Who was at ASTD ICE 2010, and what were their goals?

I saw a lot of training professionals attend ASTD’s annual conference in Chicago last week.  By training professionals, I’m talking mainly classroom instructors and Instructional Designers.  Who wasn’t there? By and large I didn’t see a technical audience there — that’s not to say there weren’t technical people there.  I mean to say that given the conferences I normally go to, this was a different side of the training/learning world.

How was ASTD ICE 2010 structured?

I believe there were a number of multi-day pre-conference workshops, in which I didn’t participate.  There were three main days for the conference and exhibition, and on Monday and Tuesday there were stunning keynotes by Dan Pink (@danielpink) and Charlene Li (@charleneli), respectively.  Otherwise, there were a number of programming tracks with breakout sessions for each track, and an Exhibition Hall that filled up almost half of the available space in the west building of the McCormick Center (that’s a huge amount of space, larger than any exhibition hall I can remember being in — rivalling IITSEC).

What were the big ideas you took from ASTD ICE 2010 ?

Aaron, Best Wishes! David Allen
David Allen signed my Moleskine, which makes me organized, nerdy and L33T.

“Social Media”

From the welcome speech by ASTD President Tony Bingham (@tonybingham) to the selection and actual content by the keynote speakers (@danielpink and @charleneli); the inclusion of so many sessions on social media; the fact that there was WiFi (albeit pretty crappy WiFi service, thanks McCormick Center) — you couldn’t swing the rhetorical dead cat at ASTD ICE 2010 and not hit some one talking about “Social Media.”  I remember reading the reflections and the few tweets from last year’s event, where there was barely a mention, let alone even a whisper.  This year it was in surround sound, metaphorically.

I use “Social Media” in quotes, because my takeaway from this experience was that it’s definitely being objectified; not internalized.  I think that’s true for many in attendance at the conference as well as ASTD itself.

What surprised you from ASTD ICE 2010 ?

Government at ASTD

I wouldn’t have known this on my own, but Jay Allen (@jay_a_allen) pointed out to me that this is the first year there’s been a US Government (and military) pavilion that offered specialized content and meet-up space for Government and Military personnel. As Jay wrote…

[The Government Pavilion was] sponsored by The Graduate School and The Center for Creative Leadership and was very well-received.  [Also,] The Public Manager journal is now a part of ASTD’s media offering.

So the new introduction of government and military as a specialization inside of ASTD is interesting to me.  It would seem that ASTD is recognizing that there are differentiators in different sectors that relate to training.  Jay introduced me to a USAF Colonel, Peter Marksteiner.  I’m historically a huge doubter on the ability of a training organization to prove ROI on anything it does, but Col. Marksteiner and I had a fantastic conversation on Wednesday that now makes me think that when organizations (not just the learning organization) care to measure, you can actually prove ROI.  This takes me to my second point.

No One Knows How to Measure Stuff

Funny little story: in preparing for our panel discussion with Marcia Conner (@marciamarcia), Dan Pontefract (@dpontefract) and I got into our ranting voices as we riffed off each other’s ideas about tracking informal learning, among other things, in the speaker ready room on Monday morning. As we got up to grab some coffee, I couldn’t help but notice the two older gentlemen sitting at our table, pouring over their presentation.  It was the actual Kirkpatricks.

I share this because there’s a lot of people still buying into Kirkpatrick, and that in and of itself is not bad — but apparently a lot of people I’ve seen in the world read Kirkpatrick and think that in and of itself is all you need to do to measure learners, measure effectiveness, etc.  News flash: reading a book is not applying the learning in the book (especially ironic when the book is related to measuring the effectiveness of learning by the performance of the learned skill).  Now, I’ve not read Kirkpatrick (ever).  I’ve seen my fair share of people talk about ROI and the reason why I’ve vouched, up until meeting Col. Marksteiner, that you can’t measure ROI was because I felt there were some things that were impossible to capture for an organization.

Now I see things a bit differently. Now I wonder if organizations are just too lazy to go an evaluation effort in the beginning of any project (not any learning project) to see if there’s a need to support the project with some training and, if so, if maybe they should include learning professionals at the onset?  I wonder if maybe organizations should think beyond milestone dates when they “plan” new projects, and think about what the net effects they want for their respective organizations and tie the training they’ll do to that change effort?

