ATD 2017 – Day 1: Minds-i, Elliott Masie and Learning Changes

ATD 2017 Conference and Exposition

It’s day one in Atlanta. As a business we’ve been coming to ATD for a number of years (you might have seen Peter’s blogs from last year’s Denver date), but this is our first time as exhibitors. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell you that everything in the US is just on another scale when it comes to the size of these shows – you really have to see it to believe it.

This year is no exception. The conference is set to welcome between ten and twelve thousand visitors, many of whom will be here for the entire event – which in itself makes this particular meeting of the learning and talent development world quite different to its European cousins.

ATD 2017 Exposition

The Georgia World Congress centre is a veritable maze of session rooms, corridors and conference auditoriums, and with an event guide comprising a solid 270 ring-bound pages of breakouts, key note sessions and workshops, there really is something for everyone.

ATD 2017 Exposition

Having spent the weeks running up to the show perusing the floor plan, we know we’re amongst a host of familiar faces (9 hours from Heathrow to Atlanta has also brought several of us closer!) and it’s great to be amongst the buzz of what is undoubtedly one of the major dates in the international L&D calendar.

ATD 2017 Exposition ATD 2017 Exposition Unicorn Training Minds-i

We’re here first and foremost to launch our brand new App offering – a sophisticated learning reinforcement tool offering a plethora of neat features and functions to help turn knowledge into behavioural change. The App – as you may well have seen if you’ve been following our marketing pieces recently – is called Minds-i.

ATD 2017 Exposition ATD 2017 Exposition Unicorn Training Minds-i

As it transpired, the topic of learning reinforcement was high on the agenda for everyone at ATD. The level of interest and precise questioning from expo delegates affirmed that the industry as a whole has moved beyond the initial ‘rabbit-in-the-headlights’ response to mobile-based learning – and into a more mature and informed understanding of what opportunities new tech offers to their specific business needs.

ATD 2017 Exposition ATD 2017 Exposition Unicorn Training Minds-i

The morning left us little time to explore – with a constant stream of visitors keen to unpick the potential benefits of Minds-i for their various organisations.

ATD 2017 Exposition Unicorn Training Minds-i

Having enjoyed such success (and borderline hysteria) at the Learning Technologies show back in February, we thought it only fitting to bring along some of our furry friends to offer as raffle prizes for the best QuizCom score…

ATD 2017 Exposition Unicorn Training Minds-i

Conference Session Highlights: ‘Learning Trends, Hype, Disruptors and Shifts in 2017’

At 3pm there was a mass exodus from the expo hall, as everyone headed upstairs seemingly all to join Elliot Masie’s session on learning trends for 2017.

ATD 2017 Exposition

I’m aware of Elliott Masie. Not that I’ve particularly made a point of delving in to what he does, but his name has cropped up here and there. He’s tall, apparently Jewish, and wearing the oddest combination of chinos, blue blazer, orange shirt and lime trainers – which I’m told is his thing.

“Wikipedia will tell you I helped invent eLearning”, he jokes, “but I don’t really think I did.”

He’s charismatic, but rehearsed. Undeniably he has a way with the audience that means his compulsion to overshare about his involvement with ‘Spongebob Squarepants the musical’ (amongst others) seems not to be news to anyone.

“I’m here to be a bit provocative”, he announces – telling us that besides learning, his two major passions are stage musicals, and breeding racehorses.

Soon enough the bravado gives way to what I assume has compelled an auditorium full of people to traipse up several floors from their already packed schedules to listen to a veteran of the industry expound yet more neatly packaged views on trends, disruption, and – of course – Millennials.

“The biggest mistake you can make in relation to learning changes, is to think that it’s just the technology that’s changing”, says Masie – “in the simplest terms, it not the tech that’s different, but the learners. And yet, ‘learners’ continue to be an elusive breed – a ‘them’, as opposed to an ‘us’, which when you think about it is crazy because we’re all leaners in one way or another.”

He makes a good point. Arguably, it’s an obvious one – you only have to be a marginally cynical citizen of the world these days to see that a lot of what is vehemently argued by these established figureheads of the industry is artfully packaged common sense.

ATD 2017 Exposition

His next trick is to make everyone get up and spend a precise 2 mins and 30 seconds discussing the way that learning has changed specifically for them in the last five years. All around me I can hear the buzzwords we’ve been volleying about all day – microlearning, bite-sized learning, video content. “Two minutes and thirty seconds is the average time an employee spends actually watching what you send them”, he tells us. “In fact, you decide within 18 seconds whether you’re in or out.”

