Whether it was Twitter, podcasts or more conventional e-learning, delegates at this year’s HRD conference could hardly avoid hearing about the lure of new technology.

Charles Jennings, former global head of learning at Thomson Reuters and now an independent consultant, said learning and development (L&D) specialists were not innovative enough around e-learning. His concern was fuelled by this year’s CIPD L&D survey, which showed a 6 per cent decline since last year in the number of organisations introducing or extending e-learning.

But employers bucking the trend include police forces, with e-learning embedded in the services up and down the country, said John Aveling of the National Policing Improvement Agency.

“If you can prove to the biggest resisters it will work, then they will champion the system,” he told delegates. Benefits included allowing officers to play out real-life incidents through gaming scenarios and saving time from travel to training centres.

According to many of this year’s speakers, the more informal side of e-learning, Web 2.0 technologies, represents the future. Aside from the allure of something that is free when training budgets are tight, companies are realising that not embracing blogs and social networking sites will reduce their ability to attract future generations of workers, who use them “like an extension of their arm”, according to Vaughan Walker of accountants Moore Stephens. Curbing their use also risked demotivating employees, he said.

Peter Butler, head of learning at BT group, also advocated the use of Web 2.0. “If we don’t embrace this in organisations, people will probably not join [those organisations] in the future,” he said. BT is rolling out an online learning portal, bringing together blogs, discussion forums and podcasts, that will allow the 100,000-strong workforce to share content. Butler estimated that the project, named “Dare to share”, had saved the company £8 million in its first year.

Graham White, HR director of Westminster City Council, questioned why more learning and development professionals did not use at work technologies that they used at home, such as mobile web access and Twitter. Norman Jardine, head of learning and development at the European Commission, urged delegates “to give encouragement and the resources to people who are tweeting, blogging, using wikis and so on”. “The mistake we have made in the past is to be slow to catch on when in fact our customers were ahead of the game,” he said.

Organisations were advised by Paul Henrick, managing director of HR (EMEA) at communications firm Burson-Marsteller, to adopt a “reverse mentoring” approach to help spread the use of social networking sites from Generation Y to other employees.