10 Innovative Ideas from #ATD2016

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When the Float team attends or exhibits at a major event like the recent ATD 2016 Conference in Denver, we are always looking for what is fresh, new, and innovative. This year, I went up and down the aisles looking at the offerings from over 400 exhibitors, trying to see things that I had not seen or experienced before.

Of course, there were plenty of minor changes in and replays of traditional themes of training and development from the largest conference of this type in the world. The enormous convention hall was replete with exhibit stands offering books, courses, speakers, locations, swag, and technologies to enhance training. Learning technologies were well represented in the 64 booths offering eLearning and the 65 vendors that featured some mobile learning solution, including much mobile content development and delivery platforms. But, I have seen most of these displays at previous or similar shows – I was looking for something genuinely different.

From my search, I identified ten innovative ideas or technologies that I had not seen before, or where I had a new experience interacting with the personnel at a particular booth. Here they are:

1. Analytics for Open-Source LMSs

Many organizations without big budgets opt for using an open-source LMS to save money. Up to now, there has not been a good set of analytics tools to support open-source LMSs. Zoola from Lambda Solutions offers cloud-based analytics and visualization for Moodle and Totara LMSs and delivers custom reports, dashboards and other displays from the data generated by the LMS. It’s worth checking out if you use one of these LMSs.

2. Augmented Reality/Computer Vision Solutions

Augmented reality (AR) on mobile devices has been around for about ten years, but almost no one had any uses of it in training to show at the ATD conference. AR uses either text or virtual object overlays on top of the images from the camera(s) in a tablet or mobile phone. Float had an AR demo of walking around a virtual car that seemed to be parked in the exhibition hall, and a computer vision-based prototype of an application that Float is developing for Google’s Project Tango.

According to its website, “Project Tango technology gives a mobile device the ability to navigate the physical world similar to how we do as humans. Project Tango brings a new kind of spatial perception to the Android device platform by adding advanced computer vision, image processing, and special vision sensors.”

The Project Tango tablet has two rear-facing cameras for 3D sensing and scanning, as well as other sensors such as a motion-tracking camera, an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor, a barometer, a compass, GPS, and a gyroscope for enhanced “computer vision.” Watch for exciting things to happen with this technology.

3. Enactive Training Tools

Enactivism is an emerging learning theory that focuses on how we learn through our bodies and senses. From an enactive learning point of view, we learn through perception and our actions, through experiencing and doing. There were several vendors that had gadgets, games, and gizmos for learning by doing, but one company stood out for me.

When I passed the Metalog booth, a staff member literally buttonholed me – she slipped a small metal bar with a loop attached through a button-hole of my sports jacket and then challenged me to remove it. It proved a difficult task that occupied some of the conversations between my colleagues and me after the show while having drinks. No one could figure it out. This is a demo activity for Metalog to highlight their suite of experiential training tools that “create new, spontaneous, surprising perspectives, and eureka moments, allowing hidden competencies to emerge and the development of new approaches to familiar aspects.” 

All their kits for employee engagement looked like a lot of fun.

(For the record, I eventually got the loop off.)

4. Flexible Whiteboard

Who would have thought that you could be innovative with a whiteboard, an essential item in corporate training? Well, the folks at mcSquares have come up with a new way of using whiteboards by constructing them out of detachable white squares that can be written on and then rearranged any way you wish. The mcSquares dry-erase system enables the squares “to pivot on their corners so you can ‘pop’ your ideas off the wall for sorting and sharing. mcSquares have strong neodymium magnets embedded into the backside of their frames. This allows them to stick to most metals and to our mounting brackets.” They have developed an iPhone app for capture and export to a photo library or OneNote.

5. Futures Training

The Futures School “is a 3-day, one-of-a-kind, interactive, and project-based program that empowers participants with the critical skills of strategic foresight and futures thinking for a new era of complexity and change.” I was somewhat skeptical that using a school model could be a futuristic way of training, but the topics discussed in the sessions are leading-edge. In the context of ATD and the training industry, this was a unique offering.

