Review of ASTD International Trade Expo

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With great anticipation I entered the huge expo at ASTD International show earlier this week. Lots of vendors, lots of potential.

However with hope comes disappointment, and that disappointment appeared numerous times.

There were vendors that had nice LMSs and cool features. There were some very slick products.

Yet, overall the show was lame.

It just wasn’t me thinking this, I heard it from attendees and even other vendors who were trolling the floor.

Time to hit the floor

The Show Angle

In the past this show has been heavily geared to instructor led training in the corporate space. E-Learning has been minimal. However, this clearly had changed in 2012.

I would estimate that there was a 60-40 split, still instructor led driven, but even a significant number of the ILT vendors were offering subsets or capabilities to turn their ILT into online via webinars or online courses.

Trends on the Expo Floor

Very Cool

  • Mobile Learning
  • ILT heading into the online path in one way or another
  • LMS vendors who had a significant number of leads – amazing when you consider the show typically brings quite a large contingency of ILT folks
  • Lots of giveaways for iPads, Kindle Fire – etc. Downside: Many required you to be present at the time of the giveaway
  • Some angle to game based learning – either an app or actual product
  • Many salespeople who were polite, asked questions without being intrusive or hard pitched, listened and genuinely seemed to care – KUDOS

Yeah it works, but you can do better

  • Social Learning
  • Demos – 50% of the time, but 50% of the time – vendor sends you to their web site – specifically you can visit us at blah blah

The downside to the latter is how many people after the end of the day, many of whom attended the seminar sessions, remembered the url of your web site? If you think they used the ASTD app and wrote down some notes, I think you would be surprised.

I would love