From artificial intelligence (AI) to the advancing world of digital analytics and emerging technologies aimed at enhancing learning, this year’s DevLearn conference saw no shortage of innovation. Over 4,100 L&D professionals from around the world gathered in Las Vegas for DevLearn’s 15th anniversary to look at what’s now, what’s new, and what’s next in learning and development

Business leaders and learning professionals had the opportunity to learn about cutting-edge industry trends and explore emerging technologies that will help solve some of L&D’s biggest challenges like building capabilities that support business transformation, keeping learners actively engaged in the learning process, and calculating the ROI of learning programs. With a burgeoning market for AI, automation, and various other disruptive technologies, it’s clear that L&D teams and the tools by which they rely on are quickly evolving.

Here are some of our biggest takeaways from DevLearn that left us excited about what the future holds for learning and development. 

Is AI Taking Jobs Away from Humans?

The DevLearn conference opened with a keynote from Sophia the Robot, an advanced humanoid robot created by Hanson Robotics. Sophia, who describes herself as a social robot who travels the world dispelling myths about robots and AI, had a well-crafted message for the audience –

“The fears that people have about AI are the same concerns people had about the industrial revolution. Many tasks humans perform today will be replaced by technology in the future, but the truth is, you should be excited by that more than fearful.”

DevLearn - Sophia the Robot

While AI will augment repetitive tasks that machines are better equipped to do, this allows humans to focus on more creative, collaborative, and challenging work. The nature of work itself will change in the future and people will have new roles, new workflows, and even new industries that have yet to emerge. With this, the skills required of employees will change, causing a skills gap to emerge.

Particularly, the need for soft skills such as collaboration, communication, empathy, and others will become increasingly important.

While AI will augment repetitive tasks that machines are better equipped to do, this allows humans to focus on more creative, collaborative, and challenging work. The nature of work itself will change in the future and people will have new roles, new workflows, and even new industries that have yet to emerge. With this, the skills required of employees will change, causing a skills gap to emerge. Particularly, the need for soft skills such as collaboration, communication, empathy, and others will become increasingly important.

So, how should L&D professionals prepare themselves for an AI-enabled future? According to Sophia, we’ve already taken the first step by showing up to the conference, embracing curiosity, and immersing ourselves in emerging topics. 

From Forgetting Curve to Learning Retention

As mentioned in Art Kohn’s session, Using Brain Science to Increase Learning Retention and ROI, the  two goals of any learning program are pretty clear:

  1. Upskilling and reskilling to create new mindsets and influence behavior change 
  2. Enabling employees to apply new knowledge to everyday work 

With organizations investing more money and resources in learning and development, the need to measure and track the ROI of learning programs becomes ever more important. However, based on our conversations with attendees and the sessions we attended, one of the biggest obstacles that L&D teams face is the ability of employees to retain knowledge learned that is critical to their job and overall organizational performance. 

Research on the Forgetting Curve shows that:

Within 24 hours, people will have forgotten 70% of what they learned and within a week, 90% of the new information is forgotten.

Can you imagine spending time and resources to create a leadership training program only to have your learners remember approximately 20%? Well, perhaps you don’t have to imagine since this might be a stark reality within your organization. 

Why does forgetting occur? Forgetting is an active, intentional, and even desirable process of the brain. At each moment, sensory information is flooding your brain and your brain actively works to suppress most information so that you can focus on what’s in front of you. 

To increase the percentage of knowledge retained, Kohn of ASPIRE Consulting mentioned “what you do after training is more important than what you do during training” during his session on Using Brain Science to Increase Learning Retention and ROI. 

During the session, he spoke about the use of “boosters” to reset the forgetting curve and reinforce memory through the ‘2+2+2’ method. This method suggests that asking learners meaningful questions that requires them to recall information after two days, two weeks, and two months. How exactly does this work? According to Kone’s research,

  • Recalling information anywhere between 5 seconds and 5 minutes is equally effective in terms of retention of information
  • Effortful recall is key to boosting. When our brains are forced to recall information, the brain tags it as important enough to keep
  • Regardless of whether the learner is right or wrong, what matters most is the feedback that’s given afterward
  • Social reinforcement and collaboration are great boosting tactics. When learners engage with one another to discuss what they’ve learned, this peer-to-peer learning reinforces memory and can spur new ideas. 

Art Kohn closed his session with a powerful quote –

“If you deliver training and don’t reinforce it, you’re committing training malpractice.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Leadership Development – Are you part of the 7%?

