NCVER NoFrills 2014 – A short Review

So as some of you are aware I attended the NCVER NoFrills Conference in Melbourne last week.  For those of you who aren’t aware of NoFrills, it is a more ‘research’ based conference than most other conference, no surprising really considering it is run by NCVER, the repository of VET data.  This of course means that a lot of the presentations are more scholarly than would be found at a regular conference and have in a lot of cases substantially more rigour associated with their findings.

The Keynote by Steve Sargent on Thursday threw up some interesting points including the one that High wage, low skills jobs are at very high risk of being automated, digitized or outsourced.  I don’t think it was necessarily a revelation as I think a lot of people understand that this is on the way and that the workforce is changing. It was interesting to see that the jobs least like to disappear were those where there was strong person to person interaction required as part of the job, two examples being dentist and personal trainer.

After the keynote it was off to the concurrent sessions, now given there is only one of me, I can only comment on the sessions that I attended, and also given my interests and the sector I inhabit you will notice a decided lean in particular directions.

I attended the two conjoined shall we say talks on students with mental illness and disabilities and approaches to improving their access to and interaction with the VET and Higher Ed systems.  While the content was good, unfortunately the speakers themselves were not fantastic or terribly engaging, that being said, they are not the professional speaker types I am used to interacting with.

Two things came out of these sessions for me, one was the fact that the project team had only looked at how mental illness and disability was handled in a University and a TAFE, there was no data, because there had been no consultation with private and enterprise level VET providers at all.  This was a significant disappointment because it leads to the second point that I got from the talk which was that private providers (both large and small) seem to do a much better job of interacting and catering for students with disabilities and mental illness, than at least the TAFE and University involved in the study seem to.

This fact, that private providers can and are doing things better, more flexibly and with more focus on the outcomes the students needs was also driven home in the afternoon session focusing on VET outcomes for homeless people, where all but one of the providers involved in the case studies look at where private providers.  The reasons for this was that the private providers were more willing to be flexible in terms of their delivery and assessment, how things were packaged, even where they delivered, than the TAFE’s were.  Now this shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of TAFE, there are systematic issues within TAFE with make it difficult for them to be as flexible as a private provider.  However it does show that despite all of the criticism that is levelled at the private RTO market and the view that TAFE does it better, that that is simply not the case.  Private providers can and do in some cases do things better and more effectively than TAFE does.

The other really interesting session for me was Kira Clarke’s research into VET in schools and the problems associated with it delivery currently, particularly in relation to how it is being presented by teacher against how it is viewed by students and employers.

So all in all day one was good and I enjoyed it, though as I tweeted just after lunch, at least in the sessions I was in one could have been forgiven for thinking that it was only TAFE that delivered VET and no one else, which is sad.  There did seem to be a little more involvement for private providers later in the day and on Friday, but it is a real shame that there is not more involvement from the private sector in the research side of VET.

Then again as I thought later, are those of us on the non-TAFE side of the fence, to busy to engage in research projects, don’t see the value, or don’t have the staff to undertake them, whatever the reason it would be nice to see more input.

EduTech 2013 – Some comments and ideas

As  lot of you already know I spent the last two days at EduTech 2013 – Corporate and Government Learning Congress.

and already a couple of people who didn’t attend asked me ‘How was it?’  Well it was good, I enjoyed it, Day one was for me better than day (and I will explain why later) and again for those of you who know me I usually at these things spend a fair bit of time in the exhibition hall talking to vendors and seeing where things are going.  I often joke with people (though in truth it is not a joke) that I learn as much from the exhibition floor as I do from the presentations, that didn’t happen this time and I didn’t really spend all that much time in the exhibition area, why? Well I think because the focus of the entire event has traditionally been Formal Education k-12 and tertiary, and the corporate market is a very different one, there are different vendors and people like me are looking for very different things.

