What's new in learning and performance? ASTD ICE 2010

The American Society for Training and Development 2010 International Conference and Exposition is now complete and I'm happy to report on what's new in the world of learning and performance.


I realize if I stop here this would be a pretty short post so let me expound. There's nothing new, but the conference did reveal current trends and greater insight into what drives employee performance. The risk and the opportunity lie in whether we recognize that the fundamentals never change even when the technology does. Here are my three biggest take-aways from spending a week with 8,000 of my closest training friends.

Autonomy vs. Control: The debate

This old debate was raging throughout the conference. Autonomy proponents suggest we need to free our employees of restrictive policies, do away with rote learning in training classes, and give in to the inevitability that employees will find a way to use social media tools in the workplace whether or not our firewalls allow it. Control proponents worry about employees running amok on Facebook and Twitter, they desire more predictable outcomes, and they see a need for certain members of our workforce to toughen up, get in line, and embrace a little hard work for a change.

So what works? I met Arthur, a training and development leader with Motorola, who told me that they used informal communities to share knowledge and ideas that have generated huge (and quantifiable!) improvements in productivity and cost savings. The way to get these learning communities to work is to have a clear purpose (ex: all about product "x"), provide a moderator to stimulate discussion and participation, provide some guidelines for participants using the communities. In other words, a little autonomy and a little structure.

Boo or Hooray, Social Networking is Here to Stay

Twitter was on fire during the conference. If you'd like, check it out for yourself by searching #astd10. So what?

On one hand, social networking tools like Twitter represent a new way of learning, collaborating, and working. On the other hand, the best social networking you can do at a conference with 8,000 attendees is to meet people face to face and have a conversation. In this sense, social networking isn't a new concept at all. Our opportunity as people who lead, develop, and support others is to understand how social networking technology can potentially make traditional social networking happen faster and with a broader audience. Our risk is reallying on technology so much become anti-social. When you get an email, IM, text, Facebook post, or Tweet from someone sitting right next to you, you know things have gone too far.

New Mediums, Old Rules for Communication

The way we share information in companies is changing, but the rules of effective communication remain the same. For example, reading this blog may give you some interesting food for thought about trends in employee development. I must also acknowledge that visuals make communication much more effective and my blog, particularly this post, is pretty lacking in that department. It seems I also have some work to do!

A great gem on new mediums, old rules was a session I attended on webinars led by Becky Pike Pluth. Webinars have become our fast and cheap way of avoiding meetings, training, and travel, but they've also devolved into mindless info-dumping. I met a training professional named Bill who summed it up by saying, "Before I sign on to a webinar I make sure I've got all my other work lined up so I have something to do while I'm logged into this thing."

How can we apply old rules to webinars? A few tips from Pike-Pluth were to include interaction every 4 minutes, open and close with high-energy activities that get people engaged, and to provide a hand out just like you would in person. I can't wait to try these techniques in my next webinar.

If you attended the conference, I'd love to hear what you think. If you didn't attend, it would be great to get your thoughts too. Please drop your comments below.