Reflecting on ATD TechKnowledge 2017

The Axonify team headed to Las Vegas last week for ATD TechKnowledge. This annual event showcases the latest innovations in learning and performance technology, so Axonify is a perfect fit. In addition to a multitude of great conversations in the expo, the team hosted 4 sessions during the conference. I even had the chance to introduce the final keynote speaker and offer a few closing comments!

ATD TechKnowledge 2017

With so many great tools and ideas on display, it can be difficult to identify a shortlist of key themes from such an awesome event. Fortunately, the keynote speakers did a great job of setting the tone for the education sessions that took place over the 3 days.

Data is a strategic decision

Rahaf Harfoush introduced participants to digital anthropology—the study of how technology impacts human behavior, specifically in the workplace. She summarized the ideas shared in her book The Decoded Company and emphasized that technology has created an abundance of data in all areas. Unfortunately, most organizations have not taken advantage of this evolution that has lead to so many value-added experiences in our day-to-day lives. Technology limitations are no longer a valid excuse. Rather, data is now a strategic decision that company leaders must make to optimize performance and keep up with the pace of business.

Big Data Tweet

The importance of data was a theme that continued throughout the event. The xAPI was once again in the spotlight as practitioners showed how they are using the standard to improve their ability to measure learning impact. I also led a session on behavioral analytics in which I shared a story about how the Axonify team continues to work with our customers to improve learning outcomes through the introduction of performance observation. The abundance of data Rahaf discussed represents a tremendous opportunity for L&D to improve their ability to support meaningful performance improvement. It’s up to each team to reject traditional training metrics, like seat time and completions, in favor of data that will help us ask the right questions and connect learning to business outcomes.

We are more connected than ever before

As customers, we’re always connected. We have instant access to products online. We can make purchases on the go. And we can advocate for our favorite brands through a variety of social channels. However, much like in our data story, organizations have failed to leverage the connected nature of work to improve learning and performance outcomes. This was the theme of Clara Shih’s presentation. In addition to sharing her insights, Clara spent time taking questions from the audience, many of which focused on the growing automation of workplace tasks and the continued impact this will have on jobs.

ATD TechKnowledge 2017 Clara Shih Tweet

How can L&D take advantage of the connected nature of work when concepts like “social learning” tend to limit knowledge sharing to course-specific interactions? As we discussed in the conference disrupt room, we must find ways to motivate and enable employees to share the HOWs in their roles that lead to success. We must also help stakeholders overcome their apprehension towards user-generated content by influencing the right people along the way. Finally, we must select technology that leverages behaviors that have become so commonplace in everyday knowledge sharing, including search and curation.

Commit, then figure it out

Mick Eberling from Not Impossible Labs brought the house down—in more ways than one—with his story about leveraging technology to improve people’s lives. Check out Project Daniel to get a sense of the emotion that took over the room during his presentation. Mick is a true inspiration and has found ways to help people live better lives through sheer power of will. To quote Mick: “When you see absurdity that has to change, commit, then figure it out.”

ATD TechKnowledge 2017 Mick Ebeling Tweet

Not everyone can muster the life-changing motivation that Mick generates on a seemingly daily basis. However, we can all take a lesson from him when it comes to how we look at our roles in L&D. If we always wait for the stars to align and present the perfect opportunity for change, we’ll never enable meaningful improvement. So, rather than complain about lack of funding, buy-in or capacity, we must find ways to help people get better at their jobs every day. We must commit to providing value-added learning experiences and hack our way to better and better solutions. And we must maintain our sense of empathy along the way to ensure we always respect and appreciate the people we support.


To explore more of the TechKnowledge 2017 experience, check out the Twitter hashtag #ATDTK. You can also check out David Kelly’s curated backchannel, where he provides links to a variety of event resources. I’ll leave you with one final quote that I came across on the conference backchannel and effectively summarizes not only the value of the TK experience for L&D professionals but also the work that we do every day in our organizations:

“In a time of drastic change it is learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

– American philosopher Eric Hoffer

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.