Did the first eLearning Conference of 2009 suffer the same fate as the consumer electronics show in December? Were the numbers down? I asked the conference administrators several times what the attendance numbers were at the annual TechKnowledge conference held last week at the Las Vegas Rio Convention Center. The answer was repeatedly a suspicious “We don’t know yet.” My favorite part of the conference? Tony Karrer’s keynote speech on day two.

Our Game Design Pre-conference Workshop, along with other workshops, seemed to have fewer attendees than expected. No doubt corporate layoffs are affecting training departments. The smart managers, however, know that eLearning will be one of the winners in this recession, and I suspect the savvy eLearning departments will see growth in the number of projects they take on this year, especially those looking at exploiting free Web 2.0 tools. The inspirational messages delivered in the keynote speeches focused on promoting informal learning. New York Times columnist, David Pogue, brought laughter to the almost 1,000 listeners with his live demonstration of the power of Twitter. With his projected laptop hooked live to the Internet, he requested information on curing the hiccups. Within seconds he received the usual advice “Hold your breath and drink water.” And humorous suggestions like “Boo!” and “Look at your 401k.” It doesn’t take a huge leap to see how a corporate salesperson could get the answer he/she needs providing cohorts are using Twitter. I see Twitter as instant messaging on steroids. Right now it is more distracting than useful, but I am sure it will morph or become the prototype for a solid informal learning tool.

It was Tony Karrer (number one eLearning Blogger) who was awarded my five stars for his engaging Thursday morning opening speech that put David Pogue’s message in a context that made sense for attendees. He implored the eLearning audience to start viewing themselves as transitioning from “creaters”of formal eLearning to “enablers” of increased use of informal learning. While formal eLearning is not going away anytime too soon, more and more training departments are looking at ways to use Wikis and Blogs. This includes informing learners on where to get the answers to their questions: “just in time learning.”

This starts with editable (Wiki) reference materials, user updated “frequently asked questions,” user rated corporate training content, and more use of tools like online team sites and discussion threads. Many of these tools and the innovations provided by Internet sites like docs.google.com can be put into action with no license fees. Now is the time corporate eLearning managers can run their departments like a “start up” and think like an entrepreneur. At my company, we successfully utilize the open source system called Moodle for project team sites, learner tracking for compliance, and for some client projects as a LCMS.