Learning Technologies Conference 2018 Review

Learning Technologies is amongst the largest learning, education and skills exhibitions and conferences in the world and was attended by some of Health Education England’s Technology Enhanced Learning team. The conference ran from 31 January-1 February 2018 at Olympia in London.

Research and Markets estimate that the learning technology industry will be worth an estimated $331 billion (£234 billion) by 2025 so understandably, vendors were keen to impress. The team spoke with a large number of existing suppliers as well as discussing exciting new developments in the learning technology field with new businesses, exploring opportunities to pilot ideas in the health and care sector.

So, what were the trends we saw emerging in learning technology at this year’s conference?


1) The rise of the machines

We have been excited about the opportunities presented by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) for some time and this year gave us the chance to see some of the realities of this emerging technology. There is no doubt that AI will have an impact on the world we live in but as yet, the impact on education is not clear. For example, an AI could analyse historical learner data and make recommendations and personalise the learning to the individual.

For now, Chatbots (an AI powered support tool) were the talk of the show and exploring their use in the support for learning was a key development of this technology. However, as the technology develops, we will be keeping a close eye on this space to see what opportunities AI presents to support and improve learning outcomes and the provision of patient care.


2) Design thinking

Many of the presentations referred to “design thinking” and improving the user experience by designing great experiences for learners. There was talk of “learning ecosystems” and for design thinking, this means making sure everything is coherent for the learner. As learning and development professionals, we have always tried to make sure learners have a great experience but this year, it felt like the technology has matured sufficiently to realise this approach, integrating the Learning Management System (LMS) with other educational environments and making sure learning content is as good as it can be to support learning.


3) Learner Analytics

The importance of learner analytics was a trend that for the first time made an impact at the conference, with many speakers making reference to it. The impact was evident as many of the sessions on learner analytics were “standing room only”. While educational data standards such as xAPI have as yet failed to make a significant impact in UK and European education (the converse is true in the United States), learning analytics sessions referenced interoperability of learner data, and making better use of the data that is available, so a data standard like xAPI is going to become increasingly important. Similarly, AI will rely on a large, well-formed data set to produce meaningful results, so while this is unlikely to be the year that AI makes significant strides, it is very likely that 2018 will herald the evolution of learner analytics.


4) Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality

While augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have been around for a number of years, the technology has often been expensive and cumbersome. It was evident from discussions around the exhibition that the technology has now matured sufficiently to make it a viable education delivery modality. The cost has certainly reduced and the equipment required has improved greatly, even providing acceptable results on a simple Google Cardboard viewing headset.

With the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) currently consulting with members on the potential to deliver nearly 50% of undergraduate nurse education through simulation, it makes sense for VR and AR to help provide this.


It is an exciting time for technology enhanced learning and events like Learning Technologies help provide context and ideas on improving the delivery of future healthcare education. You can follow the post-event tweets by following the hashtag #LT18UK

Digital Literacy Education and Training Resources

Helping staff within the health and care workforce develop the digital literacy capabilities needed to provide the very best care for those we care for is a key part of our work.

With a workforce of over 2 million and levels of digital capability spanning a vast range, there’s a lot of work to be done in meeting the specific developmental needs of individuals, teams, departments and organisations.  Our digital literacy work has seen us engaging, and continuing to engage, with health and care staff from around the country.  We know there is an urgent need for excellent resources that will help staff in their digital development.

We’ve mapped existing resources that are out there and available to individuals, line managers, organisations to our own digital capabilities framework.  This has not only helped us identify what is already available but has also started to help identifying the gaps.  In this way we can focus our work, avoid repetition and provide the best value in developing or commissioning additional resources.

If you are looking for a wide range of resources that can help you in developing your own skills or you are looking for education and training tools to support your staff, head straight for the appendices of our report for lists and links.

We hope you’ll read the report too as it provides a fuller analysis of what the current provision is and which capabilities are best and least served by that provision.

If you are using or know of additional resources that you can’t find in our list, please get in touch by emailing tel@hee.nhs.uk or via Twitter: @HEE_TEL

Our digital capabilities domains are show below and the educational and training resources in our linked report here are mapped to these domains.


Emerging technologies in health


Keeping abreast of new and emerging tech forms part of the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) programme vision at Health Education England (HEE) so that we continue to train our staff to the highest standards, using contemporary pedagogy and tools proven to work.

In this WeCommunities Twitter chat, we explored the opportunity, implications, and readiness of some of the latest technologies identified through our recent scanning activity with #WeNurses community.


