we learned at the Expo, so we’ve chosen our top takeaways from the event:

VRVirtual Reality offers more than you might think

When most people think of Virtual Reality they probably recall once of the many YouTube videos available showing individuals stumbling around in a video game environment, or perhaps a fighter pilot or astronaut practising their skills in a high-tech simulator. Either way, you probably don’t imagine someone using VR for diversity training or recruitment, but whether you can imagine it or not, it’s happening, and not just in high-tech companies you’d expect to be on the cutting edge. Organisations such as the NFL, who are utilising VR to deliver diversity awareness training, and the British Army who use it to improvement their recruitment procedures, are just some of the big names to embrace this technology. So if VR can be used in these areas, what else can it be applied to in the L&D context? It turns out quite a lot; companies (and individuals) are starting to use VR for things such as developing presentation skills, on-boarding, technical skills practise, customer service, leadership development and interpersonal skills. There’s still quite a way to go before Virtual Reality becomes a standard tool in the L&D world, but with the development of new technologies that are making VR more accessible, relevant and affordable, it certainly won’t be long before it starts to come to the fore.

High performance comes down to trust

Once pointed out it seems so simple, but too often the role of trust in high performance isn’t acknowledged and embraced. Often it’s assumed that high performance is a result of skill level and expertise, and this is all that’s needed. However, while these are essential elements, they are actually subsidiary to trust; as explored at WoL without trust it doesn’t matter how well trained and experienced an employee may be they will never be able to perform to their maximum. Some managers may already think they exhibit trust in their employees, giving them freedom to try things out, yet stepping in when they are struggling – this isn’t real trust; in fact this type of superficial trust can contribute to decreases in performance and motivation as it leaves employees unsure where they stand. One minute they are ‘trusted’ to tackle a project, then the next they are being overruled, usually without adequate explanation, if this happens frequently is can lead to employees choosing not to even try.

creativityIf you want creative employees give them space and security

Creativity was a key area of focus in many of the seminars, and although creativity is something we all possess, it was highlighted that some people believe they have less than others. The truth is that these people have probably just never experienced an environment where they could openly unleash that creativity, especially in the work context. We tend to work to deadlines, experience on-going pressure, and have someone tell us what we need to do. All of which can help contribute to a highly efficient process, but not necessarily a creative one. In some cases that’s perfectly acceptable, not all employees need to be creative on a day to day basis. But it does mean that when issues arise people can struggle to think of the best solution because they aren’t in the best environment and may not believe they have the capacity to be creative. Instead they tend to refer to those around them rather than trusting themselves to come up with a solution, and while this can be frustrating when it’s coming from employees who aren’t expected to be particularly creative, it can be downright damaging to a business when it happens to employees who are. At the conference there was a lot of discussion around how can you tease the creativity out of people who aren’t that way inclined, and maximise it in those whose very role relies on this ability? The answer comes down to two main things – space and security. People need to have the space to act autonomously and they need to feel secure that their creative ideas will not be dismissed out of hand or judged harshly if they fail. Trying to impose too great a level of control over creativity is usually what strangles it – if you have people in creative roles, you choose them for their natural talent and input, let them unleash it. Some parameters are always going to be necessary, but don’t be tempted to control how people interpret these, instead let people enjoy the security and space needed to do their job well and witness the incredible results that will naturally come.

The trust that is required to really draw out high performance is a genuine commitment to empower people embrace responsibility for their work. This doesn’t mean giving people a task and just letting them get on with it without any input, but it does mean offering support based on what they need or ask for, rather than what you think they do. It’s also important to deal with failure or mistakes in a constructive way as this will definitely impact feelings of trust. It’s not an easy balance, and definitely takes a lot of practise to get right, but the empowerment it provides for employees is worth the effort.

Success is good for your brain

We all know it’s nice to get something done successfully, whether that’s completing a major project or simply checking that final thing off your to-do list, but rarely do we actually think about why it feels so good to do these things. The answer is simple: dopamine. During a seminar at WoL 2016 one of the speakers explored the fact that whenever we do something we set out to, no matter how big or small that something may be, our brains reward us with a quick blast of dopamine. This blast not only makes us feel great because of it being the ‘feel good’ chemical, it also pushes us to achieve even more because it is one of the primary neurotransmitters involved in motivation. When this happens we can quickly see a pleasure cycle arising; with each successfully task we complete, we want to complete another one to get that same rush. It’s actually not too dissimilar from the cycle encountered in addiction to artificial stimulants, only there’s nothing artificial about the pleasure we get from doing something well. So if you’re looking for a quick way to boost your motivation and feel good about yourself, get something done; it doesn’t matter what it is, but the more you get done, the more you’ll want to do and the better you’ll feel.

It’s always exciting to hear about the latest developments in the field of L&D, and there’s lots of new information and insights to help L&D become even more effective in up-skilling employees, and helping businesses achieve their goals.  Above are just a few of the things we learnt during the event, but we’d love to know what you thought if you were there.  What were your top takeaways from World of Learning 2016?  Why not get in touch via Twitter, LinkedIn or e-mail and let us know!