I just returned from a whirlwind adventure of speaking at three conferences in a week. Three airports, two cities, one hotel, one AirBnB apartment, and three presentations in three different conference centers is a lot to juggle, but the learning, new connections, seeing friends and new discoveries made it all worthwhile. If you aren’t attending conferences and professional development sessions to expand your horizons, perhaps you should rethink that. Let me share my discoveries.

person with thought bubble, "What Was I Thinking?"

Conference 1: Adobe eLearning Summit, Las Vegas

I was invited to present Creating a Waterproof Assessment Strategy at the Adobe eLearning Summit after I’d already committed to the two conferences in Chicago during the following week. The Adobe conference took place two days before I would be in Chicago, so I figured extending my trip for a couple of days would be ok. I’ll rethink that strategy if I’m ever in this position again. Three conferences in a week is exhausting! But I digress.

I’d attended Adobe’s Summit in Washington, DC before, and found the conference to be valuable. This conference is free, and tends to be held yearly on the east and west coasts attracting over 1000 attendees at each. (Here’s a link to the 2019 event in DC if you’d like to register.) 

They showcase Adobe products, and you get to see what’s coming up in the next year. Captivate has the ability to work with VR and 360-degree video now, which is pretty nifty, and the improvements to Adobe Connect make something good even better. Sign-on is practically instantaneous now. That’s a nice change. 

The breakout sessions were full of great ideas. Here are two that are worth sharing. 

Adobe Character Animator

My first workshop was on Adobe Character Animator, which is a relatively new tool. Jason (one of our developers), John (our graphic designer) and I played around with this two years ago when the software was in its infancy and were quite impressed with the possibilities. You start with an image, which can be a photo, stock image, cartoon, or like this example, a line drawing, then you work with the video camera in your computer to animate it, like this:

Adobe Character Animator demonstration

You can use Photoshop to modify the image, and add arms and legs. What made this so impressive was that once you have the initial prototype down, you can import voiceover clips and the software figures out how to sync the lips and facial features to it based on your original setup. Impressive, right? Imagine having a customized mascot or avatar teaching your next course. Let’s co-create one. 

Immersive Learning with Captivate

Captivate has added 360 degree videos and VR capabilities in the latest version. You can take people on a virtual tour and add hotspots on the video and let people explore a room or a machine with the click of a mouse. You can embed questions into the material to keep the learner focused on your goals. What I didn’t realize is that there is a plethora of free 360 degree backgrounds and resources with Creative Commons licenses out there ready for use. We’ve been exploring these new technologies and would love to partner on a project with you.

Conference 2: GamiCon, Chicago

GamiCon was hosted by Sententia Gamification, an organization I’d worked with in the past, and is the group that I received my Level Two Journeyman Certification in Gamification from. I was asked to teach my Building the Foundation: Show Me the Problem! workshop, but in a gamified fashion without any tech. That became an interesting problem for me to solve. I used case studies picked from a hat, and the game mechanic of points, which worked quite well for this group. There were many ah-ha moments about remembering to keep the main thing the main thing, and the recognition that it may be easy to gamify vocabulary, but that may be putting the emphasis and budget dollars on a tangent rather than the critical training need. 

Here is the highlights reel from the conference so you can get a feel of what it was like.

Youtube conference video launch page

What made this conference so interesting was that it was completely gamified. We know that different things motivate different learners and we saw the competitive spirits, those who wanted to finish to get all the points, those who enjoyed helping others figure things out, and throughout the event everyone was quite engaged. The event launched at a bar with an escape room challenge, and included a geotagging event, and a fabulous app from Blue Rabbit that kept us involved and engaged, earning points for prizes throughout the conference. It was a smaller group (about 120), consisting of people from corporate, non-profits, education, and some vendors, so we got to know most of the participants over the three days we were together.

I saw an interesting demo from Amazon on how they are using Alexa and artificial intelligence to train their call center reps to distinguish different American accents, and heard about the use of iBeacons, which I’d never heard of, but has interesting possibilities for classroom trainig . My favorite workshop was about character development in elearning, taught by Hadyia Nuriddin, author of Storytraining.  Building the back story of each character in an elearning module creates a stronger story and a better understanding of who you are working with as you use them to advance the story of your elearning. I was delighted to see one of my former staff members who is now at Brown University receive the Best Overall award for the gamified course she created with one of their professors. That course became a MOOC on EdX and the archived version is available for review here.

There are some great resources available from this conference. Here’s a link to a great list of info from the speakers. 

Conference 3: Online Learning, Chicago

The last conference of the week was Training Magazine’s Online Learning event. Illumina has presented several webinars with Training Magazine, and appreciate the collaborative spirit involved with their desire to share best practices. (Check the links at the end of the article.) I like this conference because it’s relatively small (400-500), and they always include field trips within the local city. I took the nighttime Chicago Architecture Tour with the group and loved hearing the stories about the city’s iconic buildings.

Chicago skyline

The entire conference took a trip to Second City Theatre known for their improvisation workshops and launching of many famous actors including John Belushi, Colin Machrie, and Jeff Garlin. We participated in several interactive workshops, most importantly, recognized the importance of “Yes, and” over “No, and” and “Yes, but” as we respond to one another. This is a seminal principle in improv theatre but is quite helpful to remember in business interactions.

I taught Chiropractic ID: Ensuring Alignment in a hands-on workshop at this conference and worked with people on thinking through the importance of selecting content and activities and assessments that support pre-determined outcomes, rather than starting with the content. This is the way we work at Illumina to ensure your learning material achieves your intended goals.

I attended a workshop with Michael Allen of Allen Interactions who reminded us of one of his mantras: Elearning needs to have CCAF, which stands for Context, Challenge, Activity and Feedback. I learned about what Harvard Business Publishing is doing with their Leadership training in light of the changing needs of learners and how digital learning has transformed it, and sat in on a workshop with Kevin Thorn, who spoke about the value of comic and graphic novel styling in elearning, which are things we’ve implemented in some of our courses with great success. I learned about visualizations in video and making things more effective visually, but also some process tweaks that make the creation of videos more efficient. 

I also connected with some of my friends and colleagues in the industry and made some new connections, building up my personal learning network. {link to blog}


In the end, I returned to New England tired, but full of ideas. Will I ever do three conferences in a week? Not likely, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to go and grow. At Illumina, we believe in always learning, which is why we are out there taking in workshops and conferences on a regular basis, as well as giving back to the greater learning community.

Looking to build your L&D team up a bit? Consider attending a conference or a local workshop at an ATD meeting, watching a webinar, or better still, bringing in one of us to conduct a workshop for you. 

Illumina Editor’s Note: Not to brag, but Jean received the following feedback in her workshop evaluations from one of the participants at the Adobe eLearning Summit:

Jean is one of the best presenters in the eLearning/Learning and Development industry. Her experience, knowledge, and ability to teach others is extremely valuable. I sometimes choose conferences to attend because she is a speaker. Wonderful session!” 

We love sharing what we’ve learned of the years and would love to share with your team. 

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The following webinars done by our team through the Training Magazine Network are available for your learning pleasure.