The TwitterChat was held on 28 September 2017 between 8pm – 9pm.  With a total of 70 contributors, 356 tweets and a reach that extended beyond 4 million people @HEE_TEL were delighted with the levels of participation.

What follows is a summary of findings taken from the tweets.


The #WeNurses community was invited to vote for which trend they felt had most potential for healthcare education.  The poll received 257 votes.  The top-voted trend was personalised and adaptive learning (54%) followed by virtual/augmented/mixed reality.

When asked, there was uncertainty about the outcome and supporting evidence for all the emerging tech trends cited, yet most were philosophical about the need for change.

Despite common agreement of the potential benefits for each technology trend, uncertainties about their widespread adoption for healthcare education included.

  • financial climate
  • lack of investment
  • digital literacy of staff
  • lack of evidence base
  • will it improve quality of care?
  • will it reduce cost?
  • speed of technological change
  • acceptance of the technology (AI)
  • skills loss
  • lack of understanding around the newer technologies (specifically AI and VR).

One contributor remarked that “uncertainty is a given” and that we should “encourage [a] spirit of experimentation!”

I think that virtual reality could be an amazing tool for education and learning. Also for patient experience!

Personalised and adaptive learning

There was common agreement that personalised and adaptive learning holds most potential for nursing.  Many of the student nurses supported this view; saying it would be most beneficial.  One suggested that they wanted personalised and adaptive learning to meet NMC standards.  Another remarked that personalised learning may become increasingly important for students who no longer receive a bursary.

Contributors provided broad insight on how personalised and adaptive learning may affect the education of health professionals by 2021.

  • Increased accessibility to more remote areas
  • Broader, deeper learning
  • Less pressure to learn just to pass exams
  • Improved learning outcomes
  • Professionals able to excel in ways that suit them best
  • Better patient care
  • Greater knowledge about how people learn
  • More confident learners
  • Competent staff
  • No “one size fits all” approach to learning
  • Improvements to the learning process.

#WeNurses listed several desirable outcomes regarding use of personalised and adaptive learning. These were:could encourage broader, deeper learning, less pressure to learn just to pass exams,use of #simulation to bridge knowledge gap

  • improved patient safety and outcomes
  • reduced costs
  • improved staff skills
  • better quality of care
  • person-centred care
  • MDT learning and working together
  • sustainable and mindful practice.

Yet if things went wrong with it, they were worried about having a suitably stable and modern IT infrastructure, with a system that could capture and store learning data with adequate data protection and security.  Some were concerned about the level of digital literacy of staff and that some staff may choose to leave the profession because the technology intimidates them.  An interesting point was raised about the acceptance of personalised and adaptive learning approaches by the regulators.

Looking at internal systems, #WeNurses offered their thoughts on how these might need to be change to support use of personalised and adaptive learning for healthcare education.

  • Systems must change to recognise the individual and not the job role
  • Support innovation
  • Have an acceptance of risk
  • Communicate what works
  • Provide access to external learning resources
  • National joined-up thinking
  • Provide smoother access to e-learning
  • Improve firewalls to prevent external manipulation
  • Stronger internet signal
  • Build confidence to use different learning modes
  • Organisations must be supportive of learning and development.

Visit http://www.wecommunities.org/tweet-chats/chat-details/4055#/chatSummary to view the complete transcript.

Resources cited by contributors:






Online collaboration tools for learning and teaching

This is the third in our series of blog posts on the way we have tested our assumptions around a national learning solution for health and care employees.

We have been holding a series of ‘ideathons’ with health and care colleagues where we have presented ideas and concepts and got users to provide feedback on their preferred solutions.

Volunteers from around the country joined our session in London to take part, representing community and mental health, acute and ambulance services.

Activity 1 – Opportunities to collaborate

In the first exercise, we explored situations where people might be likely to collaborate. Participants looked at a range of scenarios and assessed them for how likely they were and if they were likely to elicit a response. There was some great discussion particularly around how quality of resources should be assessed, how to make resources meaningful and how Trust policies and governance on sharing should be handled.


Don’t underestimate the power of snacks! An important part of any ideation is to keep the audience motivated and snacks are a means of helping people to maintain focus and encourage participation!


Activity 2 – Tools for collaboration

In the second exercise, individuals were asked which tools they would use to collaborate. Do we need to develop a hybrid based on multiple existing products and services or recreate one of the existing collaboration systems? The discussion focused on ways individuals ask questions and how they get answers by examining existing websites including: Stack exchange, Quora, Monzo, Yammer, Penflip and Trello.

