Lessons from TechLearn 2022

Training Magazine’s TechLearn conference took place several weeks ago in Austin, TX. Different from a typical training and technology conference, this one was smaller (with participants in the hundreds, not thousands) and offered some different structure (including a “test kitchen”).

Recently I had a chance to speak with Kristin Torrence, Head of Learning Engineering at Talespin, and Betty Dannewitz, chief question answerer from ifyouaskbetty, about the lessons they’re taking away from TechLearn.

If you’re planning to head to a conference before the end of the year, you might be interested to hear more about how they prepare for a conference, and how they plan to get the most of our their conference experiences.

Introduction 

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder of a company named Endurance Learning. Last week in Austin, Texas, there was a conference called TechLearn put on by Training Magazine, and today I’m joined by two people who both attended and presented at the conference. And I wanted to hear a little bit more about lessons learned. I’m here today with Kristin Torrance, the Head of Learning Engineering at Talespin. I’m also joined by friend of the program, Betty Dannewitz, who is from the If You Ask Betty fame.

Before I get to them though, I need to share with everyone that this podcast is brought to you by Soapbox, which is an online tool that you can use for 5 or 10 minutes and you can take care of 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training. Whether that is in-person or if it’s webinar or virtual training, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are. And then soapbox instantly generates a training plan for you with clusters of training activities designed to help you accomplish your learning outcomes. Don’t just listen to me babble on about it. Go over to www.soapboxify.com. You can try it for yourself for free for 2 weeks, and I’d love to hear how it goes if you take me up on that offer.

All right. Enough about sponsorship. I want to jump right into our guests today. So we have Betty, we have Kristin. Is there one of you who would like to introduce yourself with your six-word autobiography first? It looks like Betty took herself off of mute and is ready to do it.

Six-word Bio

Betty Dannewitz: I’m ready.

Brian Washburn: Okay.

Betty Dannewitz: I am. My six-word biography is, “Just ask and I’ll tell you.”

Brian Washburn: Which goes right with If You Ask Betty.

Betty Dannewitz: Look at that!

Brian Washburn: And it’s basically anything – you can ask her anything and she will usually have an answer. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s another story. But she will.

Betty Dannewitz: Yeah, whether it’s fact or fiction, totally different story, but nevertheless.

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLES) She will tell you, she will give you answers. How about Kristin? Can you introduce yourself to our audience in exactly six words?

Kristin Torrance: Sure, yeah. My six words is very aligned with our topic today and is, “I show up to soak up.”

Brian Washburn: Ooh, I love that. And so why don’t we get into our topic, and we’ll start with you Kristin, then we’ll go over to Betty. What was different about TechLearn when you compare it to other industry conferences?

What is Different About the TechLearn Conference Compared to Others?

Kristin Torrance: Oh, that’s a good question. I would say that, at least in my experience, this particular conference was not really vendor-heavy, so I didn’t feel like I was really being sold anything. And even in the training test kitchen, which served as sort of their demo/expo area, was focused on process and design techniques and recipes for success.

Brian Washburn: How do you feel– I think that’s a really interesting distinction – it wasn’t very vendor-heavy. Do you like that better? Or do you like being exposed in those bigger conferences to lots of vendors? What’s your view on vendors at conferences?

Kristin Torrance: Oh, you know, I love them. I go for two different reasons, right? So I attend conferences, one, to learn about what others are doing in the industry, and then, two, to really find out what people are sort of selling or what technology and software is out there that I haven’t yet explored. And so, although it was– I say it wasn’t quite vendor-heavy, that’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. It was just an observation.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And it was the question, right? What’s different with this conference? How about you, Betty? What was, in your observations and your experiences– you’ve been to a number of conferences at this point – what was different about this particular conference compared to, you know, a larger ATD conference or even a larger Training Magazine conference?

