#ATD2017 in 1 Word: Microlearning

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) International Conference and Exposition is the biggest show of the year in the L&D industry. 10,000+ attendees. 300+ sessions. There’s pretty much something for everyone at the annual conference. The Axonify team had an awesome time at ATD 2017 earlier this week in Atlanta. We facilitated three sessions, met plenty of forward-thinking L&D professionals and shared our perspective on how to modernize workplace learning.

Microlearning Dominates the Conversation

With an event this large, it’s usually impossible to sum up the experience in a short blog post. However, based on my observations this year, I can sum it up with one word: microlearning. While a variety of trending topics, such as games, augmented reality and xAPI, were well represented during the event, microlearning stood out from minute one and was a constant topic of conversation for four days.

Photo credit: @StephanieHubka

The microlearning train got rolling even before the first keynote, when ATD CEO and President Tony Bingham stood in front of the full conference crowd and showcased three organizations who are benefitting from the application of microlearning. He cited recent ATD publications, including the ATD Research report, ‘Microlearning: Delivering Bite-Sized Knowledge,’ when saying that 38% of organizations currently use microlearning while another 41% plan to start within the next year. The topic maintained interest throughout the event as Shannon Tipton and Carla Torgerson delivered microlearning sessions to packed rooms. Carla’s new book The Microlearning Guide to Microlearning also sold out in the ATD bookstore. This interest carried over to our discussions at the Axonify expo booth, where we demonstrated how we’ve been leveraging microlearning principles for 5+ years to deliver measureable business results across industries and use cases.

Microlearning has exploded onto the L&D scene in the past year as teams continue to realize that traditional approaches are no longer working and they need new ideas for supporting their organizations and providing clear value to the bottom line. As with any other workplace strategy, L&D pros must be sure to get past the trend and focus on the foundational principles of microlearning. If you’re looking to jump onboard the microlearning train, check out the Axonify approach as well as this post that breaks down the topic into its most meaningful components.

A Few More BIG ATD2017 Themes

While microlearning was clearly the dominant topic of conversation, several other topics stood out in the session lineup as well as during expo conversations:

Shared Knowledge

Organizations continue to struggle when trying to provide on-demand access to information that can help employees improve performance in the moment of need. This resulted in quite a large audience for my session, Go Viral! Motivating Employees to Share Their Knowledge. If we can help employees leverage the same behaviors they use to solve everyday problems with shared knowledge, we can provide better performance support options and build our learning ecosystem framework on a stronger foundation.

Adaptive Learning

Multiple conference sessions this year focused on adaptive learning. Technology is now enabling L&D to go beyond personalization to provide the right solution to the right person at the right time. That said, the adaptive conversation came mostly from vendors who were discussing ways to adapt the traditional course experience in a way that would allow people to move more quickly through their required content. While that’s a great start, the full learning and support experience must also adapt to help employees grow and sustain knowledge beyond the boundaries of the course—based on what’s happening in the real world. Check out my blog post on the 4 dimensions of adaptive learning for more insights.


You can’t have micro and adaptive learning without data. The data conversation within L&D continues to circle around the xAPI as we seek a standard for reporting on the right experiences across workplace learning moments. There is a ton of promise in this discussion, and we’re starting to see practical examples of how data can be used to improve learning practices. At the same time, I get the sense that many L&D pros are unsure as to how to improve their use of data. One session participant asked “We already don’t make great use of the data we have—completions and scores. What happens when we have a lot more data to look at?” Rather than attempt to boil the ocean and develop complete strategies on day 1, we must find meaningful ways to collect, analyze and apply the right data based on organizational priorities. Axonify Behaviors is a great example of how specific data points can be tied to desired performance outcomes in order to improve the learning and support experience.

Leadership Training

Many, many, many expo booths were focused on leadership training. L&D continues to struggle when trying to engage management at all levels of the organization—whether it be for their own development or that of their team members. I continue to pontificate around the point that the frontline manager is the most important person in workplace learning. However, rather than attempt to transform “managers” into “leaders” or “teachers,” I believe we must make managers better managers while enabling the titleless leaders that already exist within our companies. For example, L&D must do a better job in providing the right data to managers so they can improve their existing coaching practices. This will help managers establish the connection between knowledge and business outcomes and make them stronger allies of workplace L&D.

Conor (left) and Alex (right) in front of our booth this year.

A huge thanks to everyone who attended our sessions, stopped by the Axonify booth to learn more about us and chatted with us in the hallways. I hope the ATD2017 experience provided a great kickstart to your workplace learning innovation efforts within your organization. But remember, the conference is only the beginning! Check out David Kelly’s curated resources from the event. I am also curating an online magazine with resources, photos and insights shared throughout the conference. I hope to see you at ATD2018 in San Diego next May!

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.