Last week, I attended Training 2017 Conference + Expo. It was a great conference, with inspiring keynotes and info-packed sessions. Highlights included:
- Frequent performances from Second City Works about the link between improv and professional development.
- A reminder from edX’s Anant Agarwal that by 2030, 50% of the current jobs will have been replaced by automation or artificial intelligence.
- An inspirational story about second chances from Issac Lidsky, author of Eyes Wide Open.
- A keynote by Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, about the power of community and how those around us can help us change our fates.
- A keynote by Temple Grandin, author of The Autistic Brain, that encouraged us to stop making things abstract, and instead focus on concrete messages and measures to make real change.
I also had the great honor of being a speaker at the conference, sharing ThoughtForm’s perspective on the role of visual explanations as a training tool (Miss our session? Register for our upcoming webinar here.). Beyond sharing my perspective, I was also able to attend many great sessions by other engaging speakers. Here’s an unscientific selection of my observations:
We must apply science to our development programs.
At the advent of adult learning strategy and the professional training industry, experts would lecture employees on topics, much like a college class. Slowly, this technique was deemed to be time-consuming and ineffective, so training specialists switched to more engaging delivery approaches, including e-learning programs, video, interactive sessions, and games.
Over time, the training industry has tried a variety of formats and gimmick to engage users, and it fell sway to all sorts of trends and bad advice. But, the fundamental problem remains: how do you make an employee remember information, recall that information at the right time, and change their behavior? This is as challenging of a problem today as it ever was. A few leaders in the industry are bucking the trend. Rather than just parroting the current trends (micro! mobile!), they are researching the brain and really focusing on how techniques like conditioning, systemic practice, and effortful retrieval can create “teachable students.” If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend you check out Art Kohn and his research.
Training has embraced storytelling, but is it a silver bullet?
Most experts will tell you that to make learning engaging and memorable, you must use stories. And the science will back you up…our brains remember content that we can connect to our experiences and that has an emotional “hook” far better than disparate facts. But, crafting and delivering those stories is no easy feat. The saturation of storytelling as a communication tool is raising the bar, not lowering it. How many times have you seen a movie or read a book where the plot and meaningful details were gone you’re your brain moments after you engaged with them? Stories aren’t always enough on their own—they have to be good stories, carefully written, and reinforced for learners.
Experience design is creeping into training, learning, and development programs.
I attended this conference several years ago and struggled to find anyone who had even heard of personas and journey maps—key tools used in experience design . And while those terms are still not common, their value is clear. Training professionals are thinking a lot more about audiences, their needs, their desires, their preconceptions, and their limitations. And they are thinking about the training experience—not just with broad strokes, like classroom versus e-learning. They are carefully matching the content to the delivery method, all to improve outcomes and delight learners. I imagine this trend will only continue to grow, and it can only be to everyone’s benefit.
Training is important. It is a $60 billion industry here in the US. And it’s important to many people in the workforce: millennials rank professional development as being more important to them then salary or promotion. But, training is often an after-thought, tacked on to the end of a change management program, or delivered year after to year to new recruits, whether its effective or not. But, there is a small group of folks out there dead-set on changing that. And spending a few days sharing ideas with them has been a delight.
Marisa Boevers is the Director of Marketing at ThoughtForm. She enjoys making the world more visual, and thus easier to understand—one Foglifter® at a time.