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ASTD ICE 2013: A Maestro Recap

Several Maestronauts attended the ASTD International Conference & Expo (ASTD ICE) in Dallas last month. And while our offices felt a little lighter, we were relatively few compared to the almost 9,000 attendees. We enjoyed the trip to Big D, despite the 93-degree heat mixed with severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings. While there was a lot of talk about tornados, there was also a lot of talk about improving performance and learning. Two members of Team Maestro took time to share their insights from the event. See what Senior Learning Strategist, Carla Torgerson and Maestro Ambassador, Tagg Petersen, had to say about ASTD ICE and the future of learning.

What was your experience at ASTD ICE? Carla: I've gone to ICE almost every year for the last 8 years, so it's a little like a reunion for me - getting to see old friends and colleagues, and hearing what they are doing and thinking. As a co-presenter of a workshop and a session, I talked with a number of people about their mobile and sales enablement efforts. During the rest of the conference, I went to a session on mobile design, Allison Rosset’s session on mobile performance support, and Jack Phillips’ session on ROI, just to name a few. I always find ICE to be a great learning experience!

Tagg: One word: Expo. I spent most of ASTD ICE at and around Maestro’s booth talking with conference attendees about their learning objectives and thinking through potential solutions. They gave us their challenges and we gave them ideas for mobile learning and strategy. And t-shirts. We gave away lots of t-shirts too.

What were some common themes and issues discussed? Carla: There is a ton of buzz around mobile learning. You couldn't take more than a few steps in the conference center (or even in the streets of Dallas, for that matter) without seeing someone whip out a smart phone or tablet. These devices are ubiquitous, and training professionals are really interested in figuring out how to use them to improve workplace performance.

However, despite that interest, a lot of people haven't started – and frankly, just don't know where to start. Using mobile devices in a large organization is daunting and sometimes even overwhelming. It's easy to get stuck in a quagmire of seeing the end game, but not knowing the steps to get there.

Tagg: I noticed a strange phenomena when it comes to mobile learning; several groups that haven't typically considered mobile learning in the past are now joining the conversation. I’m talking about the more conservative training groups… like local government, corporate compliance, even factory floors and call centers. Mobile no longer feels like an option just for elite, well-funded training and sales support groups. People who have historically not considered mobile as an option are now exploring the possibilities. I’m anxious to see how this will play out.

What do you see in the future of learning? Carla: I really think training professionals are going to shift from being "course designers" to "performance improvement specialists". In Allison Rossett's session she looked at how mobile devices provide outstanding performance support. In each example, instead of asking "Will it improve learning?" she asked "Will it improve performance?" Sure, Dr. Rossett has been speaking and writing about performance support for decades, but at ICE her session was standing room only. People are really starting to think about the power of performance support, thanks to mobile devices. By recognizing the power of both formal and informal learning and support, we will be able to improve workplace performance in ways we never dreamed of before.

Tagg: I think we’re reaching a tipping point in mobile learning. With smart devices so mainstream - about 75% of American adults aged 18-44 own a smartphone(1), and 31% of all American own tablets(2) - more organizations are warming up to the idea of mobile learning for their employees. We’ve seen mobile support for sales forces and employees with heavy-travel for some time, but I met with people from the mining industry and retail franchise owners who are now exploring how mobile could help them; even one company with an extremely large campus was looking for a workplace navigation app. There are applications for mobile learning and performance support everywhere; I think we’ll see those applications come to life much more quickly than we’ve seen in the past few years.  

If you could offer one piece of advice to all the people you spoke to… Carla: Remember that it's all about improving performance. Weather that's through courses, support materials, or something else, we're here to help workers excel. Always think about the user and ask yourself, "Will it improve performance?"

Tagg: If your department is considering a new learning method like mobile, or even going from ILT to eLearning, it’s best to start small and with a good plan. Sadly I heard a few stories in the Expo Hall about failed initiatives. Many said, “This time we want to do it right.” Take time to think through your learning strategy and the business needs you will solve. Remember, you don’t need to solve all of your biggest problems on your first project. A small win can be a great experience, and help you gain a lot of ground for future opportunities.

If you’re thinking about going mobile, Maestro is publising a 4-part blog series for ASTD about how to get started with mobile, as a follow-up to ICE.




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