TechLearn Community

The TechLearn community convened in Orlando this Sunday through midday Wednesday for the sixth time in five years. Why do I say community instead of conference or show? Because Elliott Masie and his acolytes have created a culture replete with rituals, castes, customs, expectations, and entertainment.

I asked two-dozen people, half newbies and half old-timers what they thought of TechLearn. Every one -- every single one! -- said TechLearn was the best show they’d ever attended. New people are attracted by Elliott’s reputation; his broad contacts are an early warning system for the industry. Old hands come to find out what’s going on, to sniff out business, and to renew friendships. This was my fifth consecutive TechLearn, and I felt like I was returning for a club meeting.

1452.5 people from 37 countries came to Disney’s Coronado Springs hotel to pass the talking stick this year. (The .5 is a prenancy.) This year’s group was more senior in their organizations, perhaps a reflection of budget restrictions on travel for the junior folks. About a third were first-timers. A large contingent were members of the consortium (whose employers kick in $5,000 a year for membership.)

How do Elliott, his wife Cathy, and his partner Stan, pull this off?

  • Elliott instructs the “faculty,” i.e. all presenters, in their three roles. First, they give their presentations – as free of jargon as possible. Second, they are to raise the level of enthusiasm. Third, if they see some forlorn soul, they are to introduce themselves, get this person engaged, and introduce him or her to others.
  • An energetic faculty member (this year Beth Thomas took on the role) leads orientations to get people in the mood, to create a safe space, to encourage camaraderie, and to have fun.
  • The agenda is chock full of breaks, social events, table exercises, and entertainment to encourage schmoozing. People have a choice of buttons to wear as conversation-starters. Seating is round tables, not rows of chairs.
  • The content is top-drawer. Now that eLearning is more than a dream or a pilot, organizations are presenting real case examples. It’s exciting to see the major strides many organizations are taking.
  • Vendors are present but are kept in check. Some of us feared that Advanstar’s commercialism might tarnish the atmosphere. It turned out that the small expo hall was quite contained, appropriately occupying the space where the resource center (filled with PCs in prior years) had been. Years of practice running thousands of events have taught Advanstar the ropes. Their professionalism showed in their unobtrusiveness.
  • And of course, there’s Elliott himself, larger than life. (Joke!) “Who’s the leader of the club that’s made for you and me? E-L-L-I, O-T-T, M-A-S-I-E.” Get this. At the entrance to Disney MGM, Elliott, Cathie, and Advanstar’s Joe Flynn shook hands with everyone attending TechLearn.

Another tradition: Booz Allen’s Mike Parmentier, assisted by his former colleagues at ADL, prepares a trip report summarizing the entire event. I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel. Besides, with as many as 25 concurrent sessions, it’s impossible for any one individual to take part in more a small fraction of the show. Download the trip report for the facts. The Masie Center is working away right now to post presentations and streaming audio; I'll note when things start to appear.

Here on the Blog, I’ll add color commentary, opinions, and a few photographs.


Posted by Jay Cross at October 31, 2002 10:59 AM | TrackBack
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