A byte at the Big Apple: Lessons from Educate NYC

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At Educate 2017, our first ever self-run conference, we learned just as much as anyone else.

Unlike music idols, A-list actors, or world-famous sports stars, developers don’t often get to meet people who admire their work. They just toil away behind the scenes even though their output can affect millions of lives. But for the Learnosity team, that all changed just a few short months ago at Educate New York, our first-ever conference-style event.

“Educate was about trying to build a community to share what we’ve learnt,” says Gavin, company CEO and co-founder. “Lots of our customers have similar views on education and face similar challenges, so Educate was about trying to build a community for two-way sharing. It gave us an opportunity to put our team into the spotlight. They’re kind of hidden away in the background most of the time, but an event like this helped put them front and center so they could have that interaction with clients and other developers. It was a bit like a festival for tech geeks really, and we’re proud to admit it!”

That geekiness was embraced right from the start – the event was held on 4 May, which meant we could shoehorn in a number of subtle and not-so-subtle Star Wars references in our promotional material (“May the 4th be with you!”).

Educate 2017 Keynote

Using a sense of humour thoughout proceedings wasn’t just about being ourselves though; it was also a coping mechanism for the anxiety of hosting an event of this kind. Without any experience, we decided to adopt a “go big or go home”-type attitude, and so we brought Educate 2017 to one of the world’s glitziest and most vibrant capitals – New York.

“Initially we were terrified no one would come,” recalls Gavin. “Get too small a venue and there’s no room for expansion or flexibility to run multiple streams. Get too big a venue and you rattle around inside it.”

New York rooftop Educate 2017
The gleaming rooftops at sundown.

In the end, the venue that was just right was Offsite. Located in Midtown – about a block or so away from Bryant Park and New York Public Library – Offsite was large enough to be a perfect testing ground for a debut event, yet small enough to allow the team to personalize the space as they liked.

With several areas to work with, the venue also facilitated separate presentation streams: one for product owners and one for developers. This allowed the team to refine the content of their talks to make it more relevant for those in attendance.

“Educate was originally planned as a developers’ conference to get the people building the products in contact with the people who built the APIs. But then demand grew and it ended up having a broader appeal with different content strands.”

“That worked out better than we could have hoped. The team could go into more detail in their areas of expertise and make sure everyone knew just how much was possible with Learnosity and how to get the most value from it.”

New York street Educate

Thankfully, that scope and depth seemed to resonate with attendees – feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive (take a look at the responses below for proof!). But resting on our laurels is a recipe for stagnation. Educate New York was unforgettable, but we want to take what we’ve learnt along the way and and do it even bigger and better next time.

As Gavin put it in a post-event email to the team: “This was a milestone in our development as a company, and a signal of where our ambitions lie.”

So, in typically honest fashion, here’s a rundown of what we learned from Educate 2017, and from you.

Your feedback on Educate

While the positive sentiment at the event was obvious, and there was a feel-good glow afterward, we still decided to try to measure exactly what attendees thought of Educate 2017 in the weeks that followed once the dust had settled, with a post-event survey.

  • 95% of you would recommend the event to a colleague.
  • Over 97% felt satisfied or very satisfied with the event overall.
  • 87% found the Educate was directly relevant and helpful for their job.
  • 95% of attendees felt comfortable asking questions at presentations.
  • 90% would rate the organization of the event as “good” or “very good”.
  • And 84% of you told us that you’d be either interested or very interested in speaking at next year’s event.

The talks you enjoyed the most:

  • Customization (all 3 sessions)
  • Today’s special (item versioning)
  • Partner Panel
  • Client Case Studies
  • Roadmap
  • Roundtable Sessions

There’s no acclaim like attendee acclaim

“Educate sparked some exciting ideas for us regarding how we can continue to push forward our partnership with Learnosity to provide instructionally-relevant assessment innovation for our students and teachers.”

Shawn Francis, CollegeBoard

“Thank you for an amazing conference. Big Ideas gets so much value out of its relationship with Learnosity, and this is another example. Please have more events like this!”

Erika Dauber Berlin, Big Ideas Learning

“Albeit your first industry conference, it was informative and sincerely rewarding, and sets a high bar for future events.”

Jeffrey Cuff, CenterPoint Education Solutions

“The presentations on styling, reporting, and accessibility were especially rewarding.  The wrapper CMS that you showed around the authoring tool was inspiring and exactly what we have in mind with integration with our Drupal CMS.”

