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A Trainer’s Responsibility: Staying On Top Of Current Trends

In today's podcast, Lorri Freifeld, Editor-in-Chief of Training magazine, offers some advice on how to spot a true trend from a shiny object, and how to get the biggest bang for your own professional development buck.

If you’re anything like me, you find some cool tools and techniques that work for you, and you incorporate them into your daily practice. Once you feel like you have enough tools and techniques, there’s no need to learn about anything else!

I’ve realized recently that I seem to have stopped learning about new tools, techniques and trends sometime in 2015 or so (Kahoot was totally cutting edge back then!). Recently I had an opportunity to talk with Training Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Lorri Freifeld, about the importance for learning professionals to stay on top of trends, how to differentiate between a useful trend and a “shiny object”, and where learning professionals can get the biggest bang for their professional development buck.

As L&D practitioners, we can’t be like the Cobbler’s children who have no shoes. We can’t go around helping others to do their jobs better, and never think about how we can improve our own craft.

Transcript of the Conversation with Lorri Freifeld

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things, learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn with Endurance Learning, and today I’m joined by Training magazine Editor-in-Chief, Lorri Friefeld. Lorri, thank you so much for joining us today.

Lorri Freifeld: Thank you, Brian. I appreciate the invitation to be here.

Brian Washburn: Well, I’m very excited to jump right in because this is all about, kind of, how I learned the world of learning and development, and that was through magazines. 

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: But before we get started, one of the things that we always do with our guests is we have our guests introduce themselves using a six-word biography.

And so for today’s topic on the idea of staying up-to-date on industry trends, if I had to introduce myself using exactly six words I’d say “I learned instructional design from magazines”. Laurie, how would you introduce yourself and sum up your entire career in six words?

Lorri Freifeld: Well, I wasn’t planning on my entire career, but I will say that
“I’ve breathed training for 14 years”. So that’s– pretty much everything that I have done for the last 14 years has revolved around training.

Brian Washburn: So you are with Training magazine, which is one of the major industry publications for our field, right, learning and development. And before we go too far with this conversation, I’m wondering if you could share your philosophy a little bit on why it’s important for anyone in the field – whether they’re new to the industry or if they’ve been in the industry for 10, 15, 30 years – why is it important for folks in this field to keep up with the most recent trends?

Why Is It Important in the Field of L&D To Keep Up With the Most Recent Trends?

Lorri Freifeld: Sure. I believe that continuous learning is crucial, no matter what industry you’re in, whether you’re in training, you’re in finance, you’re in healthcare, it doesn’t matter. I really believe that continuous learning is so very important. 

We know knowledge is power, right? So today up-skilling, and re-skilling are the buzz words that we hear all the time as technology continues to evolve and needed roles and competencies are changing. And so that’s true for all professions and that includes learning and development. 

So we saw how important keeping up with the latest training delivery methods was, as learning and development teams had to pivot rapidly from face-to-face classroom training to virtual instructor led or mobile or computer-based training, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. So even if they had been doing some e-learning prior to the pandemic, they had to move to entirely remote training once States went into lockdown. So any training professionals who had not delved into virtual training and micro-learning prior to the pandemic had a much steeper learning curve than those who did.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And this is one of those things where it’s almost like people in the learning field are like the Cobbler’s children who have no shoes, right? So a lot of times we’re focused so much on helping other people learn how to do things better that we don’t take time out to help ourselves learn how to do things better.

Now, one of the questions always when you’re trying to stay on top of trends, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – what are some ways that people can distinguish between the next big thing that will disrupt our work for the better and just shiny objects that are there, and they kind of have a lot of flare, but they may not have a ton of application or substance to what we’re trying to do?

Tips on How to Choose Which Trends to Follow

Lorri Freifeld: Absolutely. And so really, one of the keys is focusing on the learning itself. Another key is really looking at the business outcome that you’re trying to achieve with the training. So it’s really easy to get super excited about a particular delivery method, you know, whether that’s augmented reality or virtual reality or artificial intelligence. But really that might not be the most appropriate method of delivery for this training. So it’s all great, but if the learner is not learning anything and they just think it’s cool, then at the end of the day the training was not effective, right? So no matter, no single technology no matter how attractive is going to be ideal for every situation. 

A lot of times trainers have to look in and select the solution or the blend of solutions that are going to best address a bunch of different considerations. And that could be the learning content, the performance objectives, different infrastructure capabilities, and then really the learning preferences of their user base. Because if you have learners who prefer to learn on their phones, then if you’re offering in-person classroom training, that’s not going to do you any good. In the end, the key is to choose the technology because it solves specific challenges rather than because it’s just cool.

Brian Washburn: It’s interesting, what I heard you say was that something that can be considered a shiny object in one context may actually be completely appropriate to use if it’s accomplishing learning objectives in another context.

