Saturday, May 10, 2014

ASTD becomes ATD: It is more than just dropping the "S"

On Tuesday afternoon May 6, ASTD President and CEO Tony Bingham, announced the rebranding of ASTD to the Association for Talent Development (ATD).   An ASTD name change was not unexpected.  Everyone recognized for a long time that this was an international organization that continues to grow outside of the US.  So we all knew the "American" part of the American Society for Training and Development was done.   We also suspected that the word "Training" was likely over as well.   Many of us in the industry had stopped referring to ourselves as trainers long ago.  Our work has become much broader in scope and impact.   Yes, we provide training when needed, but it is just one element of what we do to help people learn, grow, and perform better at their jobs.

The new word added to the name is "Talent."  This was a surprise. Judging by the mixed reactions both at the conference immediately following the announcement and via social media this week, the jury is still out on this one.

Personally, I'm comfortable fitting the definition of the work that I do under the name "Talent Development" but it is not ideal.   I usually refer to myself as a "Workplace Learning Professional."   I see my job as helping people learn what they need to either perform better at what they are currently doing, or develop their skills to be able to take on new roles or tasks so they can grow in their careers.  This will still take some getting used to. There are connotations with "Talent" that don't quite feel like a fit to me.  "Talent Management" as a function inside a business often includes recruiting, which is not something that I do.   "Talent Development" can include many activities that are not specifically learning related, but in which learning takes place.   This could be things like 360 degree feedback, coaching, mentoring, performance management activities, etc.   My team gets involved in supporting this type of activity - usually by helping people learn how to do it - but it is most often led by people who are more likely be members of SHRM rather than what was ASTD.

Still, I feel it is close enough to call what I do Talent Development.  "Development" is a good word.  I do feel my work helps people develop and grow.  But "Performance" is a good word too.  I do help people perform well to succeed in their current jobs and to help my company ultimately be successful.   That would have been a nice word to bring into this change.  And of course "Learning" is my favorite word to use in describing what I do.  I help people learn no matter what their goal is.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

#ASTD 2014: A Mix of Old and New

Embracing my new association.
Even as I was making my way up the escalator to Hall D in the Washington Convention Center on Tuesday to hear Tony Bingham deliver the Big Announcement, I had already decided that the theme for this blog post to summarize my experience at ASTD's 2014 International Conference and Exposition (ICE) was going to be: a mix of the old and new.  Tony himself had started me on this path with his introductory remarks about change before yielding the stage to Arianna Huffington for a poignant, humorous, and inspiring keynote address derived from her new book, Thrive. "Change is important," he said.  "L&D professionals must get more involved in change management."  He was setting the stage not just for Ms. Huffington, but also for the announcement he would deliver at the end of the second day.

Change would be a recurring theme throughout the conference.  We heard it in the excerpts from Thrive as we were asked to focus on well-being, wisdom, and wonder to prepare ourselves for success. We heard it again in Tuesday's keynote address from General Stan McChrystal.  He expressed it as "the need to adapt" which he clearly illustrated using examples such as the Jet Blue crew landing their plane safely in the Hudson River, and the completion of the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound by the Navy Seals, even after one of their helicopters crash landed at the beginning of the mission.

Change links the old and the new.  If we do it right, we discard tools and behaviors we no longer need, in favor of new ones.  But we also carry forward experiences and wisdom that can still serve us well in the future we are trying to create.   So here are examples of the juxtapositions of old and new I experienced during this year's conference:

  • I stopped by Ken Blanchard's booth in the Expo Hall on Tuesday.  It was his 75th birthday.  He was surrounded by many of the books he has published over the years.  They are those short, easy-to-read type books that seem commonplace nowadays.  But those of us from my generation remember them as groundbreaking alternatives to the large textbook-like business books of the time. It is the same way the session leaders at ICE were advocating the idea of short learning bursts as opposed to full-blown courses today.
  • I attended a session on Designing Learning for a Global Audience.  Alongside new information about addressing language and cultural differences, the session leaders were presenting design principles from Clark & Mayer's e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (and I'm not entirely sure they knew that!)
  • In another session I attended on Social Learning, I heard ideas presented that came right out of Gloria Gery's Electronic Performance Support presented while Jane Hart's Comet's Tail of Workplace Learning Trends was being shown on the screen.
  • On my trip home from the conference, I posted a tweet to illustrate what I had learned in Jane Bozarth's  Show Your Work session.  Jane's recent and current work inspires me to think creatively about learning.  My tweet was favorited by the Bob Pike Group.  Bob's Creative Training Techniques course and handbook provided similar inspiration to me as a new trainer early in my career.

