ATD TechKnowledge 2015: What's Old? What's New?

It was mid-January in Las Vegas. ATD TechKnowledge 2015 was underway. There I was, escaping from the cold of New England, armed with a laptop, a smartphone, and a general sense of enthusiasm. This was my sixth TK conference, and I wanted to answer a couple questions: What's new in the eLearning industry? Where are things going? Here's what I uncovered: 

Nothing has changed, really...

Not to be a Debbie Downer or anything, but the truth is not a lot has changed in the past six years. The eLearning field is full of people who have fallen into it completely by accident and are figuring it all out for the first time. From what I've seen, this trend will not change anytime in the near future. 

I ran my Top Tips for Writing Better eLearning Scripts two times at the conference and both times, the room was filled with about 80% of people who self-identify as a one-stop shop. They do the entire eLearning function by themselves from content acquisition and learning design to scriptwriting, graphic design, course authoring, testing, project management, and business consulting. 

Granted, this conference is geared toward newbies and will draw people who are just getting started, so the numbers will be skewed in that direction. But it's a healthy space, in which to be and we'll need to continue to provide support and inspiration to this crowd in order to help them jumpstart their eLearning practices and help them do more for less. 

If you consider yourself an accidental instructional designer, there's a book out there just for you. I wrote a book with the intention of helping you change from just getting by to designing quality eLearning that makes a difference. The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design in the Digital Age is available at ATD Press and Amazon

Changes are happening, slowly

Although some things aren't changing, of course, the glacier slips along slowly, and we start to see some new landscapes and trends emerge. 

Every conference, I try to hit up at least one Tin Can/xAPI session to see how the in-progress, innovative software specification is shaping out. The change has been slow, but it's nice to see more use cases cropping up as organizations experiment with this new way of tracking learning experiences and tying them back to performance. Big LMS companies are starting to pay attention, too, with Cornerstone allegedly adopting xAPI by July of 2015. 

Of course, at every conference, new buzzwords start appearing and taking hold. We’ve been hearing the word “ecosystem” a lot more of in the past two years. David Kelly ran a great session in which he defined the term, and I saw more than one vendor in the Expo hall with the word emblazoned on their booths and collaterals. “Ecosystem” is not anything new, but it’s perhaps the end point in the glacial change from knowledge management to social learning to performance support to collaborative learning to, ultimately, ecosystem. Think about a learning and performance support ecosystem as an environment that supports the many ways in which people learn and access resources in order to do their jobs better.

Another slow moving shift I’m seeing is that more and more organizations are adopting a “micro-learning” approach to their eLearning. Instead of building big courses, they are creating three-to-five minute tutorials or videos, sometimes foregoing the LMS completely and launching learning assets from an easily accessible collaborative, social platform like Jive. This approach fits in very nicely with the idea of an ecosystem, as it provides a more natural way of accessing content while in the middle of your work flow. We’ve been doing projects like this for some of our client organizations, and it’s great to see more orgs adopting the approach. Erika Steponic of Blue Shield of California presented on what they’re doing with “NanoModules.”  

Bigger changes are coming -- outside the L&D industry

My biggest conference highlight was getting onstage during the second day keynote. Yes, I was the eager person in the fifth row who locked eyes with the keynote speaker and shot my hand up into the air with a big smile on my face when I knew she was about to ask for a volunteer. 

Tan Le talked about her company Emotiv’s innovations in devices that detect and track brain activity. Le set her portable EEG device on my head, which was surprisingly light and comfortable. It took about a minute or two for the sensors to get settled in and figure out that my brain was indeed active. Then, I manipulated an object on a computer monitor with my mind. 

Cammy Bean ATDTK 2015

Photo credits: Dan Steer and JD Dillon via Twitter 

This wearable technology tracks more than simple measurements like how many steps you take in a day or how many times your heart beats per minute. It can measure whether you’re paying attention to something, assist a disabled person so he or she can better communicate, and provide us with seemingly Jedi-like mind control abilities. A consumer-ready device will soon be available at $299, and they’re making the developer kit open, allowing for more innovation and research. At this point, I’ll leave it to your imagination to think about how this technology can impact the work we do. I think it’s big.

My session notes 

As always, I live blogged most of the sessions I attended. See if you find anything new for your toolkit:

But wait, there's more!

I’ll be at Training Magazine’s “Training Matters” conference on February 9 in Atlanta, presenting sessions on Writing Better eLearning Scripts and The Accidental Instructional Designer. Hope to see you there!

If you enjoyed this, you may also like: Why No One Cares About Your Lousy Elearning. 

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