It has been an interesting few years for training departments – with advances, setbacks, technologies, and emotions. All of which were reflected in this year's ASTD ICE Annual Conference. Although I didn't attend EVERY session, visit EVERY booth in the Exhibit Hall, or eat at EVERY restaurant (though I tried), here is my own "Top 7 Observations" – this is just my take… Feel free to add to it and turn it from MY list into OURS…
- Web 3.0 is going to make an impact – We're just not sure what it is.
Is Web 3.0 actually more of a web-enabled-device shift… from desktop to tablets? Is it an internet-experience transformation, in which our phone passes information to our computer so that we can pick up where we left off? Is it an unseen-but-expected evolution of social media… Is it less? More? Quite frankly, after speaking with other session attendees, it seems nobody knows.
- Time and HUMAN resources are needed more than ever – and they're more scarce.
I can't even tell you how many times over the last week I have met "The Department" personified by a single human. The most bizarre report I got was from a Training Director who was solely… And I mean SOLELY responsible for every aspect of training for a company of nearly 40,000 people. No names being given, but that company should be put on "Learning Probation"… The greater message, though, is that the ratio between training staff and employees is widening uncomfortably. Even when their responsibilities are growing.
- The youth movement has started, but is on hold.
At ASTD 2008 I attended a session about the youth movement – the kids were taking over. Actually, it was supposed to be by THIS YEAR that the churn would be complete. If I'm remembering correctly the average age of a training professional was supposed to be 27 by this year. Just like the "rapture" it didn't happen. The "old guard" is holding stronger than ever, actually, and even in new-hire case the amount of 50+ hires is beating anyone's prediction.
- Social & Informal Learning is a focus – but only for the bold
Informal & social learning is taking many forms. Community forums, experiential intranet destinations where learners can share their experiences and knowledge nuggets, and (of course) the ubiquitous Facebook & Twitter references were running around ASTD as rampantly as the anoles in the parking lot of our hotel. But in the words of one insurance-industry training professional "We don't touch it (informal learning), there is just far too much information we'd have to screen and control to ensure it aligned with our goals and values".
- The effective application of eLearning is still confusing
In the Exhibit Hall our company was showcasing some new eLearning modules. It was our first crack at it. The reviews were mixed – not on the content or design – but on eLearning itself. It was clear that several of you have been burned with bad courses or systems. And that confusion gets much sharper when the discussion turns to "soft skills" eLearning. The jury is STILL out on the effectiveness of eLearning in certain topical areas, and it has been that way for a decade.
- Soft skills are the most important – but are quickest to the back burner
Asking trainers what they want to work on, and what the company could most use, the answers came quickly. Leadership Development. Mentoring. Management Skills. Sales. That mirrors everything we read in T&D Magazine or any other "training opinion" report. But then ask what the budget has been built around and you hear a similar chorus, but to a different song. Compliance training. Technology Training. Required safety…. And the end result for busy training professionals is to do what they know they HAVE to do, at the expense of what they think the organization needs most.
- It's time to change the vernacular of our departments.
Training is an expense. You cost money. And for those of you (like me) who want or need to attend conferences… well, we cost even more. A great session I attended talked about the transition from "Training" departments to "Learning" departments, and from "Learning" Departments to "Performance Improvement" Departments. These evolved departments can effectively diagnose issues, tie them to business needs, determine if/to what extent training can help, and recommend solutions – regardless of the training or learning involvement.