For example; wandering around I spoke with vendors who made an assumption that I worked for school, even though everyone had different coloured lanyards, (though to be completely fair I had a presenter one so I could have been anyone) and seemed confused when I said look sorry I don’t work for a school I work for a large organisation and seemed to continue to talk to me about something I was never going to be interested in, some of the stands even restricted entry into their competitions to people having a valid education institute email address it was little things like that, and that  I am not interest in hardware and servers I have an IT department for that, I am  not interested in school management software, i’m not a school.  I am interested in learning and training aids (and not just ones that involve ipads or technology) for adults, learning content and delivery, not curriculum, things that the corporate side of learning is interested in.

Now this might sound like a criticism, it is not meant to be, but I think there needs to be some work done in how the exhibition hall is set out, maybe segmenting it a little bit, perhaps as two people now have suggested, putting the ‘corporate’ venders in one section of the hall, rather than being spread out, something that makes it more engaging for me.

Now the exhibitors are one thing, the content is something else and it is the content on which a conference will ultimately thrive or fail.  As I said I liked day one much more than day two, why?, well that is simple, day one was much more practical with an array of outstanding  Learning talent, Charles Jennings is always great to listen too, and Natalie Goldman and Helen Blunden are outstanding practitioners with solid practical, hands on experience and wonderful delivery styles that engage and provide the audience with solid outcomes and value.  Day two was very different however, not in the skill or expertise of the presenters, but in the content.  My pick of the day was Ewan Macintosh from NoTosh, who offered some truly interesting insights followed closely by John Stericker who was insightful funny, without a single powerpoint slide to help him along (it was an outstanding job in my opinion as it was his first time presenting at a major conference).  As for the rest of the day, the breakout sessions were solid, but not as engaging as they might have been, and while I like to think about the future of L&D and data and all of those things, but what interests me and I think I lot of us in the game of corporate L&D is how to solve todays problems, how to engage with our learners today and over the next 12-18 months.  Now I know that is short-term thinking  and we need to look to the future and I talk about where we need to be and how to get there constantly at an executive level, but and here is the big but, there are plenty of problems that need fixing now and over the next 3-6 months that are in real terms far more important for us.

So all in all I had a really good time, I want to think Fiona, and Charles and Tony from EduTech, for being so helpful and making the experience a great one.  I hope you decide to continue with the corporate congress in 2014.  I look forward to attending.

Conferences, Content, exhibition halls and selling your product or service

Why is it these days when I go to a conference I cant help but get the feeling someone is trying to sell me something.

Now I am not talking about the vendors in the exhibition hall, I know they are going to sell me something, and one of the reasons I go to some of these conferences is to see what new and amazing things are on offer, like at the recent AITD conference I met the wonderful ladies from Fulcrum People with all of their wonderful training aids and programs.  I go into the exhibition hall knowing that people are going to try to sell me things.

No I am talking about thinly veiled presentations that under the guise of presenting me with something useful or interesting or something that I didn’t know and might be able to use, are in fact actually trying to sell me their product or service.  I have one thing to say to you and to the conference organisers who let you get away with it.  STOP IT.  I am sick of it.  Dont suggest that I put my business card on top of the pile of sorting cards just in case it gets mixed up with everyone else’s and then just have them collected.  We know what you are doing, you are farming for business cards.  Now if you had just came out and asked me for it I probably would have given it to you, but you tried to be sneaky so even if I do get an email from you I will ignore it on principle.

Now I know it is hard for conference organisers to vet everything properly, but not doing it hurts your conferences and forums and damages your credibility.  I know it hard to find decent content and good presenters who will be drawcards to the event and who will be engaging and motivating, but seriously I have been to some conference this year where just by reading the outline of what people were presenting and where they worked (be it a large company or a sole proprietor) I could tell that I was going to be sold to.

If an employee of a company that sells Learning Management Systems is talking about the features you should have in an LMS, you can almost guarantee there is a sales pitch hidden in there somewhere.  If someone from a company who consults on developing organisational values is presenting a case study on the work they did developing an organisations values, there is probably a sales pitch there somewhere.  Now in the last case if it was that people from the organisation talking about their journey and how they were helped by the company, then that is probably a different kettle of fish.

So please conference organisors vet your presentations a bit more, challenge the presenters on their content and why they are presenting and ‘presenters’ if you want to sell me something get a stand in the exhibition hall and be honest about your intentions.

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