Each year, in May, the Alliance for Talent Development hosts the International Conference and Exposition. Travelling between six major cities and their huge conferences centers it’s a learn fest without peer. ICE is huge and overwhelming and dauntingly so if you’re a freshman attendee. Some facts and figures: 9.800 attendees, 2.200 from WOUSA (World Outside USA), four days, three keynotes, 14 concurrent sessions with about 27 sessions in parallel to choose from in 9 different tracks. Mind you: this is only the conference side of the equation, the exposition showcases many institutions and software solutions: with all of the blitz, pomp and glitter of a world fair.

Each year the NVO2, the Dutch network-partner of the ATD, leads a delegation of around 100 professionals. Over the past few years this initiative has grown in scope. It started out by visiting the conference, now it’s enriched with a pre-meeting with Dutch and Belgian speakers, a post-meeting for joint reflection, a Facebook page, a WhatsApp group and loads of sharing via Twitter, Evernote and what-like. Ria van Dinteren and Corline van Reenen, this year’s delegation leaders, were rightfully awarded the ATD award for ‘most active delegation’. Their support for our collaborative learning has brought a real depth to the conference and has turned our chance encounter into a smart mob.

It’s rather tempting to write about the content of the conference. But, honestly, so much can be found on-line already. Just search Twitter on the hash tag #ATD2015 or Google for ATD2015 blogs. You’ll be amazed how much knowledge is shared, some in real-time, some shortly after an ATD session, some even weeks or months thereafter. To give you just a little sneak-peek into the highlights conference, I’ve made an ATD2015 trailer with my impressions.

What might be interesting is to take a step back and reflect for a bit. What’s the value of travelling thousands of miles and spending thousands of dollars to learn for four days? To put it even more bluntly: if only 20% of formal learning interventions like ICE finds it’s place in our daily working life: what’s the ROL (Return on Learning), let alone ROI?
Our profession has known for years that spacing learning helps our brain integrate and embed. What can therefore possibly be the value of locking yourself away from home, family and work to learn, off-your-job for four consecutive days?
The thing is: ICE is NOT a singular event. First and maybe foremost: it takes careful preparation to increase the hit-ratio of the 14 sessions you can attend, something that delegation leaders like Ria en Corline have really helped happen. At the conference, learning becomes engaging within the delegation and across cultures with other attendees and speakers. And during the sessions you’re made aware of such a treasure trove of books and publications that you can spend the next year reading, learning and applying. Modern technology, like the incredible low-threshold and ubiquitous WhatsApp, has made reflection into something fun and fast. Our delegation, for instance, used the platform to boost real-time awareness of excellent and mediocre sessions. Talking about becoming a smart mob!

For me the question is not: “why should you attend ATD in Denver next year?”, it’s really the question: “can you afford not to go?”. Can we, in learning, really afford not to lead our field through our own learning? Honestly, the developments in our field are happening at such a rapid pace, we really do need to become smart mobs.
Yes there is both a deep need and a positive business case, but did I forget to mention that the conference is a boatload of fun too?

I look forward to engage with you in Denver next year and I’m glad you’ve decided to join my smart mob by reading this post!

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