Friday, December 5, 2008

Compiled observations from the I/ITSEC conference

I just attended my first I/ITSEC conference. For those of you interested in an overview of the scene, check out a smarter person's description.

I decided to attend for a few reasons. First, there are a few industries that always have money and spend it on training. Pharma is one, government and military is another. Having tapped the pharma industry for years, I thought it might be nice to expand my radar. Besides opportunity, I found the idea of learning about government and military training fascinating, and definitely out of my comfort zone. Having started in K12 education and then focusing on corporate learning for phase two of my career, I like the challenge of learning about another whole sector that I know very little about.

So, what did I think? Here are my thoughts and observations in no particular order...

Its definitely a man's world. There were barely any women there, much fewer than the tech & gaming conferences. I got looked up and down more than a new cow on auction at the county fair. If I went to a booth with another male, I was ignored (after I was looked up and down). The most useful conversations I had was when I wandered off alone.

There are a lot of acronyms and information about the industry that take some time to learn. It's kinda the same with pharma, but I know all the MLR and MVA and DDMAC stuff like the back of my hand. Getting the lingo down for newbies is a serious undertaking in the government military sector, and it helps to have a friend or two to help you out, which leads me to...

Its nice to have a friend or two to help you out when you're learning about a new market segment. We were lucky to have a pretty selfless guide during the conference. I can't imagine it would have been nearly as useful to go without having someone to give us the lay of the land and introduce us to people.

The expo was all about show, not substance. The booths showcased amazing technology and graphics, but if you asked how the technology could be applied to training, there were a lot of blank stares. For a conference focused on training, that was a little disconcerting. Besides the flight simulators and other tactical learning, I didn't see a lot of innovation on the learning front. Frankly, for a segment with so much money, I was really disappointed with the lack of awesome examples of complex decision-making simulations.

And finally, virtual worlds have a long way to go. There were a couple companies there that I know (Forterra, Caspian Learning, Qwaq, to name a few). I continue to be underwhelmed with how other companies are developing learning using virtual world technology. The capabilities are out there, the application of those capabilities is still not. The panel session that was supposed to focus on developing learning communities using virtual worlds and serious games was a complete disappointment (except for the speaker from North Carolina Virtual Schools). Most of the examples shown had poor user interface design and could have been developed in Flash more easily and cost effectively. The longer people squander virtual world technology on mediocre to poor solutions, the more degraded this technology will be become for new prospective customers and markets. Where are the cool examples, the innovative designs? Where are the tie-ins to existing learning technologies and systems?

Guess we'll have to work on that.

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