Tuesday, August 08, 2023

ATD Core 4 - July 24-26, 2023 - Washington, DC

OK – so it’s been a few minutes since I got back from ATD Core 4 in DC, July 24-26.  Better late than never, so here are my notes and insights from a packed couple of days.

ATD Core 4 – What’s Up with That?

Association for Talent Development (ATD) hosts huge conferences with 10,000 people plus. This is not one of those. Core 4 (Foundations in Talent Development) is an intimate conference format with about 400 attendees. Core 4 is held in different place once or twice a year. With four core tracks – Evaluating Impact, Instructional Design, Learning Technologies, Training Delivery & Facilitation – there’s a little something for everyone, provided at a FOUNDATIONAL level.

During the opening keynote session, a raise of hands indicated that a huge percentage – maybe more than 80%? – of attendees were attending their first ATD conference ever, and for many it was also their first conference EVER.

If you’re new to the industry or a seasoned practitioner looking to widen your knowledge, this is a great conference to attend.

Session Summaries & Notes


Opening Keynote: Megan Torrance, Torrance Learning – “Full Speed Ahead: Thriving in a Rapidly Changing Learning Tech Environment”

“Even if tech isn’t our job, it’s kind of everywhere and we need to be processing it.”
> Megan reminds us that talent development and training does not exist without technology anymore. If you’ve been hesitant to better understand tech, it’s time to get past your hesitancy and get grounded in the basics.

Megan’s fun opening session took us through the 30 year adoption cycles for new technologies (see Paul Saffo, The 30 Year Rule from 1992) – there’s the early hype days of a tech and then 30 years later it might become the norm. Megan put this into the context of xAPI which is 10 years in market, still with low-spread adoption (in the room, 2 people raised their hands to say they were doing something with xAPI!)

I loved her race care metaphor – who do you want in your car as you navigate the technical terrain? Who’s on your team? You’re going to need a whole crew:

·        Driver: At the wheel

·        Scanner: “What are all the cool things out there that we should be aware of and checking out?”

·        Navigator: “How are we going to get there?”

·        Doer: “Let’s do this!”

·        Challenger: “Have we thought of….?”

·        Damage Control: fixes it when things go wrong, “I’m giving you all she’s got!”

·        Supporter: “You’ve got this!”

·        Sharer: “Wanna see how?” – this guy is the hype wo/man.

·        Business Partner: “Let’s see some results.”

Megan Torrance is the author of Data & Analytics for Instructional Designers. Check it out.

Cammy Bean, From Accidental to Intentional: Building and Instructional Design Career with Purpose and Passion

My session! If you’ve seen or heard me speak before, I talked about Learning Pie and getting grounded in the whole pie that is L&D: Learning, Creativity, Technology, Business. Finding your sweet spot and leaning into your weakness. Also, knowing that one person really can’t do it all – in spite of popular opinion that a one-stop-shop-training-department can be all things to the enterprise.

I was blown away by the engagement from this crowd. Again, turns out most attendees were at their very first conference ever. A lot of people new to instructional design and corporate L&D, along with seasoned veterans 27+ years into their careers looking for that elusive “what’s next for me?” moment. It was truly an honor and a privilege to share my experience with you all.

Be sure to pick up your copy of my second edition of The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age! (I thank you with all my heart. Truly.)


Keynote: Sardek Love, “The Science of Participant Engagement”

I arrived about 10 minutes late to this one and it was like entering a huge party. Sardek was running people through a wild activity that had the room in a full on roar. Talk about audience engagement. This was complete audience engagement.

Sardek threaded his laws of attention and engagement through this session, with lots of application and demonstrations, including getting a room full of adults to suck on some really sour candy to demonstrate our perceptions to change….


  • The Law of Attention – attention goes where curiosity grows; attention increases with novelty. Be different. And make people laugh. Laughter releases dopamine and erases boredom.
  • The Law of Connection: we grow together where we go together. Build trust. Release oxytocin through connection – we feel good when we’re part of a group.
  • InterACTION: interaction = people doing something with EACH OTHER.

If you’re into facilitation and general rules of engagement, be sure to look into Sardek Love’s Presentation Essentials.

Cara North, “Building an L&D Control Tower for Metrics”

Six months into a new job where Cara had been focusing on getting good training assets out for a semiconductor manufacturing company, her boss asked her, “So, how do you go from being reactive to being proactive?” Oof. Right? No more order taker – get out there and help us solve the problems that need solving!

Cara shared her journey of working with her org’s business units to better understand their goals and metrics so she could focus and target her L&D activities to support those people. She says to understand “how does my organization make money?” and “What are the critical tasks to get there?”

She took us through her process of building a data CONTROL TOWER – which was a dashboard of the business, so they could see the sum of all parts. Then be able to look at the biz data to see trends, gaps, and where we’re going. These are the metrics that your operational partners are already tracking.

