Fosway has been hosting roundtable events for over 15 years. Our annual Learning Symposium is a ringfenced diary date for many learning leaders as it offers a different experience to many other industry events. Rather than the analysts standing on stage imparting knowledge, the focus is on facilitated discussions and in-depth insights. In fact, this model sums it up rather well.

Fosway Roundtable ApproachOperating under Chatham House rules provides a unique opportunity to share freely and hear about some of the real issues facing other learning professionals. And when 30+ learning leaders get together there is certain to be a lot of sharing happening!

Vendor mini-roundtables

Another unique element of this event are the roundtable sessions with learning solutions providers. These facilitated discussions bring in a different perspective which results in some excellent insights from their side of the market. This year we were delighted to be joined by Acteon Communication, Cornerstone OnDemand. Kineo, NetDimensions, Saba, SumTotal Systems, Workday and Xyleme.

This year’s themes

The Learning Symposium is based on a number of key themes that are based on Fosway’s ongoing research, and input from the attendees themselves. This year’s sessions focused on the following:

  • The shift to digital learning
  • Practical solutions to real-world learning problems
  • Getting beyond 70:20:10
  • L&D’s role in HCM
  • The learner as a consumer (and the consumer is king!)
  • Next generation learning systems

Subsequent posts will explore each of these themes in more detail. But there were some key takeaways that emerged in recurring conversations and observations throughout the day.

  • Learning is not an island

Corporate learning is being increasingly influenced by behaviours across the workplace, and in our personal lives. There was a definite move amongst attendees towards delivering more learning activities as part of people’s everyday workflows. One session included unanimous adoption of a ‘campaign learning’ approach and numerous attendees advocated performance support resources, ensuring learning is easily accessible at the point of need. Also of note, one attendee advocated a blurring of learning activities with internal communications. Ultimately their learners ‘don’t care whether its learning or a comms message, it is all just information that they need to know’.

  • The challenge is on to create ‘consumer level’ learning experiences

In parallel, people’s expectations of technology have increased exponentially. Learning at work can no longer be judged by its own previous standards. And unfortunately it can be the case, as one attendee put it that, ‘suddenly they go back in time when they are dealing with technology in the workplace’. This isn’t true for all of course and there are some first class stories emerging of learning leaders moving the agenda forwards and delivering cutting edge solutions. But keeping pace with the evolution of consumer technologies is always going to prove incredibly challenging.

Just taking the step to consider learners’ needs as a consumer is a great place to start. The user experience has to be considered end-to-end. So from the internal comms (campaign driven, balancing out carrots and sticks i.e. for every piece of mandatory training, there is also a nice-to-have topic to even things out from a learners’ perspective). To the access points (Mobile? LMS? If it’s on the LMS it better be easy to find…) To the platforms and tools available to share, discuss and reflect on certain content (non-learning specific systems mentioned repeatedly here including Jive, Sharepoint and Yammer).  Even though, as one attendee put it, the learner might not always know what they want, or what they need – the requirement for L&D to put the learner front and centre when they design programmes and content is clearly important to learning’s longer term survival. There was much practical input around creating channels that are ‘good enough’ without needing to be perfect. As one profoundly put it, even if what you’re delivering is not quite consumer-grade, in ‘this digital day and age, you have to at least try’.

  • How do we define digital?

The technology debate segues into the discussion around digital learning which was a common thread throughout the day, as well as being the focus of a session in its own right. The term digital learning is on the increase, but clearly means different things to different people. The broad consensus was firstly that it is not, and should not become, another badge for e-learning. Digital isn’t just about content, it’s about platforms and access (and comms). Mobile is still key for many of our learning leaders, desiring the ability to reach learners anytime, anywhere. But the reality is some way off for many large organisations at present.

Ironically, one way to increase the chances of digital learning being a success within an organisation…seems to be not to give it a badge at all. Many attendees commented that by labelling something as digital learning, it will scare people off.

  • Learning and HR are inextricably linked

Speaking of labels, many learning professionals prefer not to view L&D as part of HR. Instead seeing it as its own specialism. Whilst this is valid of course, most attendees do find themselves ultimately sitting under a HRD or ‘People’ related umbrella within their organisation. This has a number of implications for the shift to a digitally-led learning strategy and learning operations as a whole. It comes back to the point that learning is not an island, but nor does it have to be the junior partner in the equation. There were some insightful contributions showing how L&D can drive HR innovation through the adoption of more agile, ‘best of breed’ technologies that evolve more quickly than the traditional HCM platforms still operating in many organisations. Of course, both ‘sides’ should be focused on their people first and foremost, but possibly the supporting objectives and separate silos can take the functions down different, and sometimes opposing paths.

Sharing and resources

As part of our curation throughout the event, we capture the conversation onto mind maps which are subsequently shared as a resource with all the attendees. Each of these themes are topics that we are looking forward to exploring in more detail throughout the year ahead. We are also hosting research roundtables at the upcoming Learning Technologies Summer Forum. So if you missed Symposium, we might see you there in June. And you can find out more information on future roundtable events here or drop us a line on