The biggest question at the 2019 ATD Conference & Expo: Where do I start?

For me, the best part of any industry conference is the conversations. Sure, education sessions are great. And Oprah-level keynotes are always fun. But I go to events like the 2019 ATD International Conference & Expo to talk to people who are doing great work and facing challenges head-on every day. They inspire me and inform my ongoing work with Axonify and LearnGeek.

Photo by Rhonda E Taylor (@Social_Rhonda) / Twitter

The Axonify team and I had PLENTY of awesome conversations during our 4 days at the conference. I also had the opportunity to share my ideas and experiences with topics such as AI, data and personalized learning to over 1000 people during 3 education sessions. But among all of these interactions, one stood out. This conversation, my last before heading to the airport, really summed up the current state of the L&D community for me.

Peck Chee Chow introduced herself as I was simultaneously eating lunch and packing my bags in the expo. She had attended one of my sessions and was very complimentary. We chatted for a few minutes and took a selfie.

Photo by Peck Chee Chow, permission for use granted via email.

The question on everyone’s mind

Peck had one question for me, and it was a doozy: “Where do I start?” With so many platforms, concepts, terms and resources, the evolving L&D industry can quickly overwhelm both new and experienced professionals. At an event with 10,000+ people, 400+ vendors and 300+ sessions, Peck found herself in the same place I was when I first attended an ATD conference: overwhelmed and looking for the right topics on which to focus.

And so, as I reflect on my ATD experience, here are a few ideas for how L&D pros can get past the hype to stay focused on what matters most in our work.

The power of moments

“Moments” was a running theme during the conference. #ATDMoments was all over the venue, and ATD CEO Tony Bingham kicked off the event with a focus on the importance of moments.

My “moment” from the ATD website was featured on screens throughout the conference center.

L&D pros should take inspiration from this idea and focus on providing support to employees in the moments when it is really needed. Rather than try to train people on EVERYTHING they may possibly need to know, we should focus on just what they need to know, when they need to know it. Concepts such as microlearning and performance support should be at the foundation of what we do while structured courses and programs, which still have value, become less commonly used solutions. Focusing on true moments of need will foster the trust and engagement with employees that is critical for sustaining an agile, innovative business.

Development is persistence

As Seth Godin pointed out during his keynote, development doesn’t happen overnight. It requires persistence. It also cannot be forced on anyone. A person must choose to improve themselves. This is the difference between learning (self-motivated) and education (done to someone).

L&D has been reliant on traditional, institutionalized education tactics for too long. People don’t learn to do their jobs in a classroom. They get better day by day with practice and ample opportunity to apply their knowledge. Learning and support experiences must be designed to fit within the workflow and become part of the job, not a distraction from it. L&D must go to the people they support, not expect employees to come to them when it’s time to learn something new. 

“I see you.”

Both Oprah Winfrey and Seth Godin said these exact words during their presentations. They explained that people have an innate desire to be recognized for who they are and what they can do. People are unique and should be treated as such. We seek a connection to a grand purpose and vision, but also want to understand the specific role we play in the larger story.

L&D remains stuck in a one-size-fits-all world, especially when it comes to frontline employees. Thankfully, technology has advanced in ways that allow us to leverage the glut of organizational data to provide personalized, adaptive, continuous learning. No, this isn’t about shifting workplace training into a “Netflix experience.” With artificial intelligence and machine learning, we can provide individual employees with the right support at the right time—at the scale of a global enterprise. Each person can get the support they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability, and that’s what they deserve from day one.

Design for moments. Enable continuous development. Support the individual. Whether they’re selecting technology or building a strategy, this is where L&D pros should start.

If you made it to DC, I hope you had an enjoyable and insightful conference experience. If you couldn’t be there, here are a few backchannel resources for your review:

You can also continue to follow #ATD2019 as attendees share their insights and recaps over the next few weeks.

You can also just crop yourself into this image and pretend like you were there!

We’ll see you next year for #ATD2020 in Denver, Colorado!

JD is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. His practical approach integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results. For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company.

Looking for more information? We’d love to talk.