Pre-control tower, her L&D team was tracking course completions and ratings. But “if we are true professionals, we need to keep challenging best practices.”

So she could see on her newly built control tower that turnover was really high and onboarding time was also really long. They worked on creating better hiring training (she showed some cool examples of interview scenarios made quickly with Synthesia an AI video tool). These microlearns were a targeted, proactive training solution that resulted in better interviews, better hires, and ultimately lower turnover. She could see the impact on her control tower.

Cara’s got a new book that I picked up at the conference bookstore and suggest you add to your reading list as well: Learning Experience Design Essentials.

Alaina Szlachta, By Design Development Solutions - “Make Measurement Easier – Find the Simplest Solution for Evaluating Your Learning Programs”

#1 challenge of Measurement & Evaluation (M&E) = OVERWHELM. Because we don’t have strategy or alignment on that strategy (what we’re doing and why).

Some data (with apologies for lack of proper citations; Alaina did have everything noted but I didn’t capture it all!)

  • 20% of L&D professions use data to improve their L&D strategies (2022)
  • 38% professionals in the field say lack of organization focus and strategy is a big barrier to L&D
  • 50% measuring outcomes of L&D not a priority for senior leaders (Brandon Hall, 202)
  • 55% are unhappy with M&E efforts (CLO, 2017)

Strategy DOES NOT EQUAL Tactics

Strategy = the WHAT – what are you doing and why?

Tactics = the HOW – using the most appropriate measurement model to get there.

To figure out what you want to measure, start with a HYPOTHESIS.

If X then Y then Zshort-term then ZLong-term

In other words, did we do what we said we’re going to do?)


  • Did people participate in program?
  • Did they change KSA (knowledge, skills, attitude)?
  • So what? (the short term outcome)
  • So what – because of the short term, what happened long term?

If people complete the leadership dev program, then they improve their delegation skills which will reduced stress and increase optimism (short term) which increases retention of new managers (long term).

Map out your hypothesis, then ask “what data do we need to prove that?”

Next challenge: how do we get data to show short term and long term outcomes?

This may be through a GROWTH REPORT – a self-reporting rubric (e.g., for the leadership program example) or ask on an evaluation form “what was the most impactful part of this program?”

She showed an example of using Typeform to ask questions during training in real time – creates visual reports in real time.

Over relying on common models (e.g, LTEM, Kirkpatrick) may be adding more complexity, cost, resources. You may not need to follow those models, however, those models give you a way to think about data.

Kristin Torrence, Tailspin – “Learning Engineering 101: Applying Evidence-Based Practices”

Like the title of this session says, Kristin took us on an overview of learning engineering practices and processes – a lot covered in a short time. Here are some of the highlights:

LEARNER PERSONAS - design decision support our learners?” Embody WHO your learners are. Create an “empathy map” to document what they think, feel, say, do (or what you want them to think, feel, say, do as a result of your learning experience).

EVIDENCE-CENTERED DESIGN – what learners need to DO.

Create a Task Shell Canvas (document what people need to DO)

Conjecture Map – takes your HYPOTHESIS to EXPECTED OUTCOME

Communicate your design to stakeholders through wireframes, prototypes, or an MVP (minimum viable product)



Are learners transferring what they’ve learned on the job?

Did learners find the training beneficial?


  • Look for patterns/trends
  • Analyze data for statistical and practical signficance
  • Review the context/interpret results
  • Draw conclusions

Rance Greene, School of Story Design – “Story Design: A Foundationally Human Approach to Instruction”

How do we humanize instruction? Why, with stories of course! Rance runs a great session – his genius is getting the crowd to talk amongst themselves for much of the time, asking probing questions that help us collectively discover the storytelling framework. He shows videos of really boring training and then at the end, transforms that same boring training experience into something MUCH MORE HUMAN.

So much of learning comes back to ATTITUDE – we want people to feel/be enlightened, empowered, confident, changed as a results of our training.

To humanize the learning experience, talk to YOU the learner; make it conversational.

Belonging is about TELLING STORIES, having a CONVERSATION, creating of feeling of YOU’RE NOT ALONE.


Want to get more into Story Design? Be sure to pick up a copy of Rance’s book: Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories that Train.

Wrap Up

All of that in one and a half days. I missed the final half day, which included some enticing sessions like Kevin Yate’s L&D “Detective Measurement Mysteries” and Mark Sheppard’s “You Want it When? Lessons Learned From a Short-Notice Gap Training Project”.

If you’re looking for a smaller conference setting that doesn’t have a huge expo that you then feel compelled to walk through and collect swag, this one is for you.

I’ve been a huge Core 4 fan since its inception and I’m sure I’ll be back. Keep your eyes out for the next one!

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