Saturday, May 25, 2013

Five Themes Heard Loudly and Clearly at #ASTD2013

This week was the learning industry’s premiere event:  The ASTD International Conference and Exposition (aka ICE) in Dallas.   Estimated attendance was upwards of 9000 learning geeks from over 70 countries.  I was proud to be among them.
At an event this large, it is impossible to experience it all.  It is like visiting the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There is just too much to see and do.  The best way to approach it is to focus on a theme or a track, and create your own personal conference experience.  Two colleagues from my company attended the conference this year along with me.  One of them followed the Sales Enablement track and the other followed the Measurement, Evaluation and ROI track.  My approach was different.  Our company is a member of the ASTD Forum (a benchmarking group of about 50 companies that help each other out on workplace learning issues and share best practices).   The Forum members put on a series of workshops at ICE each year.  This year we offered four sessions.  I volunteered to co-facilitate one of them and I decided to attend the other three to support my colleagues during their facilitation.   It made for a great experience but it limited the number of sessions outside of the Forum offerings that I could attend.
Despite not getting around as much as I have at previous conferences, several themes reached me through the sessions I did attend, through the twitterverse, and through casual conversations with other conference goers in the expo, at lunch, and during my favorite event: the ice cream social!
Here are five themes I heard repeatedly during my conference experience:
PassionSir Ken Robinson kicked of the passion craze during his keynote address on Monday morning.  In discussing his new book, Finding Your Element, he reminded us all that we are happiest and most successful in our careers when we are able to perform work that marries up our aptitudes with our passions.   This seemingly simple point, made quite an impact.  It was cited during several other sessions during the week and was often part of the conversation in between sessions.
Millennials – It was fascinating to me to see how many times the millennial generation was discussed during this conference.  But what truly surprised me was the way it was discussed: “Millenials are coming!”  “They are going to be in leadership positions!”   “We must prepare!”  It was as if a plague or a hostile army was descending on us.   In my humble opinion, we were going a little overboard on this one.  Yes, every generation has different life experiences that shape their expectations, but isn’t that just part of diversity?  Embrace it and let it enrich us.   Let’s focus more on what we can learn from them and less about how they might react to “old school training approaches” that we should be retiring anyway.
Brain Science – I haven’t heard this much talk about the brain since the educational psychology courses I attended in graduate school.   But it is a welcome line of conversation.   Brain research is about memory and recall.  It confirms all of the things we know we should be doing to enable effective learning:  get people’s attention, stimulate their thinking, appeal to their emotions, and give them time to digest and reflect on what they have learned.   The latest research is being presented in easily digestible formats.   That is good news.  It gives us something to work with when we are trying to convince our business partners why we are advocating short bursts of learning spaced out over time instead of cramming everything into a three-day event.
Mobile as Performance Support - As it was with last year’s conference, Mobile Learning was a very hot topic.  But whereas last year’s discussion centered on how to get mobile learning off the ground, this year’s theme was how to do it right: getting mobile learning into the workflow and using it for just-in-time performance support.  Shame on anyone who still thinks they might be able to take an existing e-learning course and reconfigure it for a mobile device.   That is not the way to go.
Curation – As the learning industry embraces mobile, social, and self-managed learning as opportunities, we find ourselves needing to play a new role in relation to our learners: content curator.  With the overwhelming amount of information our learners have at their disposal, and the wide variety of sources from which to get that information, we can help them by sorting it out in ways that makes it easier for them to get their hands on content that will be most useful to them.  This year the ASTD published a conference backchannel resource page.   And of course, David Kelly, who has become one of the most influential leaders on this topic, posts his own curated resources from the conference.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Creating WOW Learning Experiences

Last week I held a meeting with my full team of Instructional Designers and Curriculum Managers. Since we are a virtual team that is scattered to all corners of the country, we rarely have the opportunity to all be in the same place at the same time. I have such a talented team of learning professionals.  It was wonderful to take advantage of our collective thinking to discuss how we can improve the way we work, and the actions we could be taking to ensure we deliver on our objectives for this year.

As part of these discussions, we tackled the topic of creating WOW learning experiences. This is something that is important to us as we want to continuously improve what we do while helping our learners to grow, develop and perform better at work. We did some creative exercises to get our juices flowing, and then worked to define what we meant by WOW learning and what the elements of WOW learning would look like. So here is what we came up with:
WOW Learning Definition: Learning experiences that are self-directed, engaging, and hands-on. They provide methods, ways or platforms for learners to modify, enhance, or change behaviors in ways that successfully transfer to the work that they do and lead to improved performance.
Okay, this probably sounds like a definition that was created by committee. Well it was. But it has all the important elements that we talked about and it recognizes the importance of the learner in the experience.

WOW Learning Elements: Leading up to the creation of this definition, we discussed what WOW learning would look like. From our point-of-view, it would include the following:
  •  Engages learners
  • Leaves them wanting more; or to repeat the experience
  • Addresses needs and provides value
  • Enables them to change behavior, do something new, or do something better than they did before the experience
  • Grabs their attention
  • Allows them to control the path of the experience 
  • Invests them emotionally (which we saw being accomplished through stories - that create human interest - and/or games – that challenge our competitive natures)
One of the models that came to mind and was discussed as we were creating this list was John Keller’s ARCS model (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction) which describes how to create and sustain motivation through the learning process.
I was proud of my team for arriving where we did through this discussion. Now our challenge is to put this into practice in the learning experiences we design and deliver.