Observations from the 2017 ATD Conference

Engagement. Gamification. Content. Content. Content. While it has been a couple of weeks, my brief time at the annual ATD Conference left quite an impression on me. I suspect it did for the thousands in attendance. While I don’t expect the uptick in microlearning or alternative training methods to overtake traditional, curriculum-based approaches, I do believe the market is looking for more. More ways to engage. More ways to deliver content. More variety for learners.

I had an opportunity to speak with many of the solution providers at the ATD Conference Exhibit Hall and three themes really stood out to me:

Learning Experience
In my many years developing products, we always talk about focusing on the core user experience. I think the learning and development mindset is starting to shift in that direction. There is a resounding focus on the learner experience (LX). This is a relatively big shift that will take some time to proliferate, even though it has already started. 

For decades, the training experience - and the policy approach, as well - has been centered on the content. More specifically, the what-to and what-not-to do’s. Compliance training had centered around training on the law (but really, your teams don’t understand it). Other training topics focused on covering salient points without much context for the learner.

I think we are finally seeing a shift toward a learner-centered approach. How does the learner learn best? How do we incorporate learning as a natural part of a team member’s job or employee experience? What do I need to know now and what can wait?

One of the biggest challenges is the check-the-box mindset. So much of training initiatives is to be able to say, “We tried to provide training, but they didn’t listen.” Or, “We gave you skills development opportunities, but you did not progress.” This approach is selfishly centered around protecting the organization. But what about the interest of the employee? And why can’t we have both? 

I believe focusing on LX supports both mindsets by truly providing learning opportunities for our team members while building resilience in the organization. I am excited to see where the focus on learning experience will change the way organizations fundamentally think about developing our team members for the long-run.

Video Content
Content is king. And our obsession with videos and animation, easily consumed on all our mobile devices, is creating an even larger demand for broad and deep video libraries. Whether it’s for a formal learning event or the new micro-learning format, video libraries are in high demand. And the real challenge is keeping video fresh and diverse. Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat, we have been programmed to focus on interactive video content. And it doesn’t have to be highly produced content. With appropriately short videos (as little as six seconds based on the YouTube bumper videos), the expectation is around uniqueness rather than high quality, even though great quality comes easily with today’s mobile devices.

Newsletters from the CEO are being replaced by weekly 2 minute videos. I recently attended a talk by Mercedes-Benz North America CEO Dietmar Exler and he mentioned that their leadership team provides short video updates regularly to engage their teams and dealers. While large libraries of videos seem to satisfy near-term needs, organizations are also realizing that custom videos are much more engaging to team members. It’s easy to spot a generically produced video from one with your own people and facilities.

I think the focus on videos is now a foundational expectation and not a nice-to-have. Organizations need to get more creative to continuously produce custom video content for on-boarding, organizational awareness, training and employee engagement.

Feedback Loops
In the past five years, pulse surveys have become a new focus for HR to continuously listen to the organization rather than rely on the once-a-year employee survey. Not unexpectedly, numerous learning solutions are incorporating feedback loops as an opportunity to poll team members.

While some might think about this in the context of a learning event (how was the training facilitator?), I think the biggest value is to incorporate feedback loops at another employee touchpoint. Just like training, surveys don’t (and shouldn’t) need to take 25 minutes to complete. No one has the time or patience.

If you look at learning and awareness touchpoints, these are ideal times to pose a question or two. Simple and easy poll questions are more likely to garner responses and they are much more real-time in nature. Incorporating feedback opportunities with learning opportunities is a natural fit and organizations should aim to do more of it.

For me, these themes are not ground-breaking, but demonstrate positive momentum in how we think about helping our team members. The focus on the learner experience, relatable videos and feedback opportunities are all areas we can improve upon in our own organizations and I challenge everyone to take a moment to think about how you can take steps to improving your organization in these areas.