Trevor James, CenterPoint Education Solutions

“It’s really great to have a bunch of peers in the same room – even if we do all have competitive products. We’re here to collaborate – we’re all trying to solve the same problems.”

Troy Martin, Brigham Young University

Successes in creating something unique

Speaking of bespoke

As many of the attendees at Educate will know, we’re constantly refining and improving Learnosity’s product suite with the dev equivalent of a fine-tooth comb. Part of the challenge of organizing Educate was to convey a sense of this care and attention to detail. To do so, we went the extra mile making our marketing material stand out, from doors to brochures to a 3-D Educate logo painstakingly made by Rich, one of our talented (even multi-talented!) engineers.

Down to the last detail.

Educate 3D logo
Ready to Educate

And it didn’t stop there. In fact the team went the extra 3,100 miles in bringing a range of spot prizes and goodies all the way from Ireland to NYC.

Educate number

What to say, what to say…

It takes guts to stand up there on stage and try hold the attention of others. It takes even more to do it at a sold-out conference that’s wedged with lots of extremely bright and ambitious people.

Yet that’s just what each presenter at the event did. Of course it’s not just a matter of standing up and speaking: each presenter spent weeks working on their presentations. From idea pitches, to rough drafts, to working drafts, to reiterations and refinement, to rehearsals with the team – each and every speaker at Educate gave their all in putting together a talk that would provide insight and value on the many ways that Learnosity is helping users, improving its offering, and evolving to meet the needs of product owners, educators and publishers in the future.

To white shoe, or not to white shoe?

Our CEO Gavin was quietly confident that white shoes were still de rigueur in 2017 (“Why does everybody call them shoes? They’re sneakers!”). A way of making a bold statement in this brashest of cities. And, somewhat surprisingly, over 70 per cent of you agreed. Still, there was a lack of attention from the likes of EsquireVanity Fair, or Cosmopolitan. Go figure.


Why our next event will be even better

Practice makes perfect

Everyone worked extremely hard in preparing and rehearsing their presentations, but it was our first event and things got a little hectic at times. With the whole experience now behind us we’re confident we things will run far smoother in future. Like pinning down the agenda earlier on (a difficulty, given the multiple time zones involved), and giving speakers more time to get their ideas organized and ready to go.

So little time, so much to do … Some of the team fine-tuning their presentations the day before the event.

Packed house Educate 2017 Learnosity

Taking the mic

Talking while holding a microphone and going through a slide presentation is a lot tougher than you’d think. We could point to some very credible research on the brain’s diminished capacity to function while attending to different activities at once, but what we really mean is multitasking on stage kind of sucks. So no more handheld mics.

Location, location, location …

In our naivety, we approached venue booking as we would a wedding, assuming that at least 10% of ticket holders wouldn’t show. That was the industry norm. Big mistake. Attendance was actually 110%, meaning even additional tickets we gave away were put to use. So while the venue was beautifully boutique, we know we’ll need someplace bigger for next year’s event.

More mingling, more streams, more doors

Another piece of valuable feedback was that you’d like more time to chat with peers. It makes sense: rarely do the stars align to let you spend quality time with those you’ve so much in common with. More time between talks would also be useful for increasing opportunities for networking and socializing (plus it would give team members more time to make sure all equipment is working properly!)

Educate 2017 Learnosity

You also told us that segmenting the presentations a little further would be helpful. This makes a lot of sense given that much of the content was pretty technical, and not everyone had the same level of proficiency. Clearly categorizing presentations as being more suitable for beginners or advanced users would be a quick fix for next year’s event.=

To make the most of all of this mingling and information, we’re going to reduce the noise so you can actually hear everything that’s being said. Because Offsite was a mostly open-plan venue, this wasn’t always the case at Educate 2017, so we’ll take steps to address the issue next year with a pretty low-tech solution: more doors!

More case studies

With client case studies among the most popular presentations at Educate, it seems there’s a lot of love for hearing about the use cases and successes of industry peers. And as you can see from the post-event survey results, more than 8 out of 10 of you said you’d be interested in taking the stage and telling your own story. Like we say, Educate is like a community – a place to share what you’ve learnt. If your story will help others, then it’ll fit right in.

And finally, more days!

We packed a lot into Educate 2017. So if we’re to have more streams, better segmentation, more speakers and more attendees at Educate 2018, then adding another day is a must. Why settle for one day when you can have two!

Micheál Heffernan

Senior Editor

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