The King of the L & D Backchannel, David Kelly

If you like to read L & D blogs, follow L & D conference information (regardless of whether you attend the conference) or if you use Twitter to follow the L & D Community, you probably know of David Kelly and his backchannel efforts.

I asked David a few questions to get to know why he does what he does…

David, you were very involved in the Backchannel before you became the official Backchannel’er for The Guild.  What about that duty drew you to the task?

I’ve been fascinated by the backchannel longer than I have been familiar with the term.  What I knew was that there were a number of people sharing content at industry conferences. Even if I was unable to attend an event in person, I could learn from what attendees were sharing via Twitter. What I really like about the backchannel is that it expands upon event content and enables you to build connections. Some of the best relationships I have today started with a connection that was made in a conference backchannel.
The light curation I do for events stems from what I consider to be a learning gap. Conferences are great. They provide us with an opportunity to step away from our day-to-day tasks and focus exclusively on our personal development, and what that development can contribute to the organizations we serve.The problem is, we leave our work and enter a raging river of content, then we leave the event and go right back into our work. There’s not much opportunity to pause, reflect, and absorb what we learn at a conference, and if we can’t do that, there’s little chance we’ll be able to act on any of it.

I started the curated resource postings for events to bridge that gap for myself. I reference the resources for weeks after events or longer. It helps me retain more information, and through the writings of others, contextualize it. I find it extremely beneficial, and I’m happy that others have found the posts useful as well.

In what ways do you feel your backchannel work and blogs impact the L & D industry?

That’s an interesting question, if only because it implies that my backchannel work HAS impacted the industry. While I do know that individuals have found my posts helpful, I’ve never really considered impact it may have on the industry as a whole.

You mentioned earlier that I’ve done some work for The eLearning Guild as their official blogger and a curator for their event backchannels. That would probably be the closest thing I could describe as ‘industry impact’. Members of the Guild team noticed the posts I share related to events, including some of the excellent ones they hold like Learning Solutions, DevLearn, and mLearn. They saw it as something that enhances the learning of their events, and through their support behind what I do in hopes of enhancing the value even more.

While I have never consciously sought out to impact the industry, if the work I do helps organizations and individuals better understand and appreciate the value of connecting and sharing before, during, and after an event, that would be wonderful.


David Kelly has been recognized for many things in the elearning community, including his very articulate ability to be influential as he tells a story in his blogs.

What advice would you give others who also want to contribute to the backchannel?

The biggest peace of advice I give people about the backchannel is to develop competency in whatever tool you are going to use to participate. Most backchannels today take place on Twitter, so you need to decide on what tool you’re going to use to post and learn how to use it. When participating in a backchannel you want to focus on WHAT to tweet, not HOW to tweet.

Sometimes the backchannel can contain a fire hose of information. What advice can you give to readers to get the most out of the backchannel?

You can’t possibly read every tweet from a healthy backchannel, and you shouldn’t try to. Some people think they need to for fear they might ‘miss something’. The truth is though, if you try to take in everything, you’ll likely gain nothing.

Drinking from a hose is a great analogy. When you drink from a hose, you don’t do it head-on. You sip from the side, taking in parts of the stream to quench your thirst. The backchannel is very similar. Don’t feel the need to read everything. Over time you’ll start to be able to read more of the stream, and you’ll notice that certain people’s tweets will start to stand out for you, as they seem to contribute more value.

How do you see the backchannel evolving over time?

For the most part, today’s backchannel takes place during an event. They’re a portal that enables sharing during an event. Some of those backchannels are good, but very few are really what I would describe as a great backchannel by today’s definition.

As for how I see future backchannels, it’s the ‘during’ part that I see evolving. I see a growing value in backchannel hashtags being used for weeks before and weeks after an event. Beforehand people are able to share what they hope to learn, and connect with other attendees. Afterwards, people can reflect on what they learned and share how they are using the information. For organizations that have multiple events (like The eLearning Guild or ASTD) I can see it evolving to a single backchannel that’s always being accessed, with the actual events being focal points in the interactions.

In short, I see backchannels becoming ongoing communities of sharing. In some cases, I already see that organically happening. At some point, organizations will start to build that into their strategy.

Where do you think your passions will take you next … what other mountains in the L & D industry would you like to conquer?

I hear lots of people talk about correcting the mistakes of L&D, changing the industry, and making other statements that generally talk about ‘fixing’ the world of learning and development. I don’t see it that way. Don’t get me wrong, there are PLENTY of things I think we as an industry can do better. I just don’t see my role as one of ‘fixing’ it.

The more people I meet at conferences and events, the more I realize that a large percentage of people simply don’t know what they don’t know. That’s an area I like to help – in building awareness and knowledge for people that may not have been exposed to it in the past. It’s one of the reasons I write, facilitate workshops, and speak at industry conferences and events.  I hope that the work that I do is able to help connect those with desire with the resources to quench their thirst for knowledge. I can’t change L&D, but I can share and help individuals expand their comfort zones and consider new ways of doing things. Maybe in the process, I could inspire others to do the same. If everyone tried to better themselves and share what they’ve learned, we collectively could raise the bar of our industry.

Thanks David. I find your vision to be inspiring and I’m sure others do too.


  1. mojotillett

    I would agree Davids backchannel contributions are a very important part of the L & D community ecosystem. I attend many conferences a year but cannot attend them all so they are very helpful in getting a snapshot of the event, so I am a follower. I am however a bit jealous of the title King ; )

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