The most valuable comment made at Learning DevCamp 2015 was, “It’s nice to know that we’re not alone.” During the closing session in a room of about 150 people with luggage piled along the back wall, a fellow from Austria (where you will NOT find any kangaroos) expressed his sincere gratitude in being around so many who were experiencing the same trials he was.
One of the most important things you can learn as a learning professional is that you’re not alone. Associations and conferences exist for this reason. Knowing that you’re not alone is like opening a door to answers for which you never knew you had the questions.
But why did that stand out at Learning DevCamp?
On closing day, right before the big drawing for the Surface Pro and other fun prizes, Jason Bickle asked us, “What did you learn this week?”
Jason is one of the best event organizers I’ve ever met. He doesn’t just plan a conference; he plans an experience. It’s already 2 weeks out, but the time is right to have gotten caught up in the office and start reflecting on the experience Jason created for us.
Placing my finger on exactly what it is that Jason does to create such a warm learning experience is difficult, but here are few of his key signature conference elements.
Have you met Katie?
If you find yourself answering email at a table by yourself, you won’t be by yourself for long when Jason comes wandering through the halls. Whenever Jason sees people in the same vicinity not talking to each other, he makes sure to introduce them to each other and get them talking before he continues on. You WILL meet new people at a conference that Jason runs.
Build in the fun
Deep down inside all of us is that kid that never really grew up. That kid–who would love a desktop drum set or Batman socks (with capes)–gets a chance to win something silly. And since it’s forced on you, no one has to know that you really wanted a pair of soft, comfy Lego slippers. The rule is that if you win it, you have to wear it. Nothing makes that rule more fun than when it’s the keynote (or sweet note) speaker that wins the slippers.
Not all the prizes were silly. Some of the prizes were iPods, a 1 terabit hard drive, an Apple Watch, and other useful gadgets. I won a 3Doodler, a pen that draws in 3-D. But you don’t just win a prize at DevCamp. You (speakers included) have to enter your name into the Dream Crusher. The Dream Crusher displays all conference names and then begins to remove random names. Toward the end of the sequence, it slows down so that you can see about 3-5 names and watch as they slowly disappear. For a few brief seconds while your name is on the screen, you have high hopes that you could be the next winner…until CRUSH! Your name is removed and someone else gets the prize. Well, at least you lost the basketball basket hat and not the Apple Watch!
Take us back to college
Jason lives in Texas, but a favorite location for his conferences is on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The conference is held at the University Guest House where you’ll get free breakfast and a fantastically hospitable staff. Lunch is at the campus cafeteria. It’s in the summer so many of the students have gone home for the season, but summer programs like sports and music will ensure you feel like you’re back in school among the students. What better way to put learning professionals into a learning mindset.
Great practical sessions
The sessions aren’t your typical “listen to me, I’m the expert” type of sessions. At DevCamp you learn practical skills. This year, Ray Jimenez of Vignettes Learning offered a series of sessions focused on using stories in your training. Ray is a warm facilitator and, as stated by someone on the last day review, “the MAN” when it comes to storytelling in learning. Jason promises a special deal with Ray for next year’s DevCamp.
Bringing speakers in to share their experiences and offer skills we can use in our own training development is great, but we all bring experiences to the conference. Why not include a few sessions where we all gather ‘round, campfire style, to discuss the challenges we face in the industry. We can all learn from each other and Jason makes sure that happens.
Learning stuff at a conference is great, but how useful is it if you don’t use it. All speakers at DevCamp were encouraged to add a slide to their presentations (if they used slides) that reminded attendees about adding to their 30/60/90 day plan. In my sessions I offered to follow up with anyone in 30, 60, and 90 days on how they were progressing.
I could go on and on about the great time I had at DevCamp. The Sweet Notes: The Creative Sauce with Megan Torrence and Multiple Intelligences with Branton Shearer, The IronDev 3 min 30 day challenge, the card decks, all the interesting people I met, and the personal vacation trips to the Alpine Slide (30 min away) and the zoo with Jurassic World dinosaurs! (5 min away). But if you want to learn at Learning DevCamp, you’ll have to sign up for next year’s adventure.