Betty Dannewitz: Sure. So one thing that’s different, you kind of alluded to, in that it’s smaller, so there are less people that are there. It’s in a smaller space. I’m gonna guess maybe 300, and that’s just based on my terrible estimation abilities. So I’m just– maybe right around there. You know, TechLearn is laid out differently. It’s bookended, like Kristin alluded to with what they call the test kitchen, and that is full of some vendors that are talking about their products. But also folks like Kristin and I who actually, we were at a table in the test kitchen talking about the partnership between the Ken Blanchard companies and Talespin in creating a building trust virtual/ VR simulation. And so we were just sort of talking about what we did, and out of that came people asking Kristin for her card – how do I find out more? And we had, you know, it sort of created opportunity to talk about what vendors might otherwise be pushing in an expo.

So it was just a little different approach and I liked it a lot as a speaker. I also liked it a lot as an individual who was, you know, going there to learn about the newest things. I’ll tell you, I did go to one session about podcasting. I did not teach the session, just FYI. If I was teaching the session, I would’ve gone too, but you know, just to make it clear. And it was by a vendor. It was– I could tell because I’ve done this before that they were kind of pushing their service, but they also had a lot of really great information, so I wouldn’t fault it at all. So yeah, definitely different. The vendors are mixed in. You’re not walking around what feels like a meat market sometimes. “Hey, come on over here. Hey, let’s you know. Hey, hey!” So yeah.

Brian Washburn: And I’m gonna stick with you, Betty, for a minute because I think that’s a really important, kind of, distinction between different types of conferences and both of you have mentioned that vendors being present isn’t good or bad, it just is, right? But when it comes to the value that people might get out of a conference, and especially when it comes to trying to convince somebody at your work to pay for you to attend a conference. What value are you bringing back from this conference, both in your personal/professional development and also when it comes to the value that you’re bringing back to the organization that you work for?

What Value Are You Bringing Back from TechLearn?

. I really saw a lot of examples of people who are not only talking about different technologies, but actually did the work, and so you were actually able to see it in practice.

Betty Dannewitz: Sure. I really saw a lot of examples of people who are not only talking about different technologies, but actually did the work, and so you were actually able to see it in practice. A lot of times you go to big conferences and it seems like there’s a lot of talk about theory, there’s a lot of talk about “We could do this,” “This is an idea we have,” but you don’t necessarily have the time or the bandwidth to be able to see like what they’ve actually put together and completed. And I felt like I brought that back with me. I was actually able to see people’s actual projects to completion, which I think is a high value.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And Kristin, same question to you in terms of, I mean, companies make an investment in sending people to these. Even if you have submitted a proposal and you’re able to present for free, you’re still spending time, you’re still spending money on travel and things like that. What value did you find, for both yourself and for Talespin, when it comes to you attending a conference like this?

I really approached coming to this conference with hoping to get really two things from it which was, you know, one - inspiration and validation, right? So inspiration for sort of how we approach learning design and learning analytics projects, as well as validation that the way in which we are doing things or thinking about things is similar to that of leading organizations.

Kristin Torrance: Yeah, so I really approached coming to this conference with hoping to get really two things from it which was, you know, one – inspiration and validation, right? So inspiration for sort of how we approach learning design and learning analytics projects, as well as validation that the way in which we are doing things or thinking about things is similar to that of leading organizations. And thankfully, I do feel like I came away from that conference with those in hand. So I would definitely say that that is a win. 

And I might even add that even personally or professionally– I’ll add one more thing: connection. So I was really looking forward to connecting with, you know, people in the industry, meeting new people, and chatting with folks in learning and development because I don’t get to do that very often, right? And I feel like really trying to soak that up with my people was something I was really trying hard to get out of this conference.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. I find it can be really energizing to be around a bunch of learning and development folks. Kristin, I’m gonna stay with you on this next question. I know that both of you have attended a number of different conferences, both as attendees and as presenters. In all of your years of attending conferences, how have you changed how you choose to experience and continue to learn something new from conferences? Especially, you know, when so many industry conferences may have different speakers, but a lot of times there are similar topics. So how have you gone through and evolved how you experience conferences so you continue to get something out of them?