According to a recent Fortune survey, only 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs believe that their organization is building effective global leaders and only 10% believe their leadership development initiatives have a clear impact. With the constant changing and evolution of technology, the way we work and the way we live has changed. Organizations need to rethink how they develop leaders at all levels in order to prepare them for organizational change, otherwise, they face an existential threat, similar to what happened to Blockbuster and Borders. Remember them? 

On day two of DevLearn, Global Learning Strategist Caroline Brant led a session on Creating Modern Learning Programs for Leadership Development. During this thought-provoking session, Brant shared insights on how organizations can combat the issue of ineffective training and develop modern learning programs that offer more productive leadership training in today’s digital world. 

At some point in our careers, most of us have had a manager that made us want to hit snooze and some of us have been lucky enough to have had a manager who trusted us, supported us, and enabled us to excel in our roles. If you’ve had plenty of the former and not so much of the latter, then your organization likely needs to rethink their leadership development programs. However, before we talk about what to do, let’s address what not to do. According to Brant, common mistakes in leadership development are: 

  1. One-time Training: Successful leadership development programs require a multi-phased approach 
  2. Undefined Goals: Why are you training your leaders? What is the ultimate goal of the training?
  3. Content: Using out of date content. Content is highly segregated. Systems are siloed. 

As Brant shared insights into these common mistakes, it was difficult to miss the number of nodding heads we saw in the audience. The need for excellence in leadership is critical for all companies in today’s competitive environment and the upside is almost endless. Unless driving individual success, increasing your organizations’ bottom line, or supporting business transformation doesn’t sound appealing to you, Brant suggests adding the following factors to ensure success in your leadership development programs: 

According to Harvard’s survey, 50% of best-in class companies consider leadership development as a strategic priority, as opposed to only 28% of other groups. To optimize and scale leadership development, management needs to allocate time for training and show that it’s a priority. 

Training should have an experiential, blended approach. There needs to be less classroom and more hands-on learning. For learners to best retain knowledge, programs need to add context to content with embedded opportunities for application and reflection.

Learners should be able to access training easily, from any device. Whether a learner has 5 minutes or 1 hour to continue their learning program, make it easy for them to access what they need, when they need it. 

Great Content is Important, But Experience is King

L&D professionals are constantly looking to increase learning engagement and skill development within the training they provide, but doing so in the online world presents its own sets of challenges. Let’s start off with a quick story. You’ve invested lots of resources into creating a beautiful online course. You’ve made custom videos, got buy-in from all of your key stakeholders, and even told your friends about it. But as soon as it launches your engagement is low and your learners are dropping like flies. What are you missing? Engaging and effective facilitation.

This answer was revealed to attendees in The Missing Link to Online Learning Engagement and Skill Development, a session led by our very own Learning Experience Designer, Brittany Tawes. Traditionally, high-quality facilitation has been reserved for in-person training, but as more training is being provided online, she has seen that facilitation is the key differentiator between a course learners have to take versus one they want to experience. When we think of traditional facilitators, we often think of an instructor, meeting lead, or workshop leader, but you need facilitators in online learning too. 

So, what exactly does an online facilitator do? For online facilitators like Brittany, their goal is to get learners into the course more frequently and for longer periods of time. They are responsible for: 

  • Amplifying: Drawing attention to important ideas/concepts 
  • Aggregating: Finding and displaying patterns in discussions and other communications 
  • Modeling: Demonstrating the skills you expect learners to gain
  • Encouraging: Maintaining a positive attitude and encouraging learners to engage in, enjoy, and complete the course.

Based off of experience facilitating courses from 5 to 1,000 learners for CEMEX, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, National Geographic, and even NovoEd’s Foundations of Learning Experience Design Course, Brittany went on to share three steps to seamless facilitation –

The best facilitation experience begins with a detailed plan, clear roles and responsibilities, and a timeline created weeks before the course launches. 


Depending on whether you only have a couple of hours to spare or you have multiple full-time facilitators, find a persona that works best for you – train conductor, tour guide, camp counselor, or coach. 

Download our Essentials of Engagement whitepaper to learn more about the different ways a facilitator can engage with learners. Which persona will you be for your next facilitation opportunity?

Focus on three key metrics to determine the effectiveness of your facilitations – completion, learner engagement, and learner satisfaction. 

To see Brittany’s full presentation on The Missing Link to Online Learning Engagement and Skill Development, view the SlideShare below.

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Thanks for the Insights, DevLearn

We learned new tips and tricks on familiar topics and even had the opportunity to dip our toe in new subjects and sessions, like hearing Sophia the Robot lead a keynote. While there is a lot of technology shaping the future of learning, one thing is clear – it’s still all about the humans. If you haven’t already figured it out, we had quite the time discussing challenges and opportunities in creating a collaborative learning experience for the workforce of the future at DevLearn and look forward to returning next year.

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