The greatest L&D show?

The ATD held their international conference and exposition last week Bob Wagner shares his thoughts on the event



DPG (Developing People Globally) were delighted to lead the 50-strong UK delegation at the ATD (Association for Talent Development) international conference and exposition in Orlando last week. The conference is the largest of its type in the world, and this year’s event attracted more than 10,500 L&D professionals from more than 80 countries. But does bigger mean better?

In terms of sheer scale, ATD is unlike any learning and development show we’ve seen in the UK – four days, three international keynotes, more than 400 speakers, 300 conference sessions and a huge exhibition with more than 400 exhibition stands. The exposition had a fantastic buzz, and delegates were eager to try the many new technologies and experiences on display.

All three keynote speakers were outstanding. Avon’s former global CEO, Andrea Jung, talked about the qualities of successful leaders, how finding purpose helped her transform the Avon organisation, and why the most successful business leaders are those who constantly challenge their own actions and thinking. Her mantra at Avon was that you “cannot reinvent your organisation without reinventing yourself first”.

TED prize winner in 2013, Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, best known for his ‘hole in the wall’ experiments in India, talked about why traditional learning environments are not fit for the world we live in today, whether for education or for business. He advocates SOLE – self-organised learning environments – creative and collaborative learning spaces, fuelled by technology and eager learners.

The third keynote, graffiti artist Eric Wahl, opened his session by dazzling  delegates by creating a stunning portrait of U2’s Bono in less than five minutes, then challenged people to ‘unthink’, be disruptive, take risks and be innovative, arguing that these are most important skills for driving change.

The message from all three keynotes was clear – it’s time to question what we think we know, challenge what we’re doing and prepare ourselves and our organisations for the future.

And while some of this change is being driven by technology, it isn’t all about technology. Success in business is still about hearts and minds and people, and L&D has a key part to play in this. 

The rest of the conference programme was divided into eight areas, with tracks focusing on career development; human capital; leadership development; the science of learning; training delivery and learning technologies amongst others. There were also four specific industry tracks for delegates working in government, healthcare, higher education and sales.

It was great to see a number of speakers from the UK on the programme, including Don Taylor, Charles Jennings, David Smith, Sebastian Bailey and Peter Casebow. Neville Pritchard from HR in Flow, who was chairperson of the International Conference Committee had the dual honour of introducing Erik Wahl and closing the conference.

Community development and social learning are hot topics in global L&D and as a result it was standing room only when our community’s manager, Mike Collins, took to the stage to talk about creating learning communities, based on his success in developing the DPG Community.

The delegate experience was outstanding, in part down to the excellent events app which helped delegates to navigate through the vast conference programme. Many of us will be familiar with these from other conferences, but the ATD organisers really took this to a new level.

Not only could you browse the programme and create and manage your personal schedule, but you could also preview speakers’ slides and download a wide variety of associated resources before the conference. This offered real added value, and meant that you could get a great feel for the presenters and content, and make an educated decision on how best to invest your time.

The innovative ‘Instant Insights’ networking area offered speed mentoring for training and development practitioners to bounce new ideas off experts.

And back to the expo, while every shape and form of L&D was represented, the big themes – cloud LMS, mobile learning, games in learning and of course social learning, which was trending throughout the conference, generated the biggest buzz.

We were able to try out some fantastic tools and technologies which are being developed that really do support connection, collaboration and communication in learning. Forward thinking L&D teams are not just looking at these new technologies, but thinking about what skills and capabilities they need to develop to be able to use them effectively  so they can extend the training room beyond any four walls and facilitate learning across their organisations.

However, it’s clear that technology alone will not change culture or behaviour. L&D can be the catalyst for change but we must look from within first to ensure we are ready, before we try to sell new ways of learning to our organisations.

If you’d like to find out more about the conference, visit David Kelly’s Backchannel, which curates a wide variety of resources from the event.

Plans for next year’s conference, which will take place in Denver, Colorado from the 22nd to 25th May are well underway. DPG will again be organising the UK delegation – UK delegates joining the group save $500 off the full conference fee, so it’s well worthwhile both from a networking and financial perspective. If you’d like to kept informed of conference updates then email who administers the delegation on behalf of DPG.



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