Thoughts following April Learntrends

Yesterday, Learntrends hosted a series of online conversations on boosting the performance of organizations through learning.

Our goal was honest dialog among as many members as possible. No commercials. No presentations. Few or no slides. Often, we threw three or four great people into an online fishbowl and let the conversation go where it would. At other times, participants simply talked about whatever was on their minds, with a host and time cop occasionally nudging the conversation back to the theme of improving the process of learning in organizations.

Two weeks before the event, I poured over feedback from members who attended our week-long online session last November. Many people had complained about the timing of sessions. Australians felt we were discriminating against them. I checked the profiles of our members and found a growing number of members hail from outside of the U.S.

How to serve them? It dawned on me that we could accommodate everyone’s schedule if we let the event follow the sun around the world. I decided to try to keep the conversations going for a full 24 hours.

Recruiting moderators and presenters was tougher than I’d figured on. I thought my personal contacts, the Learntrends membership, notices on Facebook/LinkedIn/Nings, and the Tweetstream would attract flocks of people. Not so. India, Australia, and Europe were woefully under-represented.

We encouraged people to drop by whenever they were free. They could join in for half an hour, then bail out. Participants did not need to register to attend.

This revolving door of attendance makes measurement tough, but I’ll guess that 250-300 people were involved at least part of the time. On Tuesday morning, we had 125 listening in. On Wednesday morning, we had 50-60. In between, some sessions had 30-40 people, others dwindled to one.

I learned a lot in the course of putting this together. (I’ve posted a list of lessons learned on the Learntrends site.)

  • It’s important to inject fun into the event. Nancy White jumped in to lead a round of Pecha Kucha using slides she had never seen before. The spontaneity and spirit of fun raised energy levels. Need fun stuff sprinkled throughout.
  • Staging an elaborate event is like putting on a t.v. show. You need a technology steward, a host, talent, and a producer. Multi-tasking doesn’t work well on something this ambitious.
  • Speakers on a common topic should get to know one another and swap ideas on their approach in advance of the session.
  • Pictures of speakers make an event more real. For Learntrends, we could have simply cut and pasted people’s photos from their community profile pages.
  • Some people take commitments lightly. Several presenters never showed up. Some volunteer moderators disappeared when we tried to pin down times for them to cover.
  • One of our moderators took on the persona of a radio DJ, asking questions, announcing times, and playing music during lulls. This was great. In the wee hours of the morning, another moderator conversed easily with anyone who dropped in, the talk-show therapist.
  • We encountered numerous issues with sound. No matter how much prompting we provided, people showed up throughout without headphones, not having done an audio check, or with mediocre net connections. I want a system that’s as easy as tuning in a telephone conference call.
  • We recorded the sessions directly off the web, i.e. outside of Elluminate. Recordings are going up now.
  • Expanding the event from 3 hours to 24 only a dozen days before we went live was a stretch. I was hoping to catch the spirit and activism that pulled the first BarCamp together in less than a week. We didn’t make it. Our community bonds are not that strong. Except for the planning team on the Skype Chat, people didn’t get enthusiastic about the concept.

While this wasn’t an un-conference, it was one of the more informal events on learning I’ve taken part in. People were quite active in the chat sessions. Many participants grabbed the mic to ask questions and share opinions.

Highlights from the conversations are still bouncing around in my head, so I won’t try to summarize them hear. Also, I am dog-tired, having sat in on all but five hours of the 24 hours of run-time.

All in all, I’m satisfied with the outcome of our very full day, but I’ll await the evaluations of participants before passing judgment.