Trend Spotting: 5 Noteworthy L&D Trends from ATD 2015

Last week I spent three days at the ATD International Conference in Orlando along with 10,000 other training and development professionals. We gathered to share ideas while industry providers rolled out loads of new products and services.  

My biggest takeaway? The pace of change in the industry continues to accelerate. I walked away excited about the possibilities.

But before I share my highlights, I’ll raise a flag of caution. As an industry we’ve all been guilty of jumping into the shiny, new solutions rather than considering the best way to blend the new with older, proven approaches.

Self-paced eLearning itself may be the best example of this phenomenon. Many organizations started converting entire catalogs of courses to eLearning only to later realize that blends were a more effective approach. To a lesser extent, we’ve had similar reactions to virtual classroom, social learning and other technologies.  

None of these tools or approaches are a complete solution on their own.

So how does this change our work? Well, the role of learning designer is more and more becoming one of a “general contractor." Our job is to help our clients design the best solutions that leverage a blend of approaches and technologies. We need to keep a critical eye to the trends and pay attention to what’s being adopted in the consumer spaces --  that’s how real people behave in the real world and there’s a lot we can learn by observing real behaviors that we can apply to the world of training and development.

With this in mind, here’s what I saw as the five biggest trends at ATD:

  1. Video: Following the lead of social media – think Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube – video is hot. One platform that drew a lot of attention was Rehearsal VRP. This platform is designed to support simple video role plays through rehearsal sessions and feedback loops. The set up is pretty simple: you watch a short video such as a customer hitting you with a sales objection. Using your computer, tablet, or phone, you capture your response. Once your “rehearsal” is posted, your manager or a trainer or even your peers provide feedback and grades. On average, people record six versions of their rehearsal before submitting their response for review – so they’re practicing!

Another hot trend we’re seeing more of is the use of interactive videos. HTML5 allows for the addition of a layer of interactivity to video.  This can range from integrating questions into scenario video to annotating video with hotspots that supporting content.

  1. 3D Games: There were a number of companies with both off-the-shelf and development capabilities for 3D games. Most of the solutions follow a branching scenario approach and layer an added level of interactivity with 3D environments and characters. A few take a more imaginative approach with fictional worlds – think pirates and adventure.  It will be interesting to see if / how these companies can scale given the expense of creating polished 3D environments.
  1. Content Aggregation / Integration: A number of platform companies are making it easier for people to find content. They are integrating eLearning catalogs (SkillSoft, Lynda, Open Sesame), books, articles, videos, MOOCs and more into a single, searchable portal. People can search across resources to create learning paths or simply get a quick refresher. As one platform boasts, they give you access to 225,000 resources.

How to connect your learners with the best and most appropriate of their 225,000 choices will be one of the challenges that needs to be addressed, but the idea of leveraging what’s already available and simplifying access are both steps in the right direction.    

  1.  Micro Learning: The micro learning movement has continued to gain steam. These companies advocate breaking learning into the smallest bites possible and taking a steady drip approach to deploying it via mobile devices. There primary use cases seem to be in retail and other front-line worker heavy industries where employees have little time for formal learning. Per my comments above, I think there is definitely a place for this approach but would caution seeing it as a stand-alone solution.
  1. Search: People expect the world to work like Google. If it's not easy to search, they're not going to bother. The good news is that HTML5 content is generally very searchable unlike content developed in Flash. Now it’s time for the LMS to add the functionality to search within courses and not just titles, descriptions and meta-data.

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