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ASTD TechKnowledge 2012

By Jane Bozarth / January 2012

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I am just home from the American Society of Training and Development's Tech Knowledge (TK) 2012 conference in Las Vegas. I speak at many events during the year and am always interested in how they differ. I'm also interested in helping practitioners—often limited in terms of money and travel time—find the events that are best for them. Unlike the enormous ASTD International Show and Expo (ICE), TK is a smaller, more focused event. Attendees are largely from traditional areas of L&D looking to learn about or expand efforts at incorporating eLearning and technologies into practice, or supervising those who do.

The first cut at TK programming is handled by a planning committee, which changes every year, sifts through proposals and makes broad decisions about speakers and areas of focus. Headed this year by Cammy Bean, this year's conference program committee introduced a number of concepts not yet talked about much at "training" conferences, activity streams, experience design, semantic web, and content curation among them.

Daily keynotes were popular and varied, and included author Jane McGonigal, Facebook's head of L&D Stuart Crabb, and Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy Chancellor Lisa Doyle. McGonigal is the director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future and author of the New York Times bestseller, Reality Is Broken. She spoke of the links between games and learning, and countered popular dismissive ideas about games, particularly the notion that they are the provenance of teenage boys. There are 1 billion gamers out there, defined as those who spend an hour or more a day playing. Forty percent of gamers are women; 25 percent are over 50, and, given their popularity among our learners, games are something those of us in L&D should pay more attention to. McGonigal also discussed learning issues tied to game play. For instance, the satisfaction of challenge and tolerance for failure/ mistakes tell us a good deal about learner perseverance and intrinsic motivation.

Crabb described Facebook's "sprint and pause" approach to workforce development, asserting that "small bites of real-time learning on the job are the most powerful." He offered Facebook's vision of workforce as strengths-based, with constant real-time feedback replacing the formal performance review (yes please!) working within a jungle-gym structure of career progression.

The closing general session came from Lisa Doyle, Chancellor of the Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy and CLO Magazine's 2011 Chief Learning Officer of the Year. Within the organization offering extended internships supplemented with learning labs and job rotations decrease time to competency. The message to new hires? "In learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn."

Other conference programming included intensive preconference workshops, informal panel-format "TK Chats," and concurrent sessions. The concurrent sessions fell into five tracks:

This year saw, not unexpectedly, increased attention to mobile technologies and social media, and presenters included several members of the eLearning Magazine advisory board. Popular topics were social media/social learning, cognitive load, creating graphics and recording sound, and usability.

One of the most popular and unique features of TK are the "Creation Stations," tech labs offered to small audiences and repeated to meet demand. Sessions covered this year included Flash, Captivate, Articulate, and PowerPoint as well as sessions on free content, audio recording, developing mobile content, virtual classrooms, and SCORM. There was a great deal of buzz around the session providing an overview of Articulate's new Storyline authoring tool, still in beta and which many attendees had not yet seen.

The small event size also made for a small expo floor. Experienced conferencegoers know how overwhelming a large expo area can be, and it was nice to tour around a more manageable space. There was also a large, well-stocked onsite bookstore, always good for giving practitioners a chance to get their hands on titles not often found in local bookshops.

I had some concerns, not about the conference itself but about some conversations taking place there, and common at all conferences for the L&D community. Among these: Endless, empty talk of "ROI," continued confusion—some, it seems, intentional—over social learning, chatter about long-discredited ideas around learning styles, and discussions of informal learning still focused on a hierarchical, top-down, tightly controlled process with a parental "what they need to know" tone. I would welcome more mythbuster-type sessions at all industry events.

Some key takeaways tweeted by conference participants and presenters:

Karl Kapp: "If you wait for another case study in your industry, you're already too late."

Nicole Fougere: "'Gamification is not 'gamifying' learning (e.g., leaderboards) but using game elements and techniques to engage learners'"

Andy Bergman: "Use a taskboard for projects ... Columns: Story | to do | in progress | done | sprint goal | unplanned/next plan."

Northern NJ ASTD: "Telus is solving problems with social learning."

Christie Ward: " mind map easy and can share, for more complex mapping..."

Jason Willensky: "Arthur Kohn: 'Emotion more important to memory/salience than logic...'"

Stephanie Daul: "Alignment is not won by donuts."

Judy Unrein: "Think about not just designing the content, but the experience of that content."

Aaron Ennis: "56% of GenY decline jobs where social media is banned. How much new talent is your company losing?"

Rick Raymer: "Games are not engaging because they are games, but because they are rewarding."

Jay Kersting: "Don't patronize. Learners are busy professionals. They are adults, treat them like adults. Mutual respect removes tuneout."

Julie Dirksen: "on LxD (Learner Experience Design). Don't make learners waste cognitive effort figuring out system."

Among my own tasks at TK was participating in a chat on social learning and content curation. One of my fellow chatters was David Kelly, rapidly becoming known as the best curator of conference backchannel activities in the L&D community. For more information about TK 12, see his aggregated resources at the ASTD TechKnowledge 2012 Conference Backchannel.

© 2012 ACM 1535-394X/12/01 $10.00

DOI: 10.1145/2090108.2125649


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