I don’t mean to be hyper-critical, but the big surprise to me, hearing people sitting around tables, walking through the conference sessions — the big surprise to me was that it wasn’t just the learning teams I belonged to that struggled with these concerns: every organization seems to be missing this. For all the measuring that companies are doing (and they are doing a lot of measuring, I’m sure of it), many seem to be missing the important measures: how do we define success? How will we know when we’ve been successful? What are the ways in which we can fail? How will we know we need to plan for some contingency?

What are things you learned from ASTD ICE 2010 ?

ASTD represents the world as it is.

For as long as I can remember, even in my first years as a classroom teacher, I’ve been way out in the bleeding edge of technology adoption, to the point now where I feel like I’m helping shape the constraints of emerging technologies.  My feet are always in the fresh trail of the future. ASTD and the audience it supports is very large, and they are the world as it is today.

This is uncomfortable ground for people like me.  I see a big population in a Rogers Diffusion of Innovations curve that are late adopters.  Embedded with this group of professionals (almost 8000 of them!) for a few days, I see that some are late adopters (or laggards) by choice — but the majority of these professionals have passion and talent, but their view of the possible is very much curtailed by the information they have access to through outlets like ASTD and what their own organizational leadership or IT tells them is possible.  Why? Because their main goal in life is not to be on the cutting edge — their main goal is to do the best they can with the means they have available to them.

ASTD just gave a whole bunch of professionals a ringing endorsement of social media for learning purposes.  I guess I’m surprised a little reflectively, because I never expected an endorsement before taking any action in previous positions. When you’re an early adopter, I think you tend to see the rest of the world like that, too.  Turns out, no matter how many times I’m reminded, that’s just not realistic.

What left you unsatisfied from ASTD ICE 2010 ?

Black Swans?

If only I had the time.  I’m seriously thinking of a complete relaunch and new approach to the Black Swan Society I started with others at the Innovations in eLearning Symposium last year.  It occurs to me that there are a lot of people who need help who can’t find it inside their organizations, but also can’t just go public with their specific needs.  They need someone to broker connecting them with others.  They need someone they can trust with their secrets to share only the important parts to find someone who can help them, learn together and grow. I could be that guy people could trust, but I couldn’t be that guy to everybody.  In my copious spare time, I would do this and set up a tiny seed garden online for other people to take connections, plant them where they need to and grow them on their own.

Social Learning: Real or Spin?

For all the talk about social media and “social learning,” I have to really ask if anybody really gets it, or if there’s so many voices shouting out the names of tools and services in an echo chamber that what it’s all about is getting drowned out?  @marciamarcia put out a definition of Social Learning in our presentation that looked like this:

Social learning is participating with others to make sense of new ideas.

I’ve been starting to throw out a definition that has been gaining traction from within ADL:

Social Learning is the learning evidenced from vicarious activity shared through “near-peer” relationships.

Now you can parse words between Marcia and I all you want (I think we’re poking at the same bear with a similar stick).  The thing is in neither of our definitions do we talk about microsharing or user-generated content or Twitter or Facebook or Yammer or… whatever.

We’re telling you what it is; we can define it.  I believe that if it can be defined than you can actually measure the impact of the learning that happens if you would choose to measure social learning. I’m not advocating measuring social learning; I’m advocating that there must be a definition for it, and the definition is not “learn stuff on Facebook.”

Anything Else?

I had the most wonderful time getting to see colleagues and peers and friends like @mbr1online, @marciamarcia, @cammybean, @randomdazzle, @stephaniedaul, @jay_a_allen, @terrencewing.  I especially  liked Cammy’s post wrapping up ASTD, which you can read here.

I really enjoyed getting to know a kindred spirit in @dpontefract and finally meeting @kkapp, @wadatripp, @GinaSchreck and @tomkuhlmann was a real thrill.  Likewise, @LandDDave, @InSyncEU, @lilred_apagog, @dbolen, @BloomFire, @trinarimmer, @mindflash, @TriciaRansom, @dougdevitre, @thomasstone, @rjfjrzax — I’m sure there are others, too (feel free to correct me if I didn’t catch your Twitter handle).

One more thing… I did get my Moleskine autographed by David Allen (@gtdguy), just like I said I would.  He didn’t seem too impressed with the request, but it’s cool.

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