ASTD2014 summary: Remember the brain, revamp training and sharpen the saw

2 weeks ago, I was once again on full-DAN-speed at the ASTD International Conference and Exhibition. This time, the stomping-ground was Washington DC with over 9000 attendees coming to hear 250 speakers from 57 countries.

Having attended now 3 years in-a-row, I decided not to spend too much time on learning agility, why mobile is awesome, or why L+D needs to change its approach and pretty-much ignored the fact that its all about going social and that we musn’t forget the 70:20:10 model if we want to unleash learning…  I agree with those messages and I think they are valuable. But there’s only so much you can hear about it in a conference.

(If you want to read about those topics, check out the tabs on ASTD2013 and TK14)



What I did get out of ASTD2014 was all about bringing more brain-power and general awesomeness to my own training and work/life balance…


I’ve been training for over 12 years. My clients say I do a great job and I’m sure I am doing something right. But at ASTD2014, I got some really valuable information about how to improve. Having been back at training work for a few weeks now, I’ve already been putting things (slowly) into place. I find that this has made me feel a lot better about what I am doing and brought a lot more energy to my training process. I have my fingers crossed that it is actually having more impact 🙂



Don’t forget how the brain works if you want to create better learning.

In previous conference years, I found the stuff on neuro-ccience to be filled with too much data. I can see that there is a lot to learn about how the brain works, but have always left wondering what is the concrete take-away from all that data.

This year, A(S)TD had created a new learning track on “The Science of Learning” – so I figured its not just a trend and I must be the only one not yet seeing the point. I found that the sessions were more accessible and outlined more the bottom-line and key points:

  • Josh Davis told us that if you want to make learning stick, you have to work with the hippocampus. I have been trying to reduce session time on specific topics or activity types to smaller chunks of 20 minutes and have been experimenting with associative-thinking to reinforce memory.
  • Between those sessions, I have tried to create some energy microbursts to refresh people. I used to be a little suspicious of doing random things in a training room (example: Brain-Gym). I thought they had no added-value to the content/topic. But I have seen that a deliberately timed mini-joke moment between activities and a little bit of movement can re-boost participants. Also, instead of simply asking participants to summarise what they learnt in a session, I have tried getting them to close their eyes and imagine saying it to a loved-one. Apparently, this positive emotion will reinforce the new ideas in the brain.
  • I have worked harder to formalise meta-cognition moments in training, sometimes using simple tools like ChatterPix (that I have advertised in my own session on social-media for formal learning) to ask participants to think about how they are learning. I am also experimenting with other memory-techniques related to use of multiple senses.
  • I have worked more on repetition and spacing across several training days to help reinforce the links between learning points. This has been done with formal (but fun) quizzing on content and intro/wrap of sessions that remind general purpose and structure of the training.
  • David Rock mentioned in his session on coaching that having a little more personal reflection time in the learning process helped to reinforce the learning in question. I went back to an old strategy of asking training participants to write a “personal promise” at the end of day 1. They like it (I didn’t think they would).
  • My own experiments with Mind Palaces has proven to be lots of fun over the last week and I realise that I AM able to remember huge amounts of precise and well-ordered ideas and information. I will be blogging on the application of this to training in the near future..



Over the summer, I will be working on turning formal learning (training) into story-based sessions. And revamping my materials.

As you know, I’ve experimented a lot with social media for training – this year I again presented this topic at ASTD. I told the participants I was an “experimentor” and that even when I didn’t know what results I would get, I was willing to try. * After ASTD2014, I have plenty of new ideas and I’m looking forward to taking the time this summer to get started on revamping my training activities and materials…

