NovoEd sponsored the 2015 ATD Conference and Exposition on Training and Development. With over 10,500 attendees, the conference ranks among the industry’s largest. Here is a list of our five takeaways, on topics ranging from the diminishing value of learner satisfaction scores to new strategies for gamification.

1- We need to rethink the correlation between learning and learner satisfaction.

Most HR departments will tell you employees love their workplace training. Presenters at ATD boasted learner satisfaction scores exceeding 85%, with some claiming figures as high as 99% (alas, we can’t please all the people all the time). This speaks either to the effectiveness of instructional designers or to the creativity of statisticians. But it also begs the question: are learner satisfaction scores even a meaningful measure of training effectiveness? When used to evaluate the value of on-site workshops, they don’t say much. One presenter at the conference, the Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer of SAP, quipped that they are best suited for determining the quality of the catering’s coffee and donuts.

2- Companies are looking for new ways to measure their training’s return on investment (ROI).

Jenny Dearborn delivered one of the best talks of the conference, arguing that CLOs need to ally with statisticians to create formulas that quantify the impact of training. In sales, this might translate to measuring how quickly new trainees reach their quotas. Carefully determined control groups are a must, in order to ensure the purity of the data. Jenny concludes that, increasingly, companies expecting to receive third-party recognition for the value of their training will be expected to provide the formulas they used to determine ROI. High learner satisfaction scores are not enough.

3- There is a future for social learning,

We were lucky to have had opportunities to chat with representatives from a wide range of industries: government, the automotive sector, telecommunications, and retail. Where they compared was their interest in using social learning to bridge organizational silos to facilitate the exchange of knowledge among departments. Here are a couple representative questions: How can workers at a call center in Wisconsin learn from the success and failures of their counterparts in Oregon? How might teachers across geographies and disciplines collaborate to exchange experiences in the classroom? That these are the voiced concerns of very diverse industries points to a bright future for social learning. (Click here to learn how NovoEd uses social learning to create “felt accountability”.)

4- Training firms are anxious.

We also spoke to representatives of several training firms, who were less optimistic about developments in the training space. Among a few there was even a palpable air of panic. Training firms recognize the threat posed to their business models by online learning, and are now looking for ways to digitize their own services. Expect to see a major overhaul in the manner in which these firms do business over the next five years.

5- Storytelling is the new gamification.

After attending several presentations on instructional design, we were left thinking that storytelling is not only the sexiest trend in the industry, it is more and more becoming a type of gamification (another hot topic). Google, for instance, was excited to share their experiences using an online tool called Oppia, which enabled their instructional designers to create tainting modules resembling a choose-your-own-adventure novel. (Learners are confronted with a workplace scenario and prompted with periodic decision points that affect how it unfurls.) In another session, Karl Kapp, Professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomsburg University, demonstrated the effectiveness of gamified storytelling by transforming his presentation on instructional design into a 1930s detective story. Every few minutes the audience had the opportunity to win points by answering a question from the narrative. A little cheesy, but nevertheless effective.

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