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Takeaways from the Training 2017 Conference


By Andrew Eninger – Facilitator and Design Lead

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Training 2017 conference, which is basically the Comic-Con of learning professionals. Minus the capes.  Learning professionals from all over North America convene to geek out about the ins and outs of skill building, waxing poetic about classroom management techniques during white wine mixers and hoarding logo-laden chachkis from the alluring expo vendors.

I’ve worked in corporate learning for nearly 20 years, so it was cathartic to share war stories with like-minded folks.  Of all the conferences I attend each year on behalf of Second City Works, this one is probably closest to being ‘my people.’ Still, the comedy writer in me tends to enjoy some fly-on-the-wall time. What are people obsessed with? What are the weird trends? What is the hot jargon that everybody is saying to look smart? Which Expo booths are fascinating and which ones are downright creepy? I eavesdropped, I observed from a cool distance, I busted people sneaking out of afternoon sessions to go shopping. From the conference virgins who were collecting every brochure thrown their way, to the hardened vets who didn’t even pick up the logo bag, I watched it all. And here’s what I saw:

Learners are tough to reach, obsessed with social media, and are convinced they already know everything anyway. Basically, they are teenagers.

Learners are like Children

The universal, unspoken agreement is that learners are tough to reach, obsessed with social media, and are convinced they already know everything anyway. Basically, they are teenagers. Conference attendees had the desperate look of the parents of a high-school sophomore looking for a flicker of connection in their emotionally distant kid. There were sessions about gamification. Phone-based training. Entertainment based learning. Learning designers are trying to be the cool mom and dad in order to reach these petulant sulky teens on their terms. Gone are the days of a rapt audience dutifully absorbing ‘the talk.’ Learners these days are too busy looking at their phones to make eye contact, let alone sit still long enough for a live session. In other words, training has had to become like a series of post-its on the family fridge between cheerleader practice and driver’s ed. But shorter.

Learners these days are too busy looking at their phones to make eye contact, let alone sit still long enough for a live session.

The hot word of the year is “Micro”

Less is more in today’s learning environment. People seem to want teeny tiny microtrainings that are so brief that you don’t even realize you’ve learned something. Micro-sessions, microsites, microtraining that can fit on the head of a pin – the millennials have lowered the attention span and the busy Gen X-ers say “Yassss” because they have a New Year’s resolution about work-life balance and need the extra time to micromanage their tween’s homework. Conference attendees shopped for insight on bleeding-edge technologies to help them package up the right information at the right time in the right place and preferably in 20-second chunks that are somehow beamed directly into the learner’s brain between conference calls.

Training is Becoming More Inclusive

All joking aside, the drive for shorter, sharper learning is part of the ongoing trend toward respecting different kinds of learners. Keynote speaker Temple Grandin spoke passionately about the need to recognize ‘all kinds of minds’ in learning and development programs.  In our Second City Works sessions at the conference, many of the audience questions centered around how to customize our interactive exercises for different kinds of learners. Several people I met during the conference had been recruited from unexpected quarters of their organization to bring a new perspective to the learning programs, and to reach those different kinds of minds that might not respond to traditional training. It was edifying to see that all of the dazzling training technology is helping companies to become more inclusive. After all, nobody goes into the business of L&D because they want to feed data into an LMS that shoots one-way information to a homogenous, distributed, faceless workforce.  They go into it because they want to reach individuals and make a difference, which brings us to the last point:

Learning Leaders are Miracle Workers

Seriously. They are being asked to do more training with fewer resources on more platforms for more distant learners than ever before. They deal with senior leadership who looks at learning as an afterthought. They clamor for a seat at the table, and often when they get it, it’s the kid’s table at the Thanksgiving meal. They’re the first thing cut when times get rough, and the first department to blame all the time.  Yet, the attendees of Training 2017 seemed undeterred. They were joyfully harvesting ideas in notebooks filled with bits they ‘borrowed’ from other conference presenters. Navigating awkward networking moments. Picking through the dubious technologies to find the thing that could help them reach their learners. Gorging themselves on possibility and inspiration before heading back into the fray.  Preparing themselves for the next generation of hard-to-reach learners. And all with way more eye-contact than at a Comic-Con.

There may not have been capes at this conference, but there still certainly plenty of heroes there.

About the Author:

Andy Eninger is a writer, director and performer based in Chicago in the great state of Illinois. For Second City Works, he designs and leads learning programs for Fortune 500 clients. He was the head of Second City’s Writing Program from 2011 to 2016.

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