  • Finally, in announcing that ASTD is changing its name to the Association for Talent Development, Tony Bingham talked about "where we've been" and "where we're going." That was clearly illustrated when we arrived at the conference center Wednesday morning to see all of the old ASTD banners and marketing collateral had already been replaced with new ATD branded material.
As I stated earlier, if we go about change the right way, we bring a mix of old and new with us as we move forward.  For me, I find it easy to identify with being part of ATD.  The new name encompasses the work that I've done so far in my career and it embraces the wider possibilities of supporting global audiences with a broader range of services.  I think I can live with that.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Want to Learn Something at #ASTD2014? Attend a Forum Session

It is that time of year again.   Learning & Development professionals from all corners of the globe make their annual migration to attend the ASTD International Conference & Exposition (aka ICE; aka #ASTD2014).  This year's event is in Washington DC.   It offers a great line up of key note speakers,  hundreds of concurrent sessions to choose from, and more learning vendors assembled in one place than you can ever possibly want to see.

Like many of my industry colleagues, I'm looking forward to exhausting myself trying to get as much out of the event as I possibly can. (Here are my key takeaways from last year's conference.)   For many of us, that means spending a lot of time in rooms that have rows of chairs facing a dais with a jovial speaker presenting information using a PowerPoint presentation on a giant screen.  It is ironic, that this is the primary format for session delivery in a conference that is focused on learning.  Granted, this is a conference, not a learning event per se, but we do all go there to learn something.

If you are looking for a break from the rows of chairs, and you want to really learn something.  Check out one of the four sessions being hosted by the ASTD Forum.   The Forum is  a consortium of senior learning professionals from about 50+ member companies who connect to collaborate and share best practices on learning.   I'm in my third year of membership and it has been richly rewarding for my company and for me personally.
The Forum Sessions at ICE offer a true learning experience.  When you walk into the room, you will notice the difference immediately.  The Forum sessions are set up with round tables, not rows of chairs.  There is interaction and engagement between the participants and with the facilitators.  You'll leave with tangible takeaways.

Here are the topics that will be covered in this year's Forum sessions.  Each one is delivered in a unique format:

  1. Monday, 1 PM - Selling Learning's Value Proposition (format: Whiteboarding with Visual Icons)
  2. Monday, 3 PM - Building a Culture that Supports Learning Innovation in Your Organization (format: Force Field Analysis)
  3. Tuesday, 10 AM - Onboarding - Practices that Get Results! (format: Zing Rounds with 4 member companies)
  4. Tuesday, 1:30 PM - Creating a Global Mindset as a Leadership Competency (format: Creative Matrix)

They are all being held in room 101, so please come by and check one out. But you better get there early. Like all good learning events, we limit group size to ensure participants can maximize their learning experience.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Three Considerations for Global Learning

I have been working in Learning & Development for many years.  Until now, I have only occasionally had to support projects that were global in scope.   Most of the time, that meant creating something here in North America and then shipping it overseas to be translated.

But recently my company has been evolving from a multi-national operation to one that is truly globally integrated.   This has meant that my team has been asked to develop learning solutions to support our employees in all markets in which we do business, not just those here in the US.  So now we are working to scale up our operations.   We are trying to develop curriculum that is appropriate for broader audiences, and to create design processes that take into account that we need to work with stakeholders and subject matter experts that may be in other parts of the world.  We are clearly on a journey here.  We have a long way to go, but we are learning a lot along the way. 

Here are three observations so far about creating global learning solutions.   They may seem simple and obvious to those of you who have been operating this way for a long time, but for those of us who are in the early stages of our global journey, their implications are profound.

Culture is more important than language.   It isn't enough to do word-for-word translations of your learning content.  Localization is just as important.  You have to make sure that the context, style, and learning examples are consistent with the beliefs, values and expectations of your audiences. Also, people have different expectations about what constitutes a learning experience.  This impacts how they interact with instructors and peers in class settings.

Technology must be tested.  Technology is not the easy answer.   Technology deployment is uneven around the globe.  Bandwidth issues exist in many places.  If you plan to use virtual delivery tools or elearning, my advice is test and retest the technology before going live with it.

