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What the experts are saying – #ATD Conference Insights

May 2018

What The Experts Are Saying – Key Learnings From The 2018 (75th) Association of Talent Development (ATD) Conference in San Diego.

The ATD is an organization whose members are passionate about helping people achieve their full potential by improving their knowledge, skills, and abilities in the workplace. Members go by many titles: talent development managers, trainers, instructional designers, performance consultants, frontline managers, workplace learning professionals, and more. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in organizations of all sizes and in all industry sectors and I am proud to be a member.

If you were not able to attend, I thought you might like to read what the experts were saying as the ‘must knows’ for talent development professionals. With over 13,000 attendees, there were more opportunities that I could take advantage of, but I listed a few of the key highlights and learnings below.

One of the main highlights was hearing Barack Obama speak. He did not present a formal keynote but rather engaged in a conversation with the ATD president and CEO, Tony Bingham.

He shared the importance of:


  • Purpose


Thinking about what we can do rather than what we want to be or what title we have.  How do we define ourselves as leaders?


  • Inclusiveness


Be sure to include everyone in the discussion, not just those closest to you in your leadership team but anyone who has an idea and is willing to share. Too often as leaders, we ‘closet’ ourselves with those who are one below or one above us and we miss out on a richness of knowledge.  He called this skip-level inclusivity.


  • Values


When we are honest, kind, responsible, generous and live by our values, our leadership becomes better.  

“Values will get you through hard times and good times. They are the things that give meaning and purpose to what you do. Organizations need to help people become better performers with what is in their hearts.” – Barack Obama

In essence, the main takeaways (which were the main themes and repeated often) from the conference were:

  1. Microlearning continues to grow as a means to change behavior.

Talent development professionals are looking for the best delivery method for content. The general consensus is that people don’t have the time to attend longer programs anymore.  

The non-linear mind of the digital age WANTS short, non-linear content.

According to the Fogg Behavior Module, there are three things that enable people to change: motivation, ability, and triggers. Instead of trying to motivate people, make something easier to do. Break it down, and a task that seems insurmountable becomes doable. If someone is unmotivated, you need to make it very easy to do or at least somewhat easier.

  1. Leadership development and acumen is still a main focus for organizations

All agreed that good leadership is key to an organization’s success but there is still a way to go before we feel we have truly mastered the art of great leadership development.

  1. Emerging technology and what it means

A trend at the conference was the use of viable, computerized business simulations with key datasets. The purpose of this is to be able to diagnose, predict and visualize organizational problems before they ever happen. There was also discussion about the increased level of stress this brings and how all generations can adjust to the fast-moving pace of technology.

  1. Organizations want more proof of ROI and are putting more pressure on Human Resources and Talent Development professionals to ‘prove’ their value and the value of their services.

Organizations don’t just want a solution but a solution with high ROI. However, measuring the ROI is not easy. As talent professionals and facilitators, one way is to develop case studies and a methodology to measure the result and to collect data regarding uptake of learning and change in behavior.

  1. The use of assessments continues to grow in the global market

Although assessments are gaining popularity, the market is different globally than it is in the USA. For example, companies in China are using assessments in government-owned companies, private companies, and even higher education institutions. Interestingly, most of these companies use assessments in training instead of hiring.

  1. Learning evaluation 

Learning evaluation is popular again! Smile sheets, surveys, NPS, Kirkpatrick are some of the buzzwords related to evaluation. The key is to gather good data. The common learning evaluation methods include observations, assessments, interviews, control groups, and surveys. Always close your evaluation feedback surveys with an open-ended question to collect comments.

There are three goals in collecting evaluation data:

1) are the questions well designed?

2) are we asking questions that support the learners?

3) is the data we collect actionable?

General takeaways from the educational Sessions:

  • Develop training for the people who use the training; understand your learners’ explicit and latent (hidden) needs by involving them throughout the design and development process. (Design Thinking for the Instructional Designer)
  • “Good learning experiences aren’t just about facts, they’re about becoming a more efficient and capable person.” (Design Thinking for the Instructional Designer)
  • Everything you do should go back to what you’re passionate about so when people think of you, that is what comes to mind. Demonstrate your thought leadership, what you value, and what you learn. You always want to be adding value to your network, and that’s how you grow.
  • We are in a period of accelerated change, the speed of change itself is speeding up. This is particularly true for the field of instructional design.
  • Good eLearning needs both instructional design and informational design. It needs to combine the art and mechanics for eLearning to be successful.
  • How do you handle companies that want to cram more into a session rather than taking sufficient time to think and reflect? Let participants learn about 5-10 key topics, really think about those, understand those during the session, and then give them a handout or job aid to learn about more. All topics are covered but there is sufficient time to think and reflect on the most important ones.
  • Tools/skills are quickly acquired when they clearly aid problem-solving.
  • Brevity is a great thing when it comes to video. If you have to cover more material make sure to segment it.
  • Use the 3G framework for telling stories (topic, tell, teaching)– share the topic, tell the story, and then provide the teaching points. Many stories describe a challenge and how it was overcome; you have to be vulnerable and brave enough to tell your story.
  • Training modules should be limited to 10 – 15 minutes. Maintain simplified and limited learning goals per module for maximum impact.
  • Microsoft hollow lens could be potentially a  game changer.
  • Courses should be scenario based. Adults want to have what’s in it for me.
  • Manager support before training is a critical component of effective training.
  • Reinforce key ideas six times to move from short-term to long-term memory.
  • Learners need to be engaged every 8 minutes. Think about TV shows ━ no show goes more than 8 minutes without a commercial break. Video games have levels to build breaks into gaming. The same should be done for training. 

If you are interested in the takeaways from the keynotes (Tony Bingham, ATD President & CEO, Andrea Jung, Former CEO of Avon and Sugata Mitra, TED Prize Winner ) please let us know and we will send you a summary.

After the conference concluded, I came across a collection of curated resources from the ATD conference backchannel. This is a great resource for those who were unable to attend the conference (and those who did): http://davidkelly.me/2015/05/the-2015-atd-international-conference-backchannel-curated-resources-atd/

If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the above, please feel free to reach us at: info@mindavation.com.

Louise Carter, Mindavation

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