Asking Yourself The Right Questions in Training Design  

Lorri Freifeld: Absolutely. Yeah, you really have to look carefully. And, and so what we always are telling folks is, look, when your business unit leader comes to you and says, “Oh, we need to have artificial intelligence.” Okay. Well, why do you need to use artificial intelligence in training? “Well, we think it’s cool.” Okay. But, are you using it in coaching because it’s going to help people change their behavior? It’s going to help them perform better, quicker, more efficiently? Or are you just doing it because it’s cool and everybody’s doing it?

It’s really coming down to that nitty gritty question of “why do you want to use it?” And “what good is it going to do?” If you are using it for coaching in the moment, and helping people in the flow, you know, with learning in the flow of work, then yes, that makes sense. Again, if it’s just to be cool, it’s not going to work.

Brian Washburn: Now you have a publication, right? So Training magazine, one of the major publications – what role do industry publications such as Training magazine, or even industry events, whether it’s conferences or webinars, what role do those play or should they play in helping people stay current?

The Role of Industry Publications and Events in Staying Current in the L&D Field

Lorri Freifeld: Sure. So in print and online, we have industry professionals who write articles and provide their lessons learned and their challenges and their best practices and their case studies and people find it useful to hear other people’s stories and learn from their experiences. And so that’s a really important part of print. 

Events, you know, people always say “oh, is it really worth going face to face?” It is because there are tremendous networking opportunities, there’s tremendous collaboration opportunities. It’s a different vibe, right? It’s different from sitting in your office and looking at a website or paging through a magazine. You’re actually– you can’t be working. You have to be really focused and paying attention. And you’re learning from experts that you might not have access to otherwise. And in some cases, you know, some of our events you have the opportunity to experience demos and actually– we have a technology test kitchen where we allow you to, kind of, play with the technology in-person. And so you can get a feel for it that you would not necessarily get just in print or online or in a webinar, for example. 

Brian Washburn: And have you found, especially in this day and age, when we’ve had to move virtual, that there are some things that you’re able to do– now, one of the things that you just said is that when you go to a conference, you’re at the conference, right? So you have to be present. There’s networking opportunities, there’s professional development opportunities. How about the virtual aspect of conferences these days? Have you found that there are some ways that I’ve been more effective than others in terms of holding people’s attention and still kind of capturing “hey, you should have blocked off this time to be present at this conference”. What are you doing virtually that helps people, kind of, be present in the moment still, even though they’re not away from their desks? 

What Are Effective Ways of Keeping Participants’ Attention During a Virtual Conference?

Lorri Freifeld: Interesting that you should ask that. We actually just finished our first ever live virtual training conference. So in the past, it obviously was an in-person event in February. From February 8th to 12th, for five days, we conducted all of our sessions live by Zoom. So, camera’s were on, chats were open, and the, you know, facilitator – what were presenter – was online live. And it was a risk. I can tell you that. Most of the other industry organizations were doing pre-recordings, so more like a webinar, you know, whatever. So you can visit whenever you wanted. 

But, we decided to go live. Big, big risk. Obviously there are technology issues. There are weather issues, you know. You never know what’s going to happen. But it did pay off because I have to tell you, Brian, the engagement was off the charts and I saw numerous times in the chat people saying “you know what? I really love face-to-face events, but I feel like I’m able to connect with people better here because, you know, they’re throwing stuff in the chats. They’re sharing links. They’re doing this, they’re doing that. They’re having their own side conversations.” And if they miss something, they felt that they could go back later and listen to the recording. 

So do I think it’s going to completely replace face-to-face events? No. It was a great experiment. You know, we enjoy doing it. Big learning curve for us. Some things we probably would end up doing differently. But I still think face-to-face is important, but this is definitely a good option. And it’s also a good addition if you are doing a face-to-face conference to have something like this attached. 

Brian Washburn: You kind of have a unique perch on which to sit and kind of take a look at the vast array of professional development opportunities that people have, whether it is reading something in print or digital print, I guess. Going to a conference, certificate programs, things like that. Where do you think people can get the biggest bang for their buck? Is it a free industry publication? Is it, you know, paying thousands of dollars for a conference? Is it painting for a certificate, get a credential. Where can people get the biggest bang for their buck?

Where Can L&D Professionals Get the Biggest ‘Bang for their Buck’ When it Comes to Professional Development Opportunities?

Lorri Freifeld: I do think, you know, training-related webinars and websites and publications are really excellent, low-cost sources of information. You know, any type of communities of practice that you can join, like we have, which is 180,000 members. You know, all of those things are really good to do. I do think in-person or virtual conferences still provide you with that access, so, you know, something also to consider and keep in mind. 

And books are obviously very useful and I love them, but they do require time. I will say that, you know, if you’re looking for information quickly, then web searching or watching videos or Ted talks is probably more expedient, particularly if,again, we’re talking about that learning, the flow of work. So you don’t want to stop what you’re doing and go look up something in a book, right? You want to know right away. You want to be able to YouTube it, which we all do these days.  And a lot of people do learn better when they actually actively search out the content that they want and find interesting rather than just being spoon-fed content. 