Continuing To Learn From Conferences After Attending For Years

Kristin Torrance: Yeah, so I used to approach, especially early on conference sessions, as you know, taking things away and thinking this is exactly how I need to do something or implement it at my place of work. And just sort of over time and going to more conferences and hearing more people speak, especially, about very similar topics I’ve come to appreciate the unique value of the different perspectives folks have right around their own sort of design challenges, their own design problems, and also their implementation context. And so, there are a number of different ways to accomplish one thing or design one thing. And now I think I approach these sessions with more of an eye toward how I might be able to adopt or adapt that sort of perspective to my work given my own scope or sort of unique set of design constraints or design requirements.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. I love that answer. Betty, I’m gonna toss it over to you with the same question. How have you changed how you experience a conference so that you continue to get something out of it for yourself?

A lot of times I think we've just become blind to anything other than what connects us back to our objectives.

Betty Dannewitz: Yeah, so I echo the idea around different perspectives, right? So, even though it’s a different speaker, you get a chance to sort of hear it from a different lens. And one example is recently I went to an immersive conference, an AR/VR conference called Industrial Immerse Conference. There’s a lot of them and they all blend together, sorry. Anyways, it was not from a “learning point of view” conference, it was a “AR/VR conference.” So, a lot of the applications were learning, but the folks that were there talking about it were the developers and the CLOs and the CEOs that funded it. And I got to hear them talk about sort of the same things that I tend to talk about, but they talked about it in totally different language. They used words that I don’t typically use because it’s not something that we use when we’re talking about learning. And so that was really helpful for me to see the other side of the coin because a lot of times I think we’ve just become blind to anything other than what connects us back to our objectives, right?

The other thing I’ll say too is when folks are also speaking about the same topics that I am, I like to go to those, not to, you know, necessarily learn something new, not to necessarily try to like swipe something from them, but to see what am I saying? What are they saying? So what are the two messages? And what else do we need to do to enhance that? So especially like things like I talked about podcasting, I’ve also sat in on other AR sessions, and I know that, you know, I might lean and focus one direction, this person goes the other direction, and maybe afterwards we should chat and see if we can compliment each other, versus compete with each other.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And Betty, I’m gonna stay with you just for this last question here. And I love hearing what you get outta conferences and how you’ve changed it over the years. What advice would you have for somebody who’s listening so that they can get the most out of their own conference experience the next time they head out for a conference?

Advice For Getting the Most Out of Your Conference Experience

Betty Dannewitz: First piece of advice is talk to the person you’re sitting next to. Every time. Whenever you sit down, introduce yourself, say hello.

Brian Washburn: And that makes a big– even if you’re an introverted type of person, like some people do that naturally, right? And some people are not necessarily natural, but understand the need for networking. But other people, and I would include myself sometimes in this category, kind of go, they sit, they listen, and then they leave, right? And they don’t talk– they don’t look to the people who are next to them or talk with them. I think that what you said really, really deserves to be highlighted right there.

Betty Dannewitz: Thank you. Yeah, talk to the person. Share the experience with somebody, so talk to that person next to you. And I would say if you really get something out of the session and it’s gonna make a difference, go and tell the speaker. They want to hear from you. I haven’t met a speaker yet who, if somebody came up to him after the session was like, “I can’t talk to you. I don’t have the time for you.” Except for Brian Washburn that one time. No, he would never say that.

Brian Washburn: He’s busy. He’s a busy, busy guy. (CHUCKLES)

Betty Dannewitz: He’s a busy guy. He is. No, but, like, talk to the speaker too. Let them know if it was, you know– how it was effective for you, how it– not just because you’re trying to beef them up, but we are just as insecure as everyone else in that room, and we wanna make sure that the information we’re giving is helpful. So it’s a great service to us to let us know that it was.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And how about you Kristin? What would you add to that? I mean, Betty ticks off a lot of boxes when it comes to things that are helpful for me.

Kristin Torrance: That was fantastic.

Brian Washburn: Yeah.

