Member Spotlight:  Synthia Smith

I was honored to represent the Austin ATD Chapter at the 4th Annual Corporate Learning Week in Dallas, TX on November 8th – 9th 2016. The conference brought 250+ CLO and director-level participants together with industry thought leaders to explore emerging technologies, best practices and next practices in corporate learning. It was most certainly one of the best designed conferences I have attended, filled with keynotes, multi-track presentations, roundtable discussions, a demonstration drive in the vendor hall, lunch n learns, and plenty of networking opportunities.

It is impossible to share with you here all I learned from the many presentations and deep conversations with participants and vendors, so below are just a few highlights:

Exciting New Technologies: The vendor arena was heavy on emerging technologies to support different types of learning and measure training impact. I was most impressed with forMetris. Their SaaS and cloud-based platform integrates seamlessly with the learner’s experience, measures 360 training impact, produces user-friendly data visualization reports and even has a robust self-coaching tool to support post-event learning transfer. Mursion also caught my eye due to their live virtual reality simulation platform. This is a breakthrough in complex interpersonal skills training for leadership development, diversity and inclusion, sales enablement and customer service.

CLO Trends & Fears: CLO panelists from Discover Financial Services, Rackspace Hosting, Athena Health, Ericsson and DAU openly shared their insights in ‘The CLO’s Role in Accelerating Organizational Development’ Keynote Panel discussion.

What is the future of talent development?

  • Our role is shifting from building internal curricula to facilitating people’s learning in “learning eco-systems”. Why spend classroom time giving people facts they can find on their own?
  • People expect to get a similar learning experience like they get on an iPhone and are disappointed when they interface with corporate-provided learning. We cannot compete. If the user experience isn’t there, they discredit the learning.
  • We need to create “consumer-grade” experiences. We need user interfaces that will allow people to learn the way they are used to: engaging and easy to find.
  • Why can’t we be more like Uber? You as a learner plug in based on wherever and whenever you are.

What is your biggest fear/challenge?

  • Technologies change quickly and we need employees to curate knowledge; not L&D.
  • The “Field of Dreams” Syndrome: we invested a lot in Yammer and tried to create ‘pull learning’ – it’s not used.
  • We used Yammer to create communities to curate materials – nobody uses it. Most people are lurkers – not contributors. Creating content is tough work.
  • My biggest fear is the velocity of change we put employees through; there’s a human cost. How do we prepare people to be more flexible learners?
  • Time limitations. We push productivity gains on employees and it robs their time with family, exercising, etc. Not everything can be micro-learned.

Human Performance Factors: In addition to all the buzz around data strategies, technology-enabled learning, content curation and learning eco-systems, I was pleased to see several presentations address the human side of learning. Dr. Josh Davis, Director of Research at the Neuroleadership Institute (, spoke on how to use brain science to make learning stick more effectively. Jeremy Hunter, Founding Director of the Executive Mind Leadership Institute at the Drucker School of Management (, presented why the quality of attention is fundamental to learning and the cost of distraction. He advises adopting practices to enhance attention quality such as: using eastern mind-training techniques to develop one’s ability to focus, scheduling dedicated focus-time, making cave-like rooms available in open environments and implementing device-free meeting policies.

For more information, visit the Corporate Learning Week site at Follow the Presentations link for slides from the 2014 and 2015 conferences; slides from the 2016 are yet to be posted.

If you have any questions or want to hear more about what I learned from the conference, you are welcome to contact me at

Synthia Smith is an executive & corporate coach, change consultant, ILT facilitator and design partner. With a 20+ year history in talent and organizational development, she supports leaders who want to create high performance projects and organizations where exceptional work gets done and people thrive. Visit for more information.

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