I went to my first ASTD ICE conference 14 years ago in Atlanta. It was an overwhelming experience, with a huge number of booths, hundreds of sessions, and lots of auxiliary activities. Since that initial event, I’ve been to several more ASTD ICE conferences at different locations. They are basically very similar in terms of organization and program; this year’s conference was not that different.
Given that my main interests are in tracking emerging learning technologies, I was especially interested in their representation at this year’s event.
Surprisingly, given all the interest in the topic, mobile learning was only featured prominently by a dozen or so exhibitors, although a number of learning management system vendors and authoring systems also offered some level of mobile learning technologies or services. For example, Net Dimensions has a new division that is devoted to mobile learning. Other learning management systems are adding in mobile modules in order to keep up with the latest trend in learning technologies.
But, for the most part, ASTD ICE is not mainly about learning technologies. That honor goes to their dedicated and more intimate conference called TechKnowledge, usually held in January.
ASTD ICE features more traditional L&D fare – lots of training courses, leadership programs, coaching and consulting offerings. ASTD ICE had them all, spread over 35 pre-conference events, three inspiring keynotes by interesting people (see my tweets of Sir Ken Robinson’s inspirational talk @gwoodill), hundreds of educational sessions, and more than 360 exhibitors. The exhibitors checked off their expertise in 75 categories of training and development, which, for my analysis, I amalgamated into six main groupings – training, coaching/consulting, learning technologies, content design and development, assessment, and other.
The pie chart below shows the relative balance of these categories based on how exhibitors described their expertise in the conference program.
Of course, our main interest at Float was in the breakdown of learning technologies displayed in the exhibition hall at ASTD 2013.
This graph shows the relative breakdown of the 17 percent of responses that I classified as a learning technology in the descriptors of exhibitors when asked about their specific expertise. That is, about 6 percent of all the exhibitors at the conference identified mobile learning as their expertise. This fits with our sense that the amount of mobile learning featured at the show was quite low.
The main advantages of attending conferences like ASTD are in developing face-to-face relationships, being able to sit down and have lengthy conversations with interested parties, and developing business intelligence about the learning and development field and where it is going. This well-organized conference, in spite of its size, afforded many opportunities for both vendors and participants to engage with each other.
As a mobile learning vendor, Float found plenty of opportunities throughout the conference to meet and speak with several hundred of the close to 10,000 delegates. Many came by our booth, even though we seemed to be at the quiet end of the exhibition hall – there seemed to be way more buzz and activity in the rows that were close to the exhibition entrance.
We are also pleased to meet about 20 participants who showed up at the Meet and Eat event that we co-sponsored with ADL. Talking to people up close over a meal is a great way to develop new friends, and renew old relationships. Similarly, we enjoyed several of the many receptions held during this conference, including one that we co-hosted with our friends from Rustici Software.
Of course, I spent some time at the great bookstore that ASTD set up at the conference, with titles from the ASTD Press, and books by the various speakers at the conference. Learning Everywhere, the new book on developing mobile learning content by my Float colleague, Chad Udell, sold out after ASTD CEO Tony Bingham showed it in his opening slides. There is simply no other location with so many books on training and development in one place.
Overall, a great event by the hard-working staff at ASTD. Congratulations for pulling it off, again!
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