Essentially, he’s talking about the growing demand for shorter video. And short, effective video content that is delivered in a mobile-native environment. True enough, we’ve spent a large portion of this year talking about microlearning; but arguably what Masie says goes beyond that. What he’s really talking about it the entitlement of interconnectivity and interoperability: our expectation that our various devices and operating systems ought to be able to work together seamlessly to deliver end-to-end learning experiences that tally with our ever-shrinking attention spans.

ATD 2017 Exposition

Elliott’s presenting style is charming but tangential – before you know it we’re on a rollercoaster ride through the deepest recesses of his professional (and personal) back-catalogue – sharing experiences of dinners held with the Gates’, and his views about the relative merits of established training tools.

“Today one thing is for sure – our learners want to be in an environments of curation, recommendation, optimisation”, he asserts. “The learning experience isn’t changing because of a new LMS, or any equivalent piece of revolutionary tech. The major disruption is people. Us.”

Elliott’s Top Takeaways

1. We must challenge our rituals.

The age old adage of ‘we’ve always done it this way, we don’t need to change’ has to change, he says – and fast. This includes the way that businesses seek to calculate, express and measure ‘ROI’ from their training programmes.

“The worst people to give money to and expect it back from are those in the learning world”, he says. “Forget what you think you know; we’re not interested in ROI, we’re interested in impact.”

ATD 2017 Exposition

2. There are going to be more and different formats for learning

As Masie’s passion for all things production shines through, he tells us that as learning managers, we should be comfortable with taking lessons from TV shows. “You’ve got to produce a season,” he says. “Whether I did or did not start the ‘eLearning brand’, it sucks. eLearning has and always will seemingly stand for ‘electronic learning’ – a term we came up with in back the 1900s (he’s joking, of course, but you get the point.) But we need to start moving away from this. It’s no longer about a singular format – rather we need to start being able to adapt and embrace new learning formats and new technologies.

“For me personally,” he continues, “I’d put my money on the fact that the next big thing is the recommendation engine. Something with the power to tell you who your learners are, where they’ve been, what they respond to. And it’s more than likely that this kind of tech will come in through a talent system, rather than a traditional LMS or LCMS.

3. Prevalent Learning Technologies will soon be ‘Mixed’ and ‘Adaptive’

Following on from the point about tool diversity, Maisie tell us that the learning tools of the future will not be built by learning technologies companies, but rather by consumer companies (like Amazon). “Something’s gotta give”, he says; “Your employees have better tech at home than you do at work.”
He’s talking about industry cross-pollination again. It’s not surprising because it’s a factor we’ve long recognised as being a pivotal turning point in the identity and future success of eLearning: When are we (and our consumers) going to realise that the bar has already been set for us in terms of UX, video quality and calibre of content we’ve come to expect in our day to day lives? If I can watch my home cinema in 4K, or take photos on my ultra-high spec camera, why would I forgive anything less in my video experience at work?

ATD 2017 Exposition

4. We need to accept that a permanent state of Beta and minimum viable product model are not necessarily bad things

Elliott talks for a time about apps – and the point here is pretty simple: we often get wrapped up in the development, or delivery of a product, but is this really necessary? His argument is one for replacing the compulsion to perfect these new products with an acceptance that the product will always be evolving – hence a permanent kind of beta state. “Is it such a bad thing?”, he asks. “we need to get better at buying the things that will actually solve the problems we’re setting out to address – but we also need to accept that these things are constantly evolving”. Perhaps the minimum viable product model needn’t be seen as such a bad thing.

5. In the near future, most personalisation won’t be done by the system, but by the learner

Masie’s final point was pretty self-explanatory. He spent a lot of time talking about the user experience and intuitive nature of true ‘lifestyle apps’, such as those powering Alexa (Amazon), OK Google and others – and the way that the novelty and fast adoption here are often down to the ways in which data is cleverly used to personalise your experience. “What we need to ensure, is that when it comes to learning, the system doesn’t fight the learner”, he says. “A learning management system in future ought to manage the learning, not just report.”

His session concluded with a series of impassioned soundbites about the future: “What do I think is the future?” he asked. “We’ve never lived at a better moment; learning is really exciting – every day you are curiosity driven – curiosity driven to the point that on average we’re doing between one and 25 Google searches everyday looking for answers. I am spiritually and professionally and personally excited by this time we find ourselves in. Our role in learning is to live in that moment of curiosity.”

“We’re in the business of tapping in to people’s curiosity,” he says, “let’s not for a moment forget that because it’s a beautiful place to be.”


Check back tomorrow for more from ATD. Follow us at @unicorntraining of use the Twitter hashtag #ATD2017 for more live content straight from the show.

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