Kristin Torrance: Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, just in terms of maybe like logistics, I would say definitely take a look at the program early on and mark out the sessions that you’re most interested in attending, and then also rank your second choice because I– there were a couple of sessions that I really wanted to attend, but once I got to the room, I found out that they were canceled. And so I had to automatically go to my second choice, which I arrived too late. So I’d also say try and get to these rooms quite early if you can. These– the breaks go by really fast. I actually ended up having to sit on the floor of one of the more popular sessions that I attended, which happens, you know. I’m not knocking it at all, but definitely, you know, try to navigate the time as well.

I think that's a perfect way to strike up a conversation and learn more about what folks are doing and what they're interested in.

And I would probably say also try and carve out time for connecting with people at the conference. Just as Betty mentioned, speaking to people – if you know anyone in your network that you might only know online but know are going to the conference, maybe reach out and say, “Hey, do you wanna meet up at lunch or grab a cup of coffee or something?” Just walking down the hall, people tend to say hi and smile and sort of ask what sessions you found interesting. And I think that’s a perfect way to strike up a conversation and learn more about what folks are doing and what they’re interested in.

Brian Washburn: I love this conversation. I wish we could talk a little bit more because I’d love to hear more specifics about TechLearn, but we are running out of time. And before we do run out of time completely, I do want to pit you against one another in a very competitive round of Kahoot here – to do a little training trivia. I might have a little AR/VR questions that are built in because I know that we have some specialists in augmented and virtual reality here. But let me go ahead and share my screen, and while I do, I wanna make sure that you get your phones out here. And for those who are listening, I will just have to narrate what’s gonna be happening here when it comes to our fierce game of Kahoot. So here we go. Are you able to see my screen? I hope you are.

Kristin Torrance: Yep.

Betty Dannewitz: Yep.

Brian Washburn: All right, well let’s pull up the code to get in.

Betty Dannewitz: You know, the code.

Brian Washburn: Let’s see. Okay. Betty in.

Betty Dannewitz: Awesome. Because I am fast as lightning.

Brian Washburn: And Kristin.

 (CHUCKLING)

Train Like You Listen Trivia

Trivia Challenge

Brian Washburn: Okay. For those who are listening at home – for this challenge between Kristin and Betty via Kahoot – if you’ve never played Kahoot before, I highly recommend it. It’s pretty fun, and there’s some different uses you can get out of it during a training session. You can find out more if you go to getKahoot.com I think it is. So, you go in, you make a game, and we have a game here that we’re gonna play with Kristin and Betty. The way this works is there’ll be five questions, both people will be able to answer correctly. The person who answers correctly and fastest will get more points. And so they could both end up with five correct answers, but the person who answers more quickly with accurate answers will get more points. All right, Kristin, Betty, are you ready to start?

Kristin Torrance: Woo! Ready!

Betty Dannewitz: I’m ready.

Brian Washburn: All right. Here we go. The first question is: What does VR stand for? Is it Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Vital Reactions, and Virtual Roleplay?

Oh crap!

 (LAUGHTER)

Brian Washburn: And we have the speed at which you need to answer I think–

Betty Dannewitz: She got too excited!

Kristin Torrance: I jumped the gun.

Brian Washburn: Got one person. So we have one person who answered it correctly. We have one person who did not answer correctly on this particular question.

Betty Dannewitz: I answered correctly!

Kristin Torrance: I answered incorrectly!

Brian Washburn: And so we’ll go ahead and take a look at the scoreboard. Betty has jumped out to an early lead, but there are four more questions here. And just so that you know, the final question’s worth double the points, so it is still anyone’s game. Here we go.

Next question is true or false. People have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Is that true or false?

That is false.

Betty Dannewitz: Oh, I gave that one to you.

Kristin Torrance: We’re even.

Brian Washburn: We also had one-to-one in terms of who answered correctly and who did not.

Betty Dannewitz: I don’t know what people you know, Brian, but some of the people I know definitely have a shorter attention span.

