Insights from Maisie’s Learning 2017Article
This is a guest post from Deepina Kapila, product manager at Visa University.
In late October, I had the opportunity to attend and speak at this year’s Learning 2017 conference, Elliott Masie’s annual Learning and Development conference in Orlando, Florida. This year’s event featured keynote speakers Michelle Obama and John Lithgow and was attended by over 1500 learning practioners, technologists, designers, and influencers in the L&D space, all gathered to discuss the future of learning.
The bulk of the conference was a mix of panels, demos, presentations, break-out sessions and networking events with topics ranging from how to use AI (like Alexa and Siri) in learning to How to Work with People You Hate (really!) and everything in between.
My colleague Bryan Rose and I work on a lean technology product team at Visa. Our panel focused on the year-long story of our L&D technology ecosystem, starting with the launch of Visa University’s Digital Campus, and detailing the makeup of our data infrastructure which allows us to capture over 100 distinct types of user activities across our platform and all partner integrations.
We use Pathgather as our Digital Campus and Watershed as our Learning Record store. There are several other platforms and vendors in the mix, but these are the two big ones – the pillars that hold everything else up if you will.
Our talk focused on the Visa University Digital Campus story, how we implemented platforms, benefits of our approach, challenges we encountered, and a deep dive into the user experience and metrics we gather. We wanted to keep things very conversational, so we asked the audience to engage with us in a conversation throughout the presentation, allowing us to spend more time on what the audience wanted to hear.
Here are some of the key themes that emerged:
Bryan and I focused a lot on the importance of choosing platforms that employ APIs and xAPI to help you pull disparate L&D resources into one place. Pathgather and Watershed allow us to do this, and our ecosystem includes over 50,000+ resources thanks to content integrations we’ve built out with vendors like Lynda.com, Pluralsight, Harvard ManageMentor and many others.
We can track all user activity across these platforms because of connectors we’ve built using Python. This approach allows us to be vendor and platform agnostic – if we change our LMS for example (and we did), we just build a connection to the new one. As far as the user is concerned, they’re still going to one place, and their core experience hasn’t changed.
We all know how messy content migrations and new implementations can be – our current solution minimizes the issues that can stem from choosing the right partnerships, giving us more freedom.
Building a (lean) team
Our small team of 3 handled the launch of a major enterprise product and built out a complex data infrastructure in under a year. We continue to manage our implementations, focus on the next phase of our product roadmaps, produce custom content in partnership with Visa leaders, maintain partner relationships and more to support 15k users.
Most of our audience members wanted to learn how to replicate this. We had some great discussions around what key skills to look for to thrive today at any scale. We talked about our team’s growth and what 2018 looks like for us.
On the tech side of the house, we all tend to be consultants when it comes to best practices and pitfalls when embracing virtual reality, artificial intelligence and other new technologies. One of the challenges here can be how to empower others while at the same time ensuring no one succumbs to shiny object syndrome.
This is a contemporary challenge across a lot of teams we spoke to after our session and weeks later, many of us are still exchanging emails about how to temper excitement with strategic builds. Many of our conversations are focused on frameworks that can facilitate this process as teams build learning experiences.
We spent a lot of time talking about the metrics our team uses to gauge our success as well as all the user data available to us. We learned a lot from others in the audience about what metrics they currently track, how that’s changed over time, and how some metrics can be misleading when it comes to learner engagement.
We showcased our infrastructure (see snapshot below) and walked through how we leverage xAPI to ensure our data speaks the same language regardless of how a source system captures those metrics. We ended by discussing strategies and tactics we employ to move the needle on team metrics.
C-suite buy-in and leaders as teachers
You can’t go far without the buy-in of your leaders, and we’re very lucky that this has never been an issue at Visa. We talked through how we work with our leadership and the key role they play as teachers on our platform. We also learned from others who have fantastic SME-engagement programs within their cultures and are focused on strategies to scale this across the enterprise.
Customer success partnerships with vendors
Most SaaS companies staff Customer Success departments with a range of expertise in product implementation, solutions engineering, account management and customer education. I cannot stress enough how impactful your relationship with your CSM can be. Our team works with customer success across our vendors, and I consider them a natural extension of our team. With their ongoing support, we can scale in a way that isn’t otherwise possible.
The critical role of change management at the enterprise
One of the reasons we can be such a lean team and not completely lose our minds is because we’ve built a deep change network across every line of business at Visa. We shared our change management approach with the audience, talking about our partners in each of our “colleges”, who work tirelessly to upskill everyone at Visa. We discussed how we rolled out major changes and got some great ideas from panel attendees that we plan to try out next year.
Themes/considerations to note from other panels we attended:
What’s possible and where is this most beneficial? I attended a few panels that focused on chatbots (an obsession of mine since the AOL days of SmarterChild), and I see a lot of potential for chatbots as part of redesigning onboarding experiences (to set the stage for greater employee retention).
VR was a pretty popular topic at the conference, with both enthusiasts extolling its virtues and critics warning others about the hype. I was thrilled to meet leaders in the space and talk through their experiences with VR over the years. When is it appropriate? When does the technology overshadow the user experience or learning outcome?
Experience design vs. instructional design
This was a pretty contentious topic but a fascinating one. Another tough conversation about changing mindsets and roles, specifically around digital learning products.
Learning as the great equalizer
It was an honor listening to Michelle Obama speak, and her message spoke to the core of why many of us entered this line of work. Her ask to the audience was not to forget about the power of education and to remember to give back as much as we can.
Did you attend Learning 2017 this year? What were the big things that stood out for you?