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Reflections on #ATDACEND Keynotes

atdascend   The Florida Suncoast Chapter of ATD held its first ATDASCEND Conference Friday September 23rd. The bottom line assessment is that it was a clear check in the Win column, for several reasons.

  1. Unless you were told it was the first conference, you wouldn’t have guessed it. The organizers did a great job with all the logistics. Additional thanks to all the volunteers, and sponsors.
  2. Many conferences go through Orlando each year (ATD ICE usually comes through every few years, Masie and Training Magazine frequent the area, and Elearning Guild’s Learning Solution/Ecosystem conference is a yearly event). However, there hasn’t been many options for a Talent/HR/L&D conference with a strong regional focus.  I was very pleased to see ATD’s Suncoast Chapter create one. It is great to see local peers of our industry to network.
  3. Keynotes and sessions I attended were quite good, and I heard positive buzz from other attendees regarding the sessions they attended.
  4. I also presented at the conference, and felt the support I received was good. I know another speaker used ATD ASCEND as her first speaking engagement at a professional conference, and she did great. I imagine this had a bit to do with the support from the ATD Suncoast staff.
My blog series will note some key takeaways and insights from the conference, starting with the keynotes.

Key Takeaways from Keynotes

Applied Improvisation: Using Human-Client Simulations for Immersive Learning (Presented by Delaney La Rosa and Amy Lannen of the Mayo Clinic)

Great Tips for Roleplay/Scenarios

There was a spectacular set of practical, immediately applicable lessons I took from this session on roleplays. Roleplays really just present a problem and parameters, and set the participants to work toward a solution. In  our highly variable world, we no longer have formulatic, paint-by-numbers solutions to most problems (work, in reality, is imrpov!).  Roleplays can be a great tool to practice. However, roleplays often are too unstructured and can break down into more silly responses where professional behaviors aren’t maintained. Make the roleplay as real as possible. Medical devices beeping as they would in an ER with professional actors acting exactly as if they are having a medical emergency will elicit a more realistic response from participants than scenarios that are clearly fake. Some adjustments can be very simple. They showed a video of two friends in a customer service telephone roleplay. Facing each other, they cracked. They knew it was fake. Small micro-tells between friends made them break into giggles. Simply by telling them to not face each other, and to react as if it was an actual customer, the roleplay was executed more professionally.

Default to “Yes, and…”

There were some typical leanings from improve like the agreement principle (using “yes and…” as opposed to “yes,  but”…) which is a good thing to keep in mind about maintaining relationships and keeping open to opportunities.  However, it was clarified that the author of Getting to Yes has a follow up book so we don’t say yes when we shouldn’t. It reminds me of the important lessons of knowing when to say “no” (actually, there are many alternatives for how to say “no” without it being blunt refusal and damaging relationships). Saying no to many things frees you to say yes to the most important things.  I think this theme was very nicely captured in Angel Green’s keynote where she talked about when we should walk away from executing designs that we know would be harmful to users, a waste of time and money, and not benefit the organization.

Anyone Can Change: Myth or Fact (Presented by Cindy Moran, Predictive Results and others)

You can try to train the horse to climb a tree, but you are better off hiring a squirrel

