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:
Passion – Sir 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.