By Peter Gillis

“Working in eLearning/education in Ireland for nearly 20 years, I have been seeking events like this, and really felt this was the first I’ve attended that really provided useful, research-led and practical advice”

Brendan Strong, Director of Education at Society of Medical Professionals


At Learnovate, as we enter phase 2, we have been working hard over the last few months to design and develop a value proposition that will see the centre answer the real needs of our customers, create ‘pull’ for our services and deliver real impact. We took the decision to focus this year’s conference around the concepts that underline this value proposition, to give members and the wider community an understanding of how Learnovate can help them realise real impact in the area of Learning Tech. We term our approach Impact Led Innovation designed to combine the best of Lean Start-Up and Design Thinking to identify from the outset, learning problems people really care about, validate these assumptions, develop solutions with end users and identify the sustainable impact that will maximise the potential for success.

This involved us taking a very different approach to our conference, rather than showcasing technologies and discussing themes in the area we chose, for this year, to provide a three tiered structured approach to the day. We knew it was risky, but we also knew it was an indirect and slightly messy way of ‘validating our assumptions’ in relation to our value proposition.

The purpose of this blog is not to recount the excellent presentations, but to deliver prompts for those who were there and a flavor to those who could not make it, we would be happy to follow up in person on any aspect of interest.


Following introductions and an outline of Learnovate’s Value Proposition to deliver Impact Led Innovation for our members, the first stage was to deliver insights from world class experts in the area of Lean Start-Up, problem validation, identifying what customers need and avoiding the pitfalls that can arise.

Tendayi Viki spoke of the zero correlation between R&D and growth, a point that raised a few eyebrows in the audience, however the point here was that pure R&D has no correlation, it is only when R&D is linked to innovation and customers’ needs that it is effective, a point illustrated by Tom Melia from Enterprise Ireland earlier in the day. Tendayi spoke of avoiding what he refered to as ‘Innovation Theatre’ carrying out the exercises to have the appearance of innovation, while taking your eye off the end prize. Developing a term from Steve Blank, the audience was introduced to his ‘Eight Steps to the Epiphany’ (four more than Steve!), they are:

  • Capture Ideas
  • Identify Assumptions
  • Prioritize Assumptions
  • Brainstorm Tests
  • Falsifiable Hypotheses
  • Get Out Of The Building
  • Capture Learnings
  • Make Decisions

Personally I thought his phrase “It’s not iterating if you do it only once” was one of the more humourous and valuable snippets form an excellent session.

Rob Fitzpatrick focused his Keynote on talking to customers to first ‘Learn’ if a problem you believe exists, exists at all and if so does anybody care! Secondly to ‘Confirm’ that customers will use it, and importantly, if they will pay for it! Rob also addressed the three mistakes that are made when talking to customers, Asking for Opinions, Meetings that go nowhere and Wasting time. Your ego may do well indulging in the activities above, but realistically theu get you no closer to understanding if your idea will be successful or not.


The second stage was designed to bring the audience a little closer to Impact Led Innovation through three practitioners who have applied the concept in their projects and lessons learned.
Vivienne Ming talked about how at a high level we need to address the human condition, to have high and ambitious targets if we really want to drive change and pull for our ideas. Vivienne referred to the failings of summative assessment in education to attain such outcomes. With reference to Vivienne’s own work with her EdTech company Socos Vivienne referred to the need to engage with users to identify real problems, and to ensure that there is product market fit, that there is a business demand, otherwise the concept while commendable may not survive to achieve the desired impact.
Paidi O’Reilly talked about the lessons he has learned through the application of Design Thinking and Lean principles in the area of EdTech through his time working with Texuna Technologies in collaboration with UCC. From his experience he identified 12 hard lessons learned, including the importance of how we frame a problem, the importance of identifying needs over wants, and personally my biggest take away of the twelve, behavior is the real issue, in Paidi’s words “We need to accept that behavior is probably bigger than technology”.
Neil Peirce from Learnovate gave a hands-on talk about how our Horizon 2020 project has engaged design thinking. Neil gave a detailed talk to show how different aspects have been used to define customers and their pain points. The stages demonstrated identifying users through persona development, validation of same and subsequent revisions based on feedback from interviews. The follow-up workshop process involved identifing both the “As-is” situation, the pain points for users and subsequently the “To-be” situation to discover what could make it work. This informed the development and definition of User Stories to inform the project. Neil pointed out 5 key learnings for carrying out successful workshops:

  • Diversity is important
  • Plan for social barriers
  • Plan for social norms
  • Experts as facilitators
  • Allow for prep-time & documenting results

When it comes to User Testing Neil also pointed out that his team’s three takeaways were:

  • Structured & repeatable sessions, clear objectives
  • Carefully selected questions
  • Test early, test often


Finally we wanted to allow attendees get up close and personal with the concepts through two parallel hands-on workshops. Tendayi focused his workshop on Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas. Teams of approximately ten identified hypothesis for a learning technology that they believed would be of value. In rapid fire sessions Tendayi challenged the teams to identify and prioritise the assumptions that lay behind their hypothesis, then to prioritise their most risky assumption and consider how they might test this to validate the idea.
Rob’s workshop looked at ‘customer development’. Based on Rob’s book ‘The Mom Test’, Rob hosted an engaging and interactive session looking at how to get around the comfort of compliments and opinions when talking to potential customers, because basically they will lie to you! How to approach customers asking for concrete feedback on specific issues in their past and identify real problems they have, that they value being solved, and are not being addressed at the moment.

In conclusion Owen White finished the day by clarifying one question. Is Learnovate now an innovation consultancy rather than a Learning Technology research centre? Absolutely not, the Impact Led Innovation capability at Learnovate is to support our ongoing development of solutions in the Learning Tech market, combining our innovation expertise with our existing expertise in Learning Design, UI/UX, Technology and Commercial development.

As I mentioned at the start, ‘Mom Test’ beware but our initial feedback from members and attendees was that we were hitting the right note, the topic resonated and people saw clear value in the approach. Among many positive unprompted messages from from attendees on the day was the following from Brendan Strong, Director of Education at Society of Medical Professionals “Working in eLearning/education in Ireland for nearly 20 years, I have been seeking events like this, and really felt this was the first I’ve attended that really provided useful, research-led and practical advice”

We look forward to assisting our member companies with their Impact Led Innovation projects and to growing the impact our industry has on the world stage.