I have heard this statement in many forms, many times, often with a follow up statement: “many training issues are actually hiring or promotions problems”.  I think we have all seen it before: superstar salesperson promoted to sales manager and fails miserably, or a similar scenario. Training often cannot fix what is clearly a very poor job fit for an employee. I cannot tell you how many times I have refused to take on roles in organizations that would have been a horrible fit. When pressed to answer why, it is always the same answer: “I have no interest in failing both myself or the organization with a misstep”.  Folks have argued with me on this point, but I ask for the data.  This is where things get interesting, and something Cindy clearly illustrated as a key issue in organizations: We actually know very little about our employees. Truthfully, we actually know less about the work behaviors and potential of our employees than the average marketing person would know about the purchasing behaviors of customers. If a manager were to look at promoting individuals to new positions in the organization, they are usually under-supported by good, actionable data.  Cindy showed some compelling evidence on this issue and how to better understand the workforce and align capabilities of workers with the mission of the organization. This really resonated with me, and not just because of my personal experiences with managers who think they know me better than I know myself (or my wife, and trusted colleagues who I ask when I have doubts on aligning my skills with new roles). This also points to a key shift we are having in our industry in measuring FAR beyond LMS metrics to understand capabilities of a workforce and how new capabilities of the xAPI standard can help feed a necessary data stream. A few months ago, I read Jenny Dearborn’s DATA DRIVEN.  If the subject of this talk interested you, it is a book you should read.

Be Your Learner’s Advocate (Presented by Angel Green of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida)

Angel’s keynote was great. Really on-point and eye opening, and her presentation style was a great way to wrap up the conference.

#Hatetraining

Using the hashtag, Angel showed the harsh reality: we are not popular. Why?  We all know the reasons. Look deep down. Let’s look critically and be brutally honest with ourselves: we aren’t doing our jobs well. How much of it is relevant to most folks put through the training? Is it chunked in a way that fits with their work? Does it actually help them perform better? Is it mandatory? Could they just read it? Was training even needed? Do the PPT slides have string bean guy and other clipart from the 90s and bad star-wipe effects? Is there anything that supports transfer to the workplace….  I could go on.  The fact is, that for all we know about effective learning interventions AND how employees work, we are doing a very poor job on a large scale.

I am mad as hell, and feel a good deal of shame

Angel noted the famous line of “I’m as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” in regard to vendors and how they aren’t pushing for key innovations that we have seen in other business functions like marketing, finance, etc. However, I think we have to accept significant amount of the blame. Not just for NOT taking a stronger stand with vendors, but for also not living the principles of the eLearning Manifesto, nor executing good learning practices on a regular basis (even more on this in a follow up post). We are also very poor at adapting new technologies and practices. I find very few elearning pros who really leverage spaced learning, twitter, fewer who understand SCORM vs xAPI (if you don’t know SCORM trappings it is hard to escape them, even if you adopt xAPI), and a scant few who use metatags on any learning assets to help with discover-ability of assets that would help support workers (see Tozman’s Learning on Demand).

The computers are coming – time to get off our content fetish

Angel noted a Ted Talk how PR engines can now sweep text and create perfect pitches. Actually, as someone with some insight on AI and machine learning, I can assure you a great deal of news and sports articles are written by algorithms. It is shocking and happened without our knowledge. And yes, these algorithms are coming to eat our lunch. Furthermore, we often fancy ourselves as designers- putting a pleasing front-end on the tomes of content tossed at us by SMEs and Compliance types.  Guess what? You aren’t safe there either. Content layout analytics engines like the Grid.io are already eating away at the fringes and soon it will have more intelligence on user habits at scale- as well at an individual user level- to automatically adapt layout to specific user preference. Most of this is address content. I have often advocated that L&D has to get off our content fetish. Because, frankly, more content is the last thing any worker needs. They are drowning in content. We need to pivot to experience- relevant experience- and the content feeds into support that- a supporting role (see Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping).  Computers can do the content thing- they have it covered. What they can’t do is insight and judgement. The improv session shows us- it isn’t a paint-by-numbers, black and white world. Only humans can exercise judgement to identify and understand workplace issues and repack the experience into a relevant learning experience for others.  Computers only understand If X, than Y.  They can’t exercise judgement outside of those variables. We can. This is our zone.  Learners want valuable experiences. We can mine these better than any other resource or technology. Then, we use technology to support delivery of our designs. I could go on and on about Angel’s presentation and topic- it was big and expansive. It raised some big issues and bigger questions. But that’s for another blog (or two, or three…)

Next blog: Sessions (including insights on my own session)