  • I found both Katie Stroud’s session on “Converting Learning in Story” and Anders Gronstedt’s session on “Transmedia Storytelling” to be really inspiring. I already tend to use little chunks of personal story in training to get my point across. In the future, I will try to fully integrate a thin-red-line of story into the learning process (see Katie Stroud post) and then think of different ways to bring this across via diverse training activities. I think using a blend of media before, during and after training, as well as actual story-telling, participant discussion around stories/characters (and maybe even sock-puppets!) might bring added-value by working on emotion, creativity and memory.
  • I have already used video to introduce training or to share a key learning point (example: Awesome Communication tip number 1) and I am satisfied with the results. I plan to further revamp my training materials in 2 ways using video + the Aurasma augmented reality app : The first thing is to take the time to create short videos that summarise main learning points and make these augmented-reality-scannable in my materials (as I showed in session ASTD2014 M115); my second idea is to ask participants to make these short videos themselves during training and then integrate THOSE videos into their own materials using Aurasma. Personalised video-enhanced training materials??!! Awesome! I will blog on this later.
  • I have always made an effort to focus my key training messages on the 3 most important questions. Following Sally Hogshead’s fun session on personal branding and personality, I think I am going to look for ways to get participants to be more mindful this themselves and to look at how they can communicate and position these key messages for themselves and others during and after training. I want to find some way to integrate that into their own personal materials and learning/memory process. Instead of them focussing on the facts of what has been learnt, I will encourage them at all times to rebrand their learning points. Blog to follow…


* As a side-note, it turns out I am more than an “experimentor”. Read this post on creating your own personal anthem to find out what Sally Hogshead taught me at ASTD.



Finally, I am thinking more about work-life balance and trying to “sharpen the saw”.

One of the things I like most about the A(S)TD conferences is the key-note speeches. Many people find them less informative than the concurrent sessions, but I like them. Even if this year we had the special surprise of an American military general talking to an international audience about “killing the bad guys” (!!), the main points of Huffington and Caroll’s keynotes were excellent. I am trying to keep them in mind back home in Sombreffe:

  • As a hyper-connected super-speedy worksaholic guy, I sometimes get swept away in the digital movement of information and constant actions. Arianna Huffington told us her burn-out story and encouraged us to shut-down and tune-out if we want to thrive. Having plenty to say myself about burn-out causes, symptoms and positive action, and being already tired from the travel and conference action, I found it very important to listen well to her speech. Despite fiercely blogging the A(S)TD sessions for Kluwer during the conference, since returning I have made an effort to slow-down and do one thing at a time. I’m even getting a little more sleep and garden time.
  • Kevin Caroll was impossible to blog, so no link here! Talking at a million miles an hour, he told us his personal story of opportunity, growth and play. Again, I was inspired. Caroll suggested that if we try to follow our own path, we can only go to good places. As someone who tends to try a lot to please everyone else, I’ve been trying to relax a little more both at work and home. I already see that I (and training participants) are having more fun at work. At home, I make a huge effort to bring play-breaks into my days. More time throwing a frisbee with the girls, more games in the house and trying to turn everything into a little bit more fun. Feels good! And surprisingly, I seem to be getting random opportunities for conference work thrown at me left, right and centre. It seems if you relax a little, the Universe gives you what you want..


So voila, my summary of ASTD2014. I’m already impatient for Florida next year 🙂


ps – I did also follow an awesome session from Jane Bozarth on the value of showing your work and how to do it but couldn’t see how to fit it in this summary. Love you Jane!





Published by Dan Steer

For the last 17 years, I have been helping businesses and individuals to achieve their goals through delivery of tailor-made learning and development initiatives. Most of the time, I deliver training, coach individuals, facilitate brainstorming sessions, round-table meetings and workshops. As a consultant, I help my clients to promote and profit from the infinite learning opportunities within and without their own organisation, drawing on my L+D management experience, strategic approach and creativity, As a speaker, I inspire through story, humour and pertinent little bits of theory. I believe that the world would be a better place if people were happily working on their mission with competence and alignment to personal values. As a freelance worker since 2008, I have helped more than 11000 individuals to improve their presentation, communication, commercial, leadership and negotiation skills. I confront people with their own behaviour and convictions, facilitating and giving pertinent feedback and clear ideas on where to continue good work and improve. I seek to satisfy my clients with creative and to-the-point solutions… …and I make music, but no-one pays me much for it yet :-) First single here:

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  1. Great summary, Dan. I’ve already received my approval to attend in Orlando next year and can’t wait!

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