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February 27, 2020

4 Takeaways from ATD TechKnowledge 2020

Learning and development professionals must embrace, understand, and integrate technology into their work to stay relevant. One of the best ways to get up to speed is learning from industry leaders. At the recent ATD TechKnowledge 2020, I heard from speakers, participants, and partners at the forefront of the industry.

This year’s theme, “Spark curiosity. Ignite potential.” focused on the intersection of learning and technology. TechKnowledge is the conference for instructional designers, trainers, managers, and talent development professionals interested in e-learning and learning technologies.

I came away from this experience with a fresh perspective and insights into how L&D pros are using technology to develop talent in the workplace. Here are my four takeaways from this year’s ATDTK conference.

1. L&D is Becoming a Critical Function

In the past, Learning and Development has been siloed within organizations. L&D professionals’ tasks were narrowly defined: onboarding new employees or conducting formal training or certification. Today, corporate learning is being woven into the fabric of company strategy and being seen as a competitive advantage in many industries.

Companies are realizing that top-down training may not arm employees well enough to perform in rapidly changing environments. These days, companies must create a culture of learning that motivates employees to engage with the information they need and allows them to seek out learning continuously.

This requires a rethinking of the traditional learning paradigm. In this environment, employees must feel empowered to learn. Companies must create opportunities for teams to learn in the flow of work, with personalized content that meets their individualized needs to reskill or upskill.

2. Modern Learning Is Ripe for Innovation

There is currently a huge disconnect between learning in our personal and professional lives. How we learn in our personal lives is completely different from how we do it at work.

In our personal lives, we leverage technology to learn all the time. It’s fast, mobile, often video-based. We have access to learning (in the form of Google searches and YouTube videos) that saves time. It’s low effort and personalized. And the content is aligned with experience I can trust. I’m at the center of the “learning experience.”

Have a plumbing problem? Search “how to fix a leaky faucet” on YouTube. New in town and need to find a restaurant? Go to Yelp and learn from the experiences of reviewers. Late and want to find the quickest route to get somewhere? Open Waze and learn from other drivers. This is what learning feels like in our everyday lives.

Yet we come to work and it’s a different situation. We use clunky, outdated systems that can’t be accessed on the go. There’s no means to practice my presentations, no means to reinforce what I learned in training so I wind up forgetting all of it, no means to hear from my peers.

In our professional lives, many of the tools we use are structured around the organization’s needs rather than mine. The company offers pre-planned learning flows that may or may not offer the information I’m interested in or that will help me tackle my current challenges.

LMS platforms are typically cumbersome and don’t take advantage of the latest innovations. The experience isn’t friendly or engaging, and much of the learning is lost soon after training occurs. These tools are ripe for improvement.

3. Tech Adoption is in Early Days

There’s an employee development movement, but it’s still in its early days. While the science of learning offers actionable insights for the industry, many companies, as one ATDTK speaker said, “Don’t know what they don’t know. They haven’t seen what’s possible in the flow of work.”

New technology has emerged to capture, share, and manage training content. Software vendors are incorporating user experience (UX) best practices to enhance the learner experience, not just the user interface (UI) but the way the courses are designed.

These components are critical because they impact how educators and trainers drive adoption. Learners report lower satisfaction and engagement when they have a ‘bad” experience.

Meanwhile, the way organizations operate has changed. Employees encounter unforeseen situations more regularly than they did in the past. New situations arise continually. This has huge ramifications for learning professionals. Centralized knowledge capture is critical in unstable environments. Learning professionals must find a way to support this new generation of learners.

4. Technology Can Kick Performance Into High Gear

Learning and development challenges span organizations, affecting productivity for multiple roles. Take sales, for example. Old school sales training involved gathering dispersed teams into classrooms for several days of meetings and workshops once or twice a year, then sending them back into the field.

In this scenario, learning is not reinforced and salespeople do not have access to the content they need in the moment when handling objections or messaging new products or features. While top-performers are able to succeed in this environment, new hires or developing reps are left with to struggle with occasional coaching from overwhelmed managers and limited means to access information that matches their skill level or interest.

With new learning tech that takes advantage of mobile and video, teams are able to learn in the flow of work. These platforms have several advantages over traditional approaches. They increase engagement and expose learners to successful peers. They support employees as they adapt to change. They allow learners to capture knowledge. And they shore up L&D influence in corporate decision processes.

The future of learning is here. Savvy companies will rethink their approaches and leverage new tech, inspiring better outcomes for individuals and organizations.

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