And so ends another whirlwind of a week known as DevLearn.

Could the timing have been any better? My San Francisco Giants (yes, my Giants!) won the World Series and decided to have the largest parade in San Francisco history on the first day of DevLearn. It just happened to be a block from the conference site, which was A-OK with me! In their honor, I wore my Giants jersey the entire day.

In a quirky turn of events, I also wound up being a speaker at DevLearn this year, alongside Ben Clark of Rustici Software. We co-presented “SOAP for SCORM“, an introduction to the LETSI Run-Time Web Service. Aside from the requisite technical glitch, our session went well, and we had a great group of attendees.

Update: Here’s a separate blog entry covering our SOAP for SCORM presentation. Major thanks to Avron Barr, LETSI, Ben, and the E-Learning Guild for the opportunity.

As with any conference, each year there are always some outstanding sessions, and always a few duds. Being a tech guy who happens to have an MA in instructional design (as opposed to an instructional designer who happens to do some tech) I’m usually disappointed by the lack of in-depth technical sessions. This year was par for the course. There were some very good high-level sessions on technical topics, such as the introduction to DITA, but nothing particularly deep. Again, I’m a tech guy and perhaps not the main target of the conference; most attendees appear to be subject-matter experts, trainers, or instructional designers who happen to do their own technical work. DevLearn is a very good fit for this demographic.

I particularly found Ginny Heenan’s session about quantifying billing rates and handling the business side of e-learning very useful, and thought Koreen Olbrish’s session was a great primer on some of the latest and greatest technologies.

My favorite moment? Probably Richard Culatta‘s ‘six-minute perspective‘. Funny, very well-written, excellent slides, and most of all, great points. Inspiring in a very TED-esque way. Nancy Duarte would have been proud.

My least-favorite moment? Probably Allen Interactions’ Zebra after-party/demo. DevLearn was heavily branded with the Zebra theme, and it looks like Allen Interactions paid some big big marketing bucks this year. They were trying very hard to make it feel like an industry-changing event. I don’t begrudge them of their marketing efforts. However, it ruffles my feathers that Allen Interactions required everyone to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they could attend the main demonstration — they had already demoed much of the same material in the Expo hall without requiring the NDA! Makes. No. Sense. Then the demo itself failed to live up to the immense hype. I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say because of that silly NDA, but let me leave it at this: Zebra looks perfectly useful, but the demo was hokey and the entire dog-and-pony show was very tiring. (Sorry, guys, just calling it like I saw it. But thanks for the cupcakes, and my daughter loves her new toy zebra!)

Update 11/10/2010: Allen Interactions has sent an email to attendees providing more information about the NDA:

We have been asked what can and cannot be said about Zebra with respect to the Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA). Several product features we demonstrated and discussed at the event were still in the process of patent application. As these applications have now been filed, you are free to share any information about Zebra you heard or saw.

Doesn’t really change my opinion, but now I can tell you: the very first live demo they performed was creating a page-turner. Literally! It was a photo album with next and back buttons. Zebra may very well revolutionize the industry, but it won’t be because of the hokey DevLearn demos.

Speaking of vendors, Open Sesame probably had the greatest marketing ploy of the entire conference: they gave away free black hoodies with their logo on the back. They also gave you a key. If they spotted you wearing the hoodie at the conference, they’d give you a chance to see if your key unlocked their box. What was in the box? A free iPad, of course! There were tons of folks wearing Open Sesame hoodies and talking about their company. Very clever!

Sessions and vendors aside, in my mind, the true value of DevLearn is the informal learning and networking that occurs in hallway conversations. Putting faces to the people you know on Twitter. Meeting people who do what you do but in a different part of the world. People who share your excitement about a topic that your mom doesn’t understand.

One unexpected treat was meeting some of the folks who use my pipwerks SCORM wrappers. Since the wrappers are free and don’t require any kind of registration, I usually have no idea who’s using them. It’s very gratifying to meet developers who have successfully used the wrappers in their projects… it feels great to know that the wrappers have been useful. Thanks for coming to talk to me!

Of course, I can’t list every person I ran into this year, but suffice to say I had some great conversations with old acquaintances and people I had just met, including Brian Dusablon, Ben Clark, BJ Schone, Gary Hegenbart, Aaron Silvers, and many, many more. Being an introvert, I’m usually uncomfortable in social settings, but this year was quite fun. Guess I’ll have to do it again next year.

Speaking of next year, DevLearn 2011 is scheduled to take place in Las Vegas at the City Center. Maybe I’ll get to check out the death ray in person!

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  1. Good stuff, Philip, as always. I’m with you on the Zebra release and the session duds, though I do think we’re in the minority at these conferences. Most sessions seem geared towards the basics, and people seem to stick around.

    It was great to catch up in person. I look forward to more online conversations soon, while we wait for November 2011 to come around :-).

  2. Vegas? I usually avoid conferences in Vegas. People have a bad habit of skipping conferences so they can go play … I think it spoils the conference to see empty seats everywhere.

    Really peeved I had to miss this year = can you tell? :+)

  3. zebra design looks slick. but the truth is that at end of day this is another tool in trying to mimic what powerpoint already does quite decently. already sliderocket and flypaper does simillar things as well already. they are definitely try hard to market this but nothing new here.

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