4 Themes from the Fall 2014 CLO Symposium

Last week we had the opportunity to attend the CLO Symposium out in Carlsbad, CA where we spent 3 days with a number of senior level learning professionals and sat in on numerous seminars about the latest developments in the L&D industry. This was our first time attending, and I immediately noticed it had a different cadence than other conferences, with a heavy focus on seminars and keynotes instead of booths and marketing presentations. I found this refreshing in that it gave me plenty of opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with L&D practitioners in an environment that was less sales/marketing focused. Another big take away was the sense of community among attendees;this was a group of learning professionals that have built a community around this event and have attended numerous times because of the value they saw in sharing experiences and best practices.  

After spending a few days decompressing and reflecting on the event, I thought it would make sense to share several themes that emerged throughout the event. While the conference’s chosen theme was “Exploring New Approaches to Learning” and there significant discussion around that broad topic however, I wanted to outline a few alternative themes I heard in the numerous speeches I listened to and conversations I had during the event.   

Theme #1: A new generation of learners

Go ask your interns how they want to learn. That is the next batch of learners.
— Tamar Elkeles, Qualcomm

Arguably the most prevalent theme I heard throughout the conference was the changing face of the learner population within companies. There was particular focus on how the ‘Millennial’ generation of workers is drastically changing the way companies need to deliver learning. This is a broad idea and its implications are far-reaching. L&D professionals are suddenly faced with a climate of hostility and dis-engagement toward traditional modes of education (i.e. compliance driven, hours-long training events, stale media formats, etc).

While I agree that Millennials make up a significant portion of this trend, in conversation I often point out that this “new generation of learners” is not age specific. If the amount of Facebook comments I receive from my parents, grandparents, and older relatives is any indication, the adoption of new content delivery applications has become multi-generational. With that trend comes the challenge of finding new and innovative ways of keeping your learners engaged. Learners need to feel in charge of their destiny and respond most when they can consume content on their own terms.  

Theme #2: Learning professionals are fed up with their LMS

Content is not enough. Learning needs to lead somewhere. What is the path to success?
— CLO Panelist

This will be no surprise to just about anyone reading this post, but I would be remiss if I did not briefly cover it. Almost everyone I spoke with at the conference (and almost every sarcastic remark during seminars) talked about their dissatisfaction with their learning management system. In an industry totaling in the billions of dollars, I am constantly amazed at the lack of innovation and design many of these large providers put into their products. This issue is being felt even stronger now that we have the ‘new generation’ challenge discussed above.

So what’s the solution? Certainly not to go out and shop for a new LMS because believe me, you’re gonna be disappointed. Something like 45% of companies are actively looking for a replacement to their current LMS, when in reality all they’re achieving is trading one lemon for another. Your end users don’t care about your LMS and the back-end functionality is mostly the same across top tier products. So instead of spending thousands of dollars migrating one learning environment to another, invest in efforts that will actually resonate with your employees: better content, more engaging interfaces, and more collaborative tools to encourage learning, instead of manage it!  

Photo of panel discussion: Executive Sponsorship: How and Why It Matters

Photo of panel discussion: Executive Sponsorship: How and Why It Matters

Theme #3: Executive/Business-side buy in is critical

L&D needs better design and packaging.
— Maisha Cobb, Thermo Fisher Scientific

During the final panel discussion of the CLO event, attendees were given a priceless view into what business-side execs think about L&D. Both Qualcomm and Thermo Fisher Scientific had panelists from the corporate side of their business and the general message that both panelists related was this: involving the business side in your learning objectives and tailoring your message in new, innovative, and engaging ways is how you will ultimately be successful in achieving your learning goals. As Maisha Cobb from Thermo Fisher puts it, L&D will be successful if they give me “the right content, at the right time, customized for my team.”

Theme #4: Corporate L&D is behind the times but catching up

Our industry is changing slower than other industries... We don’t question what we do.
— Lance Dublin, Dublin Consulting

I chose this theme not to be critical of the L&D industry but to applaud organizations like CLO Magazine and many others that create, promote, and host events like the Symposium. These communities are crucial in disseminating new trends and best practices to companies across the world. Corporate L&D has, at times, lagged behind other industries in the categories of innovation, technology adoption, and design however, what I saw at this most recent event is a group of professionals inspired to educate their peers and devoted to continuous improvement within their organizations.  

Looking back on those 3+ days of learning, networking, and observing I am excited about where our industry is headed and hope Pathgather can be an engine for change with companies that see these emerging trends and share our corporate vision. We will be attending more conferences throughout this year and next and will continue to share our thoughts and insights. As for other CLO attendees, what were some of the big takeaways for you? Do you feel like the industry is headed in the right direction and what are you doing at your organizations to facilitate change?  


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