It is, however, important to recognise some of the barriers to accessing third-party sites as well. For example, existing groups may exist on Facebook but could be blocked by ICT policies in individual Trusts. Our Barriers project is beginning to explore some of these challenges and how to address them, in parallel to this work.

Lots of websites which enable collaboration were explored, highlighting which work well and which work less well.


Activity 3 – Personal profiles

Many websites including  BBC, Amazon, the Royal College of Nursing and Facebook, have personalised pages and information. In this activity, our volunteers were asked to consider how a personal homepage and profile page might look.

Participants sketched their ideal homepage with the information they might need and want when visiting the site. Examples included new items added since the last visit, notifications and alerts and personalised recommendations.


Activity 4 – Related content

How do individuals find the content that is relevant to them or related to the subjects they are interested in? In this exercise, participants explored their preferred way of finding related content on a system.

The participants liked the ability to see related content but also wanted to be able to filter it further. Participants also liked it when the content was filtered by profession showing information that their peers were also interested in.


Activity 5 – Categorising content

Key to the success of any solution is the ability of users to find content. Categories are one such way of classifying and identifying information.

In this final exercise, participants were asked to categorise a wide range of learning objects and to design a search system that worked for them.

The card sort identified some natural groupings and categories based on type of resource, care setting and subject.


Six steps to sharing and collaboration success?

This is the second in our series of blog posts on the way we have tested our assumptions around a national learning solution for health and care employees.

At the first, of two, Health Education England learning technology ‘Ideathon’ users from across the UK were gathered to test a number of concepts to understand how a proposed learning solution might operate.

The Discovery phase of our work identified a number of ways in which learners might want to interact with learning in the future. The purpose of this ‘Ideathon’ was to test some of the hypotheses identified during our Discovery phase so that we know what we’re building is the right solution.

This ‘Ideathon’ tested six concepts during the course of the day with exercises designed to identify solutions to the most pressing concerns and riskiest assumptions.


Activity 1 – Most important information on a page

Which information do you consider to be most important and least important on a webpage? This was the question asked of our participants to understand their behaviours and priorities. Printed versions of website wireframes showing learning resource records were annotated by participants to identify those items which were critical to the resource meeting their needs.

This exercise was coupled with an activity that explored how users would find information and what criteria they might use to search. Everyone agreed that the work of Google on search was exemplary so should be emulated, where possible.


Activity 2: Reviewing and rating pages

In the second exercise, participants were asked to consider the various ways in which products and services are reviewed on the internet, such as using simple star ratings, or more comprehensive written reviews.

There was a discussion about the virtues of various methods which were recorded and will be used to design an interface which satisfies the needs of all the users.


Exercise 3 Searching for resources

Searching for and finding the right learning resources on the learning solution will be very important and as there may be many search results, it’s important to only display key information to help learners make the right choice. But what is that key information?

In this exercise, participants were presented with information on a learning resource and asked to remove all non-essential information for the search results page.


Exercise 4: What motivates users to share?

In this short exercise, individuals were asked to consider a series of statements on sharing from different personas. They were asked to consider how true or how likely the statements were so that accurate personas and motivations for sharing could be determined.


Activity 5 – Stakeholders, personas and collaboration

No technology planning session would be complete without copious sticky notes and this event was no exception. However, these were post-its with a purpose!

Participants were asked to identify different stakeholder groups and their individual needs and then asked to identify how they might collaborate with each other.

The result was a complex but comprehensive set of post-its that told the story of how a user might navigate this complex journey.


Activity 6 – Ranking comments

The final activity of the day involved ranking questions and answers on a website in a similar manner to websites like stack overflow. Participants explored how collaboration might work on a practical basis using upvotes, downvotes and discussion threads.

This is the second in our series of blog posts on the way we have tested our assumptions around a national learning solution for health and care employees.

At the first, of two, Health Education England learning technology ‘Ideathon’ users from across the UK were gathered to test a number of concepts to understand how a proposed learning solution might operate.

The Discovery phase of our work identified a number of ways in which learners might want to interact with learning in the future. The purpose of this ‘Ideathon’ was to test some of the hypotheses identified during our Discovery phase so that we know what we’re building is the right solution.

This ‘Ideathon’ tested six concepts during the course of the day with exercises designed to identify solutions to the most pressing concerns and riskiest assumptions.


