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May 24, 2016 Katelind Hays

Learning, Leadership & Other Lessons

ATD ICE 2016ATD International Conference and Exposition 2016 Recap 

Greetings from Denver, Colorado! I have the great privilege of representing InSync Training at the Association for Talent Development’s annual International Conference and Exposition.

Each year this event brings together the best and the brightest in the learning and development field – over 10,000 L&D practitioners travel from across the globe to continue their professional development. Additionally, it’s an unparalleled opportunity to connect and share with one another, while learning about the latest developments from industry leaders.

This blog post will share insights from the first two days of the conference, and provide resources related to emerging trends.

Games in Learning

It is common knowledge that most learning occurs outside of structured learning events (think: the 70:20:10 model). And the learning that happens inside the classroom, virtual or traditional, occurs when the participants are fully engaged in the event.

During her panel session, Sharon Boller explained how games can create this critical engagement piece. Most organizations hesitate to invest in gamification. Why? Because we believe it is a complicated and expensive process. To dispel this myth, session attendees participated in a number of quick games that demonstrated their value. In fact, Sharon asserted, “Games don’t have to be complex or lengthy to be powerful.”

Suggestions for applying her approach back on-the-job include: gamifying rote practice, adding an element of challenge to the content specifically for the game, and to design the games in a way that allow learners to “level up” over time. Furthermore, even though “games” traditionally fall under EdTech, games don’t need to be technologically based to be effective and engaging.

Adaptive Learning

Glenn Bull provided a comprehensive overview of adaptive learning, a seriously hot topic in L&D. His definition clarified that this approach to learning continuously evolves (adapts) as the learner moves through the content. The content presented to the learner changes depending upon their needs.

This sophisticated approach to learning provides different experiences for everyone in the same program, since the pathway changes based on their preferences. Currently, two big trending topics emerge: the developing role of learning architects, and data credibility.

When compared to instructional designers of the past, learning architects need to get better information and more thorough instructional design. In order to meet business goals, learning architects do many things to create sophisticated programs that help organizations reach their desired level of performance. Adaptive learning provides learning architects with a viable option for creating these complicated, comprehensive programs. Additionally, adaptive learning considers not only basic data collection (the act of collecting any data at all from learning programs), but also how it’s manipulated and used. This approach allows for greater data credibility.

Social Learning

Social learning, and its connection to formal programs, continues to gain momentum as a topic of conversation in the L&D community. Dan Steer shared his expert advice to panel session attendees about the value of social media and social mechanics in formal training events.

Learning, he said, is the “successful acquisition and application of knowledge, skills, and attitudes in the workplace” and formal learning requires purposeful structure around that process. Learning organizers take advantage of social mechanics, which are processes around using social collaboration and interaction for the purpose of learning. Trainers use social media as specific platforms to enable that social interaction, both in and out of the classroom.

If you’re considering using social learning in future training programs, Dan recommended that you ask the following questions:

  • “Is this the right learning action to meet desired objectives?”
  • “What is the best order for the learning’s direction?”
  • “What direction will learners need before, during, and after the lesson? And how much of that direction do I have to provide?”
  • “What type of social mechanics do I need?”
  • “Of the tools I will need, which do we already have?”
  • “What are the risks associated with the social learning (IP? Bandwidth? Access?)?”
  • “What is my role with the social learning? (Hint: to provide links between the learning moments and the associated tools.)”
  • “How do I measure success? (Ex: traffic, sharing metrics, or level of understanding at the end of the program.)”


Simon Sinek of TEDtalk fame, gave a keynote speech about leadership during the first full day of the conference. Our prehistoric brains, which are social by nature, define the conditions under which a group system, like an organizational team, fails or succeeds. More succinctly: the working world has evolved, but the required conditions for success have not. Essentially, Simon said, it comes down to this: when we feel safe, we react with trust and cooperation; when we feel unsafe, we react with cynicism and self-interest.

Good leadership, he explained, is “a choice. It’s about taking care of those in your charge, not about being in charge.” Good leaders encourage their team members to work towards a common vision, and sacrifice nonrefundable commodities like time and energy to create a working environment that:

  • Encourages us to keep working because it feels good;
  • Helps us stay focused on a goal while avoiding distractions;
  • Includes a level of public recognition that makes us proud of the work we do; and
  • Provides a group setting in which we take care of each other.

Contrarily, bad leaders believe that pressure and fear tactics will inspire performance. Instead, though, the opposite happens: the team feels unsafe in their roles and within the organization. Because of this, performance will suffer and more pressure will be applied by leadership, and on and on and on in a terrible circle of non-performance.

Surprisingly, Simon explained, the typical corporate reward structure of “hit the goal, get the bonus” is a terrible approach for our brains. It encourages an addiction to achievement, and creates a “culture of addicts that will kill the trust and cooperation, and [allow] cynicism, self-interest, and distrust to prevail.”

At the end of the speech he reminded us that “leadership is like exercise – you don’t know how long it takes to work. Stick with it and the pain will go away. It’s a process, not an event, where consistency, not intensity, is key.”

Additional Resources

Even if you couldn’t attend the conference, you can still continue to build your skills around emerging training trends with these resources:


Published by Katelind Hays May 24, 2016
Katelind Hays