4 Big Takeaways From #FocusOnLearn 2016

The FocusOn Learning Conference, held last week in Austin, Texas, is a new learning and performance industry event hosted by the eLearning Guild. This conference combines themes discussed in previous years at the Guild’s now-retired mLearnCon and Performance Support Symposium events. Video was added as a third core theme, and full session tracks were available for participants looking to focus on these popular strategies in modern workplace learning.


I attended #FocusOnLearn as both participant and presenter. During my session Just Because You CAN Make a Video Doesn’t Mean You SHOULD, I facilitated a discussion on why, when and how video can be used to support workplace learning. I spent the rest of my time in Austin attending sessions and networking with industry peers and had plenty of great conversations along the way. I also had the opportunity to taste some pretty awesome local food, which was the number one tip I received from people who had previously visited Austin.

As I reflect on my #FocusOnLearn experience, my thoughts naturally align to the three planned conference themes: performance support, mobile and video. I spent time engaging in conversation on each theme – with a bit more focus on performance support – to gauge the prevailing mindset on the value of these strategies as part of a modern workplace learning ecosystem.

Here are my 4 big takeaways from #FocusOnLearn.

Technology is a human enabler

Technology was front and center throughout the event. While performance support and mobile strategies don’t always require technology-based solutions, right-fit tools certainly can enable powerful learning opportunities. Of course, video requires a technology-based approach for content delivery, and the related tools are now ubiquitous thanks to resources like smartphones and YouTube.

In his lead keynote presentation, WIRED Editor in Chief Scott Dadich explored several recent and downright amazing technological advancements that will likely have a big impact on our everyday lives. Specifically, Scott focused on electric cars, mixed reality and artificial intelligence. The core of Scott’s message was the ability for technology to enable humans in new and powerful ways. Rather than fear technology (aka robots are going to steal our jobs), we should embrace these advances and find new ways to solve old problems.

Performance support makes formal training stronger

I attended multiple sessions with Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, two of the industry’s biggest performance support proponents. In addition to popularizing their five moments of need, they advocate for expanding the role of L&D to include providing the resources employees need to do their jobs within two clicks and ten seconds. I have held a similar mentality for the past few years in my work with employee knowledge sharing. This approach to performance support is also at the core of the new Axonify DiscoveryZone.

In addition to stressing the value of learning through performance support, Bob and Conrad explained that L&D should focus formal training on only the most critical information employees need to overcome potential negative consequences on the job. Not only will this save development and delivery time, but it will also add value to these training opportunities for participants. We must stop trying to “cover” everything subject matter experts deem “important” and instead enable employees to learn through application as much as possible in alignment with the reality of the 70/20/10 framework.

Mobile requires a reimagination of workplace learning

I’m often frustrated with the lack of progress when it comes to the use of mobile technology to support workplace learning. Employees are carrying the most sophisticated computers ever created in their pockets, but we still have trouble using them to enable improved performance. Beyond the technology itself, “mobile learning” refers to providing employees with access to information they want/need whenever and wherever they want/need it.

Several of the conversations I had during #FocusOnLearn reminded me that L&D must reimagine workplace learning to realize the promise of mobile technology. Rather than focus on how to deliver courses to smartphones, L&D pros must evolve their mindsets and explore the various ways these devices can be used within the workflow. This may include a variety of learning applications, including on-demand performance support, user-generated content, social sharing, and microlearning. Rather than lead with technology, L&D must first expand the role it plays in enabling performance.

User-generated video is an emerging opportunity

I was excited to see multiple sessions on the topic of user-generated video. The ubiquity of video in everyday life has largely shifted our feelings on production quality. Utility is more highly valued than form, and only certain messages truly require a professional touch. Employees now have the opportunity to share their knowledge through simple, cheap video.

The sessions I attended focused on structured application of user-generated video and limited the concept to specific, timely content campaigns. I believe L&D can take this type of video even further by helping employees quickly share the HOWs of their work. From webcams to smartphones, employees now have the tools to quickly capture and share best practices and provide simple, highly-contextual learning opportunities for their peers.

It certainly has been a busy 3 weeks of L&D industry activity between #FocusOnLearn and #ATD2016. Next up for the Axonify team: NRF Protect in Philadelphia and Learning DevCamp in Salt Lake City. Thanks to everyone I met in Austin, and I really hope the conversations continue beyond the event.

Did you attend the first annual FocusOn Learning Conference? What were your big takeaways? If you didn’t participate, check out the #FocusOnLearn hashtag on Twitter and review the recaps and perspectives that are being shared as your peers return to work.

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.