Taxonomies Showcase

In our last TEL blog post on the subject of taxonomies, we explained the importance of taxonomies and how they power many of the websites we all use every day. Taxonomies are our superpower and without them, we would struggle to find much of the information we take for granted when using Google, Bing or any other search engine.

Over the past 12 months, the HEE TEL programme have been developing a taxonomy to improve the way our users access and discover content across our platforms including via the new learning solution.

At an event last month, we took the opportunity to showcase our taxonomy work with a range of our stakeholders with an interest in this area. The showcase brought together suppliers, the project team and individuals working in library and knowledge services to explore our work and gather feedback about the opportunities it presents and the challenges it might raise.


Clearly taxonomies are a ‘hot topic’ as the day was interrupted by a short fire alarm! That didn’t dampen the spirits of participants though and allowed for lots of informal discussion in the August sunshine about the possibilities of this work.


The project team at Findwise presented the work that was done to pull content data from the NHS eLearning Repository and e-Learning for Healthcare databases to improve the search and discovery capabilities of these existing systems. Using interfaces and connectors, data can automatically be indexed and presented to users in a similar manner to search sites like Google and Bing.


The team at Smartlogic then presented how their product was used to build a taxonomy that helped power the new search capabilities, explaining how existing taxonomies such as SNOMED and NHS Choices were used alongside custom vocabularies to build up a complex but user-friendly list of terms to help users quickly find what they need. Smartlogic also emphasised the importance of synonyms in taxonomies, enabling users to search for variations on the same word and misspellings and still find the results they need.

The day culminated in a set of exercises where participants tested the new search facility, explored some of their concerns and discussed opportunities to develop this work further.


From the showcase, the work will be refined further and the next steps identified for implementing a final taxonomy that also integrates with our existing systems and with the new learning solution.

You can continue to follow our work on Twitter, using the hashtag #TELTaxonomy.


Build it and they will come?

Once upon a time, when building a new product or service, such as a website, a client would issue a brief and the supplier would build it before releasing it to the user. Users would either love or loath the new solution and have very little say in the process. This is the “Kevin Costner approach” from “Field of Dreams”: “build it and they will come.”

In the mid-2000s, there was a recognition that it was important to consult with users to achieve success; so along came user-centred design. Developers would do some research into what users wanted, then build a website which was released with a hope that there would be some success given that users had been consulted. This kind of development was termed “development of a minimum viable product”. Results were often mixed.

Most recently, the latest buzz is around agile development, where users are involved throughout the development process and small iterative versions and concepts are tested with users on an ongoing basis. Success rates with this kind of development have dramatically increased.

Following the Health Education England (HEE) Discovery process for implementation of a learning solution – to support learners in health and social care to develop the essential skills they need to provide the best possible care to individuals – we have adopted the agile development approach. Our interpretation of agile development has been to hold a series of ‘Ideathons’ where volunteers working in health and social care from around the country join us to test some key concepts – we identified our riskiest assumptions and tested them with users, not just building a minimum viable product.


Over this series of blog posts, we will be providing feedback about our assumptions and how we tested them with learners and users to make sure that we build a learning solution that is fit for now and the future.

Build it and they will come? Never underestimate the need for engaging with users and our aspiration to ensure continuous testing will increase the chance of success.

Learning Solution Discovery phase – complete

Now that the work has been completed on the discovery phase of the Learning Solution, we have moved into the alpha phase. This means that we will be building a prototype of the service and testing it with potential users, as well as demonstrating that the service we want to build is viable.

As part of alpha, we will research and test:

  • A learning solution that allows uploading, accessing, and sharing learning resources
  • A search mechanism to enable users to easily locate resources
  • A way of establishing user trust in the quality of resources
  • How the learning solution can facilitate collaboration for the development of resources

We will be updating you on the next steps of the project very soon.

Workshopping digital capabilities with HEE staff


Work continues with engaging health and care staff with the HEE digital capabilities framework.  The framework describes the digital literacy domain capabilities (see the domains below) at different levels.  We’re working on ways of making the complex framework accessible and useful to everyone – ways in which people can begin to assess their own levels of digital literacy.

The digital literacy team continue to hold workshops with different groups of health and care staff to test ways of working with the framework.  We ran a workshop with nursing and midwifery colleagues last month. The latest workshop was with HEE colleagues as part of the regularly run Learning Byte sessions.  These are learning sessions in the lunch period that people can choose to attend.

