Reflections on the Learning Technologies exhibition

Members of the Ufi staff team share their collective thoughts following a busy day at the Learning Technologies exhibition last week.


To Excel for the first post-pandemic Learning Technologies exhibition since the end of the pandemic.

Our first impressions? The e-learning industry is alive and kicking. The exhibition was busy – with more than 200 exhibitors and high noise levels as a consequence. Learning Technologies is where the industry comes to network and at ExCel you need to talk very loudly indeed.

So what were the trends?

Connections, coaching and cohesion

Some of the exhibitors focused on the immediate consequences of the pandemic. There was a noticeable amount of talk about how to handle the fallout from ‘the great resignation’. When Covid forced many to work from home, a large number of people realised that it was not the work itself but the connections with people they worked with that kept them in a particular job. Deprived of their company and positive interactions, many more workers than usual left or changed jobs.

As a consequence many discussions were about using technology to enable a feeling of connectiveness and cohesion, and demonstrating how technology could enable coaching and mentoring relationships. While much of this was stating the obvious ‘people learn from people’ and ‘people don’t leave organisations where they think they belong’ there were also some good examples of this working in practice. For example, the Guider mentoring platform matched 1,000 mentors and mentees across a large international law firm. Interestingly they matched on skills and styles not seniority or geography– which led to insights and perspectives being shared which may not have happened using a more traditional approach.

Gamification as standard

“Learner engagement” was also on everyone’s lips, without necessarily being clear quite what engagement is, or how to achieve it.

One approach to providing engagement is gamification, which now appears to be part of the content developer’s standard offer. Games and gamification are now expected as standard.

Opening up Virtual Reality

VR is also becoming more commonplace. However, while producing VR has to date been the domain of specialists, Bodyswaps for example, a number of new authoring systems are appearing which should make it easier and quicker to implement the technology. This is significant, as is the dramatic improvement in the visual quality of immersive learning systems. The pervasive nature of digital solutions and devices across all areas of our lives demands that learning applications keep up.

Supporting a remote workforce

Other vendors were trying to crack the conundrum of how to manage a workforce which is no longer full-time in the office, and the challenge of integrating offline and online working. This often took the form of ‘employee experience platforms’ – effectively a front end that can be personalised to integrate and present existing software.

Integration is key

Of course, Learning Technologies is where the established players and their platforms – Cornerstone, 360 Learning etc– come to show off their wares. And it’s an increasingly crowded market – Capterra’s LMS directory now lists over 1,000 products. Many exhibitors we chatted with described how they had expanded their feature set over the course of the pandemic. Pure content providers have generally broadened their portfolios, and unless a company is in a small content niche – many of which still exist - it is likely to own and sell a suite of platforms, authoring systems and analytics solutions. This is important, as “pure” content solutions are unlikely to succeed unless they are fully integrated with other systems. Content of itself may not be innovative, but content, integrated across systems, to provide a comprehensive solution, might be.

Connecting with the Ufi family

In-person events are all about connecting face-to-face and catching up with colleagues, and it was great to see Saffron, a Ufi grant recipient, demonstrating AIDA, their AI driven coaching platform. Using the TGROW coaching model the platform offers the possibility of expanding the benefits of coaching at scale while recognising the limits of coaching and combining this with human intervention. It was also good to catch up with organisations we have funded in the past such as the Charities Learning Consortium and Agylia (now part of Civica).

So what wasn’t there?

No one’s talking about mobile any more – and rightly so. If your solution doesn’t work across all devices it’s not a solution. The workforce is mobile – and learning has to be too.

Although data and analytics were frequently mentioned, only a few products appeared to be based on, or fully exploit the potential of, Machine Learning and AI. There were some excellent uses of data to, for example, analyse team behaviour against robustly researched models, but such approaches using AI as the core technology were few and far between. We can expect this area to develop extremely quickly in the next few years, connecting and adapting content to match specific learner needs at a very granular level.

The 2022 Learning Technologies exhibition offered a great snapshot to the industry and we’re already looking forward to the next instalment. We might just need to pack our earplugs.

Learning Technologies will return on 3-4 May 2023