Reflections on #ATDACEND Breakout Sessions


The Florida Suncoast Chapter of ATD held its first ATDASCEND Conference Friday September 23rd. This is the second post on the event. You can read my reflections on the keynotes here.

Additional observations on conferences

Before commenting on the Breakout Sessions, I wanted to address some patterns I have noticed in most conferences I have attended.

L&D really doesn’t “walk the talk”

Do L&D folks ever love their theories! Again, a hat tip to Angel Green’s keynote. We love to love to pontificate on what we know should be done to design great learning solutions. For example, we know learning is a process, not an event. We know spaced learning works best. We know participants should be engaged in their learning vs talked to. If skills should be brought back to the workplace to be applied, practice and feedback are key and takeaways are recommended. We also know that presentations lasting more than 20 minutes are highly unlikely to be remembered.

Yet, most sessions (and not this conference) are almost exclusively 40+ minute presentations, very little participation, and often little to no takeaways or concrete action items by design (there were a few exceptions, and I applaud the closing keynote explicitly asking if folks had taken action items to bring back and implement at their work).  However, most takeways and action items are not designed in, but synthesized by the attendee (if any is done at all).

Very few sessions offer resources prior to the event, and few offer items that could be used during sessions. Takeaways are a little more common, but still light. I don’t see active encouragement of post-event follow up. I have tried to include all of these in my sessions (lighter than I’d like, but I do make pre-, during, and post-event resources available, and actively encourage post-event discussions).  However, I find that even when resources are available, few take advantage. At events, I observe how many folks actually have a notebook or laptop open ready to go to sites, take notes, and somehow get “more” from the presentation than just being an observer. Often, I find it is a very small group of participants that attempt to actually engage.

Are we really going to conferences to learn, and bring applicable skills back to the organization? Or do attendees just look forward to enjoying an industry-sponsored adult story time (with cookies). Many presenters are very compelling, but I still find for all our talk of engaging our audience, most sessions are very passive. Virtually none have any support to reinforce concepts beyond the event.

This is not aimed at ATD Conferences specifically- this is every L&D conference I have been to.

ATD Conferences and Twitter

Okay, this one is aimed squarely at ATD Conferences attendees. ATD Conference are very low traffic on twitter compared to other learning conferences I go to. I find this unfortunate, because used well,

Twitter is a very powerful learning and sharing tool. It offers keen insights into the immediately available, socially-driven, micro-learning/support environment our workforce expects.

Reflection on Breakout Sessions

Designing for what Stakeholders are REALLY Trying to Accomplish (Presented by Krista Singleton, Raymond James)

Going into this session, I had expectations of discussing ROI, Stakeholder management techniques, etc…  and my assumptions couldn’t be more off the mark. Krista did a very nice job of showing us how she would help her stakeholders and SMEs step into our shoes a bit with a very easy-to-grasp and enjoyable “ID basics” framework of ABCD (Audience, Behavior, Condition, Degree).

She showed how educating the stakeholders and SMEs helped them focus on learning goals for a target audience instead of focusing on the content dump. Also, they would consider conditions like tools, performance environment, and time frames, as well as consider success metrics.

The brilliance of the approach is often, we try to sell a learning approach or solution to a SME. In negotiation, you are taught to try to negotiate from the same side of the table, not across the table. Krista provided a fun and simple solution to help any see the learning solution take clearly from our perspective

So simple, yet so smart. Many should consider using this technique- especially if their learning designs don’t seem to resonate with key stakeholders.

Krista had worksheets and fun exercises during the event (truly enjoyable), and she made the presentation she created for her SMEs available to attendees post-event.

My big takeaway:  First, educating stakeholders to ABCD is perhaps the easiest and most effective way to get them to stop focusing on so much content. Second, I am stealing this and doing it with my team. I am a one-man training department currently in a software company with developers and implementation specialists. Krista’s session provides me a simple way to help everyone on my staff understand the core tasks of designing learning to perform it better (or for anyone reviewing a solution, to understand the criteria for decisions that I make, which will help align our perspectives).

Learning Hacks (my session)

As a believer in Sharing My Work, and Working Out Loud, my next blog will address my session.

There was much that didn’t go as planned (two of the things… I really should’ve known better but walked right into it). I can share my experiences to help others avoid some mistakes (research shows you actually learn more from mistakes than success, so I find it important to share challenges and missteps more than successes).

Also, reflecting on the experience, I have determined that a significant amount of the session would actually work better as an online product. So I will be creating an online product and make it available.

But more on that in the next blog.

When the LMS Isn’t Enough: Building a Modern Learning Tech Ecosystem (Presented by JD Dillon, Axonify)

First thing first: avoid presenting at the same time as JD for two reasons: he has a serious fanbase and your session won’t be well-attended. More importantly, you don’t want to miss his session.

Yes, I am an unapologetic fanboy

JD is a great presenter. His at-ease, but on-point, humorous, yet insightful delivery style is very enjoyable. You almost don’t realize how deep and insightful some of the things he is sharing actually are. He has one of the most compelling case-studies for a conference. His story illustrates how he realigned a company’s various IT assets and systems into components of a better coordinated performance ecosystem.

When JD started, the learning systems at the company was very much like an overgrown lawn in serious need of weeding and seeding in the right amounts. JD shows how he evaluated where he was, what he needed, what he had to work with, and what he needed to create, and offers these lessons so others can apply the same strategies at their company.

Big Takeaways:  There were many. Realigning an ecosystem is a large task. I won’t capture a great deal of the takeaways from the session (it was dense with learning nuggets). Luckily, JD made his presentation available along with an accompanying article. JD will also offer a post-event PDF worksheet to help evaluate your own company’s ecosystem.

At the very least, get these resources. And, the next conference you attend where JD presents?  Don’t miss his presentation.

Despite not being able to do justice to JD’s presentation, there were two major concepts that resonated very strongly with my experiences in this area:

  1. Focus on experiences first, then determine what tool(s) will deliver those experiences (JD explains this seamlessly by illustrating how naturally we do this with our phone apps).

  2. Explore and reuse tools already in use in your workplace as appropriate. JD noted how Confluence was available through his IT group, yet very underutilized. Using social and wiki capabilities of the tool, JD created a hub of knowledge that set the foundation for further growth of the ecosystem.

Next blog: My session- and new products that will result from it