Brian Washburn: The impetus for this question comes from research– “research” I’m putting in air quotes- that has been bandied about over the past several years in the world of learning and development and also in pop culture. There was an article that came out about how people now have a shorter attention span than goldfish. The average attention span for a person is less than eight seconds. And, at the end of the day, there actually was no research that actually came out to say that. There’s an article in a magazine that had come out, cited some research by Microsoft, but there actually wasn’t research about this.

Anyway, here we go. Let’s go ahead and take a look at our scoreboard. We have a new leader. We have Kristin who has jumped out to the lead with Betty close behind as we head into our third question: Who wrote the book, Millennials, Goldfish and Other Training Misconceptions which actually debunks this idea of people and goldfish?

And both people got this answer correct. The answer is Clark Quinn. And so we have two correct answers there before I go on to take a look at the score and who’s in the lead. Just real quick, if you are interested in getting to know more about some different training myths that are out there and want to make sure that you are not actually spreading some of those myths, this is actually not a bad book to pick up. It’s a pretty easy read and it has some interesting things that I know that I myself at one point was actually preaching during training sessions. And so it’s really important that we as training professionals make sure that we are spreading misinformation. All right. That book is Millennials, Goldfish, and Other Training Misconceptions by Clark Quinn.

Let’s take a look at the leaderboard here with two people getting the answer correct. We have Kristin with a slight lead – still clinging to that slight lead as we go into the fourth, the penultimate question, which will be another true/false question. And this time the statement is: We only remember 10% of what we hear. Is that true or false?

Oh no. Somebody ran out of time before they got the answer.

Betty Dannewitz: I tapped it!

Brian Washburn: As she hangs her head in shame and frustration. It looks like she is about to throw something at the screen.

Betty Dannewitz: This is not okay.

Brian Washburn: Only one person was correct. The correct answer is false. We only remember 10% of what we hear is not true. There’s no research behind that, even though there are lots of things that are fine out there on the internet.

Betty Dannewitz: I tapped it…

Brian Washburn: Betty is muttering to herself now in the background. All right, let’s go to the scoreboard where we see that Kristin has the highest answer streak of three in a row. Kristin is up 2,375 points to Betty’s 1,569. However, Kristin cannot get too comfortable because this final answer is worth double the points. It will be where there’s a nexus of pop culture and technology that we use in learning now.

So this fifth and final question is worth double the points. Which movie released in 1992 used virtual reality to turn a disabled gardener into a supervillain? Was it The Lawnmower Man, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, On Golden Pond, The Gardener?

I have one answer in.

Kristin Torrance: No!

Brian Washburn: We only got one answer in there. Somebody else ran out of time. The correct answer was The Lawnmower Man, which was actually, for me, it was my first introduction to virtual reality way back in 1992. I was watching the movie, I was like, “Oh, that’s really cool, but that can’t actually be real. You can’t actually go into this whole other world just by putting a headset on.” Well, the future was announced back then.

All right, so we had one correct answer on this one. Let’s go ahead and take a look at the final score here. At the podium, in third place we don’t have anybody. In that second place position with three out of five correct, is Kristin. And with first place, we have Betty taking the gold medal home.

 (CHEERING)

Kristin Torrance: You deserve it!

Brian Washburn: Congratulations, Betty. I kind of wonder if Kristin threw that last one by not answering.

Betty Dannewitz: Nope!

Kristin Torrance: No.

Brian Washburn: She had a big smile on her face.

Kristin Torrance: I deserve to lose. I selected vital records or something instead of VR on the first one. (LAUGHING)

Betty Dannewitz: She’s not old enough to remember The Lawnmower Man.

Brian Washburn: From 1992, the classic kind of sci-fi horror movie.

Well, thank you both for entertaining us with a game of Kahoot as well as sharing your experiences at TechLearn. Thank you everyone else for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which can be found on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcast. If you have a chance, go ahead and give us a rating. Maybe even five stars if you like it. That’s how other people will find out a little bit more that we’re out there. If you’re interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, you can always pick up a copy of a training classic: What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training, which was written by yours truly. It can be found at http://www.amazon.com. And until next time, happy training everyone.

Betty Dannewitz: Bye.

Kristin Torrance: Yay, bye.

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