I’d also suggest that social media, I think, is a really good source of information. Obviously you have to be careful about being able to verify certain information. But, again, those cohorts of professionals on LinkedIn and Facebook and other platforms to share your challenges and best practices is a really good way to go.

Also consider, you know, conferences that are not just training related. So we hear a lot about organizations sending their training folks to software development conferences and, you know, video game conferences and marketing conferences, just to get a different perspective and take some of those lessons and apply it to training.

I do think certificates are, are important, but they’re more of a career path than necessarily just keeping up with trends, I’ll say. 

Brian Washburn:  Mm-hmm, yeah. I love all of those answers in terms of making sure that it really is back to what is the objective that you want to do. Because that, again, you know, kind of like our shiny object question, this also “biggest bang for your buck”. Well, it depends on what you want to get out of it and then make that investment, or not. You know, look something up quickly online. 

Get to Know Lorri Freifeld

Brian Washburn: Lorri, I have a couple of final questions here for our speed round, just so that our listeners get to know you a little bit better.

The first question that I have for you is what’s the biggest new trend that you see on the horizon for the field of learning and development? 

Lorri Freifeld: So it’s not necessarily new, it’s been around. But I’ll say incorporating artificial intelligence, more into training, particularly coaching at the moment of need, and, kind of, recommending additional or next level training for learners, kind of like an Amazon or a Netflix type thing.

And bringing that learning more into the flow of work. That’s what I’m seeing more of and organizations are dipping their toes into it and trying to figure out what the best way to do that is. So, you know, we all use Siri or Alexa or Google or whatever in our regular personal lives. Now it’s figuring out how to bring that into the training world in a way that, again, makes sense and it’s not just a shiny object. 

Brian Washburn: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.

How about, is there a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Lorri Freifeld: So I’m not technically a trainer, so it’s kind of hard to say for that, but I’ll say for our live virtual conference that we just held, I mean, it would have to be Zoom. And I’m going to say that’s probably the case for most trainers these days who have had to transfer or transformed from the classroom over to remote training.

And for others, it might be a learning management system or an authoring tool, like Adobe or Captivate, but again, for us, it definitely is Zoom.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, absolutely. I think that for many people, Zoom is one of those things they can’t live without these days. What should people be listening to or reading these days?

Lorri Freifeld: Reading, I would say, there’s a great book called Engaging Virtual Meetings by John Chen of Geoteaming. And he kind of lays out that whole proposition of engagement, right? Because it’s so, so hard to engage people when you’re looking at a camera. I can tell you I looked at a camera for five or six hours a day for five days a week and I do not know how people do this. So that is huge. And Kassy LaBorie is another one. She did Producing Virtual Training Meetings and Webinars. Really good points to– you know, if you have some time and you can just check out certain chapters and get some tips there, I think that’s really important.

If you’re just getting started, then Elaine Beich’s Ultimate Train the Trainer: A Complete Guide to Training Success can be a good place to get started. And then podcasts, obviously your podcast is a good place to start. And there’s another one that just came out, it’s called the L&D Transformation podcast, which is a new series from the Total Solutions Group.

It’s hosted on LinkedIn and they talk about everything from how to incorporate technology into learning strategy, to how to get stakeholder buy-in, and different pieces of, you know, programs supporting workforce and organizational transformation. So. 

Brian Washburn: Those are some great plugs. So, and it’s funny, John Chen is somebody who I’ve been trying to get onto this podcast.

He’s here in Seattle. I’ve met him a number of times, but he’s just a busy guy. Kassy’s been on here several times and is a great friend of the program. And then Elaine is somebody who we have kind of tentatively set up. 

Lorri Freifeld: Oh good.

Brian Washburn: So I love all of those recommendations. Before we leave, I know that you plugged this podcast, but do you have any shameless plugs of your own. 

Lorri Freifeld: Yeah, sure. I invite everyone to check out our website and join our social media community, which is Again, they have 108,000 members. They offer free access to 1200 archive webinars. We hold new webinars every week. And we are planning to hold our TechLearn conference in-person in New Orleans the end of September. We’d love to see you there. Fingers crossed we can do in-person. If not, we will be exploring the virtual option. John Chen actually produced our virtual conference two weeks ago. So he did a fabulous job and we might have to tap him again. 

Brian Washburn: Fingers crossed that we can, kind of, start resuming some of these in-person industry events at some time in the foreseeable future.

Lorri Freifeld: Absolutely.

Brian Washburn: Lorri, thank you so much for joining and thank you, everyone, for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which can be found on Apple, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you hear, go ahead and give us a recommendation or review or like it, or do something because that’s how other people find out about it. Until next time, happy training, everyone.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo.

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