At Blenheim House in Leeds, we presented people with simplified statements that relate to the framework and which describe different capabilities.  We wanted to test whether the statements made sense, whether they related to people’s real life experience and what the tolerance was in terms of numbers of statements to go through.  We know that too few statements provide insufficient data to be able to provide a useful assessment of someone’s level of digital literacy whilst too many clearly is off putting and may deter people from completing the task.

Many thanks to everyone who gave up their lunch time to work with us on this.

If you are interested in helping us with our digital literacy work, please get in touch by emailing tel@hee.nhs.uk or follow us on Twitter: @HEE_TEL




Chatting with nurses on Twitter

The HEE TEL programme recently guest hosted a chat on Twitter with the support of #WeCommunities, a format we’ve used before and really enjoyed.  It’s an opportunity, in an hour, to engage with people on a specific topic and really learn from the insight, experience and expertise of people either from a specific community or interested in a specific topic. This chat was targeted at nurses so we used the #WeNurses hashtag.

For more about WeNurses find them here: http://www.wecommunities.org/

Details of our chat can be found at the end of this post but in this conversation we covered the subject of digital literacy and how it applies to the world of nursing and midwifery.  As usual, there were lots of participants and the pace was fast and furious – it is so hard to keep up but what inevitably happens is people start exchanging comments with each other as well as keeping an eye on the main conversation.

As @jomwlever commented “there is a nurse speed and an everybody else speed.” – which is certainly how it feels on WeNurses!

As part of our discussion we presented our definition:


And the domains that sit under it:


It was great to hear that people thought the definition was useful and meaningful:

“I think digital wheel covers it well.”

“Agree with the definition.”

However, one comment was “I’m wondering if there is a more user-friendly way of describing the six domains” and this is completely valid and useful to us in how we are learning and adapting our work to better understand the needs of health and care staff.  On their own the domains  mean relatively little which is why we’re working with stakeholders to develop a capabilities framework that actually describes some of the skills, attitudes and behaviours that sit within those domains.  Watch this space!  We value your comments in order to learn from you and improve our work.

Participants recognised the impact that digital and other technologies can have on care and that nursing staff do/could/should embrace this:

“recognising that digital can make a fantastic impact on patient experience”

“Being able to use and develop systems for use by pts and staff to enhance care”

“being open to the possibilities that digital can make to the patient”

Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of comment on how being digitally literate at work was often less about skills and more about attitude and confidence. Some made the point that people could be perfectly digitally literate at home but not able or allowed to be at work or sometimes just not willing to be. It was pointed out by one person that digital literacy can be something that people feel is ‘not about or to do with me’ – certainly a common enough view, we feel, and one that we need to all work hard to dispel.


Whenever the subject of digital literacy comes up, you can guarantee that the topic of barriers to becoming digitally literate comes up.  A flavour of some of the comments here:

“It always surprises me how much we rely on our smart phones at home – yet at work we have to put them away !”

“I think there may well be lack of support from IT depts? Which is rather ironic in itself.”

“Sometimes I think IT [is] design[ed] for IT and not people.”

“I think perhaps not quite seamless yet – more an adjunct at the moment. When ALL staff on tablets then perhaps.”

“We are some way off that (Paperless2020) where I work. Form filling is growing by the day.”

“It’s a bit like maths, there is an irrational fear of technology, when really they use it all the time.”

graphics from digital booklet-01.pngThe enthusiasm from participants was energising and, whilst it was obviously a self-selecting group, nonetheless there was a clear sense of wanting to be part of building a digitally ready workforce for the present and the future.  Participants talked of wanting to be involved in ‘developing, testing and implementing’.  They spoke of being open to new ways of working, reimagining current ways of working and wanting to be part of the journey and creation.

For the workforce to fully and enthusiastically embrace digital literacy in order to maximise the potential of technology tweeters mentioned a variety of things.  Culture came up a number of times as did the need for digital champions and/or mentors.

Throughout the chat, it was evident that everyone was focused on those they are providing care for.  As we are always saying in the TEL team – it’s not about gadgets or the technology, but the way it can be used to improve patient care and the education of health and care staff.



As @DigitalGerry commented “Start with the patient and work practice around them using tech as an enabler.”  We couldn’t agree more but would like to go further and say let’s use technology to enable and empower individuals and those that care for them to  enhance care and wellbeing in doing this.

Just a brief overview of a packed hour. We hope you can join us another time on a WeNurses Twitter chat.  Many thanks to WeNurses for hosting and to everyone who took part!


The preamble to the chat is available here