Last week I travelled to Olympia in London to attend my first CIPD L&D show. As Content and Lead Research Editor for GoodPractice, an important part of my job is keeping tabs on the latest trends and hottest topics in L&D. This conference was a great opportunity for me to tap into some cutting edge thinking from the cream of UK L&D.

As a newbie to this event, my first impression was that there was so much for me to see and get involved in, and so many people to connect with. Here I wanted to share some thoughts on my first big conference experience, and highlight some of the key take-aways and trends that I picked up on from the fast-changing world of L&D.


Day 1 highlights 

My first day kicked off with a free session on ‘Learning and Developing in a VUCA Environment’, presented by Paul Morton from CrossKnowledge. Paul is a highly engaging speaker, and kept us on our toes by throwing out questions and telling humorous anecdotes throughout. This idea of working in a VUCA environment (AKA volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) is definitely a theme that cropped up in a number of sessions.



Paul talked about the challenge that L&D functions face when it comes to delivering learning effectively against this backdrop. Developing a learning culture where learners are empowered and supported to truly direct their own learning is one way for L&D to meet the VUCA challenge. Paul also delivered one of my favourite pearls of wisdom from the conference when he announced that:

“We must all teach our kids how to code." 

Why? Well, given the breakneck speed of technological change, an understanding of the basics of computer programming will help give the next generation the edge in developing their digital nous and ability to work in a VUCA world.

I attended a later session on a similar theme called ‘A Personal Toolkit for L&D Practitioners: Leading Change in a VUCA World.’ Here, Andy Lancaster, the CIPD’s charismatic Head of L&D, shared a useful acronym with us: to thrive in this VUCA world L&D needs to have a clear Vision, and Understanding of what it needs to achieve as well as Clarity of purpose and Agility in how learning is delivered.

To find out more, check out #VUCA on Twitter for more insights on this hot topic. The Guardian also ran an impassioned piece a couple of years ago on why we should teach our kids the basics of computer programming. However, there is a flipside to this debate, as Donald Clark points out here.

Insights from leaders in learning

In the afternoon I headed upstairs to the main conference to attend the seminar on ‘Leaders In Learning: What L&D Innovations Should Be On Your Agenda?’ Introduced by Andy Lancaster, this open space session (clue - no chairs!) kicked off with three fast-paced Ignite presentations from speakers Martin Couzins, founder of specialist content creation agency itsdevelopmental, Barbara Thompson, Learning and Performance Consultant at BP International, and Julian Stodd, founder of SeaSalt Learning.



If you haven’t seen an Ignite presentation before, speakers show 20 slides on a topic lasting for 20 seconds each, so each presentation is no more than five minutes long. Barbara delivered a great piece of advice when she remarked 

“L&D needs to put learners at the heart of learning, and treat them as savvy consumers.”

She also talked about the importance of using performance support tools to address different learner needs; something we are passionate about here at GoodPractice. Sometimes learners might need (or want) a full meal, but other times, they just want a lighter, buffet option instead.

After the presentations, we broke off into three discussion groups facilitated by each of the speakers. I was in Martin’s group, and we had a lively debate about the importance of good content curation to today’s L&D practitioners. We talked about the barriers and challenges that we face in our quest to share and highlight content, and Martin shared some useful insights including the ‘FFS’ approach to content curation.

This isn’t the acronym you think it is, as it stands for:

    • find great content

    • filter it depending on the audience and their needs

    • share it to create new thinking and meaning for people


In the evening I headed back to the hotel to meet up with my GoodPractice colleagues for a well deserved drink and de-brief after a long day. No review of my personal highlights would be complete without mentioning the lovely salted caramel martinis that I sampled in the hotel bar! These were just the ticket after a long day of conferencing and networking :)

Day 2 highlights

On Day 2 I attended the seminar ‘Are You Equipped to Lead L&D into the Future?’ with Laura Overton from Towards Maturity, Ruth Stewart from the CIPD and Lisa Johnson, Assistant Director of Information Services at children’s charity Barnardo’s. This was my favourite session over the two days, and that was because of the people I met and the interesting discussions we had on this topic (hello to Rachel Savage from the Land Registry and Dave Liversage from Blue Phoenix). 

This was a highly interactive session, using real time feedback gathered from the audience via the very nifty sli.do Q&A app. Our thoughts and comments were used to inform and guide the discussion. Laura and Ruth talked about L&D’s changing skill set - another hot topic of discussion across the whole conference - and in particular the need for L&D practitioners to wear multiple hats and become more versatile, savvy, ubiquitous and affecting than ever before. The CIPD and Towards Maturity’s report on L&D: Evolving roles, enhancing skills is proving to be a great read.




A top performing L&D function

Lisa then gave us a highly practical insight into how a top performing L&D function operates. We heard her inspiring story about Barnardo’s L&D evolution ‘from delivering courses to supporting performance’ and the development of a learning culture which is backed by a highly responsive, modern L&D team. Another great quote I heard during this session from Lisa was:

“To succeed, L&D needs to be prepared to change and adapt, so be bold, be fearless and be the best you can be!”

I also got the chance to chat to Lisa about her experience afterwards which was great. You can find out more about L&D at Barnardo’s here and by following Lisa on Twitter @TuppyMagic.

The magic of storytelling

I also managed to squeeze in another free session afterwards, this time on ‘The Secrets of Storytelling’ delivered by The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. This was a powerful presentation, packed full of useful advice about how we can use storytelling to maximum impact using a variety of techniques.


The key take-away for me was that an ability to tell the right story in the right way can engage and inspire learners in a way that no amount of data or statistics ever can. At GoodPractice I think we could certainly make more use of storytelling in our team meetings and also in how we communicate with clients. After this session I was inspired to check out #Fic140 on Twitter where I found some great examples of stories created using just 140 characters. I’ve just added my own story to the mix!

In the afternoon I attended my final seminar on ‘Maximising Organisational Performance by Building Greater Capability in Line Managers’. Here I heard from two great speakers, Christoph Williams from Sony Europe and Chris Chinn from Europcar UK. Chris spoke about a transformation project at Europcar which aimed to develop a new breed of managers. It aimed to move traditional skill sets away from command and control of employees towards a more inspiring, influencing management culture. This is underpinned by the GROW coaching model (modified as ‘GROW ME’ at Europcar). It was also interesting to see how the 70:20:10 model of workplace learning was used to identify experiential learning opportunities and structure development conversations with employees.

As I headed back up to Edinburgh later that evening, I reflected on what a great conference experience I’d had. I can’t wait to start putting into practice some of the things I learnt, and connecting with the people I met.

How was your CIPD L&D show experience? Tweet me at @GPStefScott to share your thoughts.

About me

I’m Content and Lead Research Editor here at GoodPractice Towers. I spend my days creating different types of content for our toolkits and coming up with ideas to make our content stand out from the crowd. I also get involved in GoodPractice’s ongoing programme of research, such as our recent report on 70:20:10 and our annual UK Learning Trends Report. I am also our resident party and events planner and colleagues tell me I make a mean cup of tea!

    • Volcano image credit: Flickr Walter Lim (accessed 20 May 2015)

    • Lit match image credit: Flickr Jeff Turner (accessed 20 May 2015)

    • Storytelling image credit: Flickr John Morgan (accessed 20 May 2015)