Local resource support is critical.   You can accomplish a lot more with active local support than you can on your own and at a distance.   We have engaged our  Human Resource Business Partners and key local business leaders to help us create the right conditions for learning and help us minimize the pitfalls. So far, this has proven to be the most critical factor in helping us to be successful.

There is certainly more to the story than these items, but they make a big difference for us.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Create Playful Characters for eLearning

Watch as @eLearningJeff (Jeff Kortenbosch from Serious Learning.) demonstrates how to create playful looking characters for your eLearning programs in PowerPoint, by using PowerPoint's drawing tool.

He uses basic circles for heads and bodies, and PowerPoint's freeform shape for hair, jewelry and other details.

If you can envision the shapes, it looks the freeform tool can be very helpful in creating a variety of characters to add a playful element to your eLearning courses.

Thanks Jeff!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Building Learning Solutions: Reuse vs. Rework

I haven't been writing in a while.  My last blog entry was made on August 25, 2013.  The topic was Contemplating Learning Content Reuse.   Believe it or not, all these months later this is still a topic that is very much on my mind.

If you were to talk to any of my team members or peers about me, they would tell you that my favorite word is reuse and the word I hate the most is rework.  The reasons for this are simple, but let me take a minute to state them here:

The reasons that reuse is my favorite word are speed, productivity, and cost.   When you increase your level of reuse, the time it takes to design and deliver a learning solution is shortened so you can help your business partners meet their objectives faster.   The shortened work cycle means higher productivity for the learning & development team as you can quickly move on to the next priority in the project pipeline.   And of course, any time you can use something more than once, you are saving money.

The reasons that rework is word I hate the most are speed, productivity and cost.   This is simply the other side of the coin.  Rework occurs when a learning solutions doesn't meet the need or isn't acceptable to the client for whom the project is being completed.  Any time you have to go back and rework something you are slowing down the process of meeting the need.   Besides lowering the productivity of the learning & development team, this can also prevent higher productivity for the target audience as they wait for the reworked solution to be released.  And again, of course, time is money so costs increase.

Here are some the things my team does to increase reuse:

  1. Use standard tools and templates.   We have an instructional design toolkit that we use when building learning solutions.   Since the work the team produces is in standardized formats, it makes it easier for one team member to pick up and reuse something that was created by another.
  2. Share learning assets.   We have a digital asset management library that we use to store (and protect) course files, graphics, audio files, videos, animations, exercises and activities.  I encourage my team to share and reuse as much as possible.   And whenever new assets must be created, they get added to the library for potential future reuse.
  3. Use modular design.   In recent years, our learning objects have gotten shorter and more focused.  When possible, we create objects around a single objective so that content that might be reusable, isn't embedded with content that is unnecessary or inappropriate for a learning need.
  4.  Create "brand neutral" learning objects.   While it may seem cool to have programs that are branded to support a specific event or initiative, this limits reusability.  It can be distracting to a learner who comes across branding associated with last year's kick-off meeting theme in a program that what would otherwise be valuable to them.   The only branding we use for our learning objects is our company logo.  We do not use sub-brands.  When we do need to brand something, we try to do it through the marketing and promotional materials rather than in the learning object itself.
  5. Create "stand alone" learning objects.   Avoid referring to specific dates or mentioning key contacts' phone numbers or email addresses inside a learning object.  As soon as you turn the page on the calendar or the key contact person moves on, your learning object becomes out of date.   Keep date-specific or person-specific information separate from learning content.  If you want to have a module introduced by a senior executive to give it context or heightened importance, create a video of the executive delivering the introductory message as its own learning object. Then offer both introduction and the learning module together as a curriculum. If that executive changes jobs or moves on, the video can be retired, but the learning module can continue to be used. 
Here are some things my team does to decrease rework:

  1. Conduct peer reviews.   It is always helpful to have a second set of eyes look at your work.  Particularly when working under deadline pressure (as we all do).   Our instructional designers conduct peer reviews for each other to provide feedback on design elements and look for glitches, errors and typos.  An added benefit to this process is that the designers build off each others ideas in future projects.
  2. Conduct walk throughs.   While it is standard practice for us to conduct design reviews with our internal clients, sometimes they don't give their full attention to the documents or prototypes they are sent for review.   In order to get them to focus on key elements of a design, we will schedule walk throughs with them.   This way the designer can lead the reviewer through a script, a storyboard, beta version, or draft, making sure that appropriate focus is given to every element that needs to be reviewed.