Whilst I once attended a regional ATD chapter event in Chicago at McDonald’s Hamburger University, I hadn’t been to the annual event. The Association of Talent and Development conference this year was held in Denver, Colorado.
The convention centre in Denver hosted the ATD 2016 event and lectures were held downstairs whilst the main trade expo was upstairs. Walking round the event on Sunday as the stands were being set up we bumped into Elliott Massie the world renowned thought leader in learning and development. Elliott was easy to spot wearing his trademark red jacket. Talking to Elliott as he sipped on his ice tea he explained how he had been to the ATD annual event for the last 23 years. Elliott went on to state there is always an annual buzzword. Last years buzzword was “gamification” whilst this years would be “virtual reality”. Not bad from the chap who coined the word “e-learning”.
The conference has enlarged and contracted over it’s 23 years but today it was as strong as ever. This year 15,000 attendees and 400 exhibitors made up the conference. From the traditional leadership and management chalk and talk instructor led companies to hi-tech companies from Silicon Valley there was a lot of variety for the learning and development professional attending.
Attending one lecture from the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) an organisation based in Greensboro, North Carolina we learnt how Pitney Bowes a shipping company has delivered an online only learning experience for their managers globally. WebX was the platform of choice for the online facilitation.
The co-presenters of the CCL presentation had not actually met each other before the conference. They explained the importance to prepare, engage and assess. Before each WebX dry run practice sessions were conducted by CCL. Virtual tea breaks were introduced for participants to either have a drink or just stretch their legs to ensure engagement levels were maintained.
Online chats were encouraged to get group sessions running and a problem oriented approach was adopted. Managers were encouraged to bring a critical business problem to the course which they would try and solve. Some managers missed the odd session but sessions were recorded so they could be revisited, one of the major benefits in using e-learning.
The Centre for Creative Leadership was set up by the successful businessman H. Smith Richardson Sr who was behind the Vicks brand. After building the successful Vick Chemical Co. his attention turned to the question of leadership. CCL is a not for profit with the sole purpose to further the advancement of leadership and management. CCL counts the UN and Red Cross as organisations which they have helped over the years. CCL is not just in North America they have staff based in Belgium, Ethiopia, Russia, Singapore, India, China and in South Africa.
In terms of products which I found interesting was a web conference and virtual training tool called JigSaw. JigSaw based in Atlanta have created an interesting software which allows for online facilitation via four split screens. For the last 2 years JigSaw have won CIO awards so their small team of 9 must be doing something right.
Other ideas which I discovered at the conference included new content authoring tools for write once and deliver on many devices. GoMo Learning a content authoring tool and challenger to the likes of Articulate Storyline not only allows for mobile responsive HTML5 friendly output but they also offer a hosted option for content which can simply be embedded in platforms. This means when branding changes are made to content you don’t have to download and upload the content packages to your learning platform. You simply update once and your content updates on all your platforms via embedded codes. Better deployment and write once for many devices is said to half the time taken to produce content by instructional designers.
Finally, I was curious to see how Degreed was developing its platform. Points can be earned on Degreed based on learning hours and these can then be converted to cash as rewards for staff. The platform is the glue that links the likes of Lynda.com, Udemy, Google Books, Udacity and Coursera under one single sign on model. Other popular repositories such as Box, DropBox, Office 365 and Google Drive are also connected to Degreed. A plugin to web browsers such as Chrome and Firefox means Degreed can track all the learning a user conducts both inside and outside of the platform. The learner and their managers can see what learning has happened and their current skills can be linked to skill gaps needed for the future. Degreed can also be linked to popular Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Moodle to deliver both formal and informal learning.
Another interesting exhibitor was Apollo Education Group’s Innovators Accelerator. Not only was the learning experience of this platform innovative, the subject matter experts housed on the platform included big names such as Professor Clayton Christensen from Harvard University. The accelerator allows middle managers and leaders the ability to attend an innovation program online. Josh Painter VP of Product and Partnerships at Apollo stated “Most online learning is not engaging and so Innovators Accelerator was designed from the bottom up to ensure the learning experience was best in class.”
Overall ATD was showing the shift from traditional instructor led learning to the digital world. Whilst there were still plenty of training companies in attendance more and more companies demonstrated blended learning solutions combining both the online and offline approaches. Next year ATD 2017 will be Atlanta Georgia and it will be well worth a visit!