6. Guided Communications Tools

3D Powerwriter from Communication Constructs Inc. is a new wrinkle on old software. It is essentially a word processor that guides users through the best practices for critical thinking and persuasive communication. It combines three principles for concise communication with efficient technology for document and presentation production. Persuasive Message examples guide users to identify customer needs and create a story with a compelling message. With Focused Content, users follow a structure that uses principles for concise communication and technology for efficient content development. And, centralized control of output formats, calculations, and content protects product and brand integrity resulting in inconsistent content. 

7. Human-Centered Design

At Float, we practice human-centered design (HCD), which includes but goes well beyond user-centered design. The essence of HCD is to understand the human needs of the whole group being impacted by a product or service before starting to develop individual user design, technical design, or graphic design. This involves “big picture” research before product development. For example, Good Practice e-Learning commissions research on the thinking of managers in general, and then incorporates the results into their products and services. Their white papers, “The Secret Learning Life of UK Managers” and “Inside the Heads of UK Managers” are worth reading. Similarly, Jhana employs ethnographers on staff to observe and report on behavior in the workplace before developing training materials. Jhana expands “bite-sized performance support for first-level managers.”

When selecting a vendor, check out their research capacities to gather, synthesize, and curate proper research for their clients and in their development processes.

8. Natural Language Simulations

Learning to become a great speaker or presenter is a chicken-and-egg problem. You can get better with practice and feedback, but who is going to let you speak to a group before you have become at least good at it? Enter PitchVantage, a 3D presentation simulator that uses natural language processing well in a virtual simulation. You can practice speaking in the privacy of your own home, or by closing the door to your office. Trainees practice presentations in front of a virtual audience and receive instant assessment and continuous reinforcement from members of the virtual audience.

9. Omnichannel Solutions

While much has been made of the move from desktops to mobile, the truth is that going forward; we are moving into a multichannel or omnichannel world with many different “endpoints” for content in many different formats. At least two companies at the ATD 2016 Conference addressed that reality.

The Cynap System from Wolfvision is a piece of hardware that allows for the construction of presentations with multiple input sources and formats combined with various endpoint devices and sizes. This allows an enterprise to have a unique knowledge sharing solution, which enables users to utilize presentation content material of all types, from an almost unlimited range of both digital and physical sources.

Similarly, ViaTech offers to consolidate your content supply chain with one simple, elegant tool by combining asset management with editing and ordering tools. The result is “multiple output formats in multiple languages,” with comprehensive analytics included in the mix. ViaTech has one of the most innovative handouts at the conference, a webcam lens cover to prevent hackers from using your own camera to spy on you.

10. Virtual Reality Simulations

Dr. Gary Woodill tries out a virtual reality headset

Trying out the virtual reality headset at the SilvrThread booth

Given that 3600 VR goggles such as Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard are the “next big thing” in learning technologies, it was not surprising to see several vendors at the conference using these devices to attract prospects. One of the best was TipMedia, with both medical VR and AR applications that allow the user to explore the inner workings of the human body.

The most exciting VR demonstration was by SilvrThread – a skiing simulation using Samsung Gear headsets titled Adrenaline Rush: Learn to Freestyle. It was so realistic I almost fell over trying to keep my balance while hurling down a hill. The simulation is available from Hulu in the USA.

My apologies to any vendors who think that they have an innovative solution for training that was at ATD 2016, but that I missed. If that is the case, please describe your innovative product or service in a comment on this post.

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Gary Woodill is a senior analyst with Float, as well as CEO of i5 Research. Gary conducts research and market analyses, as well as assessments and forecasting for emerging technologies. Gary is the co-editor of "Mastering Mobile Learning," author of “The Mobile Learning Edge,” and the co-author of “Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds.” He also presents at conferences and is the author of numerous articles and research reports on emerging learning technologies. Gary holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Toronto.

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On June 1, 2016
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One Response to 10 Innovative Ideas from #ATD2016

  1. Steve says:

    Hi, Gary!
    Great list!
    I suppose that VR/AR solutions are the preferred ways of technology development. Obviously, virtual reality simulation will have a critical impact on business processes in future.

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