The Learner’s Lens

At this year’s Association for Talent Development International Conference and Expo (ATD ICE), the prevalent learning trends centered on the ways in which technology continues to transform how and where we work and learn, now and in the future. It was evident in the education sessions and on the Expo floor that we are beyond the “buzzword” phase. Terms like microlearning, just-in-time learning, and virtual training are now the standard for learning and development (L&D) strategies and solutions. But as we discover new ideas for learning delivery, modality and format, it can be a slippery slope of distraction and noise if we lose sight of the outcomes we want to achieve.

The conference theme, “Moments,” reminded us that, as L&D professionals, it’s our job to provide opportunities for learners to experience moments of self-discovery and insight … moments that collectively help them achieve desired outcomes and enhance their engagement and performance.

As conference attendees, we were seeking our own learning moments by connecting with colleagues, industry experts and thought leaders to share ideas, resources and expertise to meet the needs of a multigenerational workforce with diverse learning preferences and unique skills gaps, but with limited time for training.

I participated in the education sessions with my instructional designer (ISD) hat on, and it was only after reflection that I processed the experiences through my learner lens. It was that shift in perspective that personalized the anchoring design goals for adult learners. Yes, technology gives us options, flexibility, reach … but the experiences still need to be relevant, learner-driven and engaging.


Choosing a workshop to attend at a massive conference like ATD can be tricky. Sometimes there are multiple sessions you are interested in, but they are all scheduled in the same time slot. And then there’s the trade-off dilemma. If you decide to go to a workshop, there is always something else you need to give up. It could be deciding to skip the coffee you really need because the line is around the building, or maybe it’s deciding not to open your laptop and get pulled into your (very) full inbox. I skipped the coffee and didn’t check email, got to the session just as the doors were closing and thought, “I hope this is worth it.” My expectations were high – I wanted to walk out 45 minutes later inspired, with actionable insights and resources I could apply immediately. And I did! The content, the facilitator, the interactions … all relevant and valuable. Everything resonated, and I was excited to share what I learned with my team.

Every time our learners make a choice to engage in a learning activity, they are putting something else aside. They have limited time and high expectations. They are hoping the time they are investing will be worth it. Whether it’s a three-minute microlearning video, a 20-minute e-learning module or a half-day virtual classroom session, it’s up to us to ensure the content is relevant, actionable and supports the expected behavioral outcomes.


Back to the choosing a session example … as a learner, one of my key decision criteria is my access to workshop content and resources. If a speaker doesn’t have the slides or handouts available for download, I cross that session off my list. Ideally, the session is also recorded, which encourages me to focus on the session and not worry about taking pictures of every slide or capturing detailed notes. And, as a learner, I want (and expect) to have the option to go back and review the material – on demand – when I have the time to properly synthesize the information.

Employees want flexible, personalized learning that will help them balance the competing demands for their time with their desire to build skills and expertise. Content that is designed to be responsive and available in a variety of modalities and formats put learners in the driver’s seat, where they can choose how, when and where they want to learn on their preferred device.

In our digital world, we are all accustomed to quick access to information, and employees don’t have time to search for information and disrupt their workflow. They are looking to L&D to source, design and curate the relevant resources and performance support tools they can access in the moment. In fact, they expect it.


“Engaging” is a familiar term in the context of L&D, not because it is overused, but because it’s a vital element of effective learning and training. Engaging experiences shape meaningful moments for learners.

The ATD sessions that stood out to me as exceptionally engaging were those that used a mix of media to connect with different learner types. Music and video were the common thread in these sessions, with a combination of commercials, YouTube videos and TED clips to communicate the key messages. The presentations were light on text, using pictures, graphics and work samples to guide the sessions. Peer interaction and elements of optional competition added variety, and the opportunities for participants to apply the learning during the session activities were especially meaningful.

All the best practices I experienced these live ILT sessions can be applied to asynchronous online learning and virtual training to engage learners early and often. Sometimes it only takes a slight, but intentional, shift to your learner lens to get started.


  1. From a learner’s perspective, think of one idea that would make your training more relevant, learner-driven or engaging.
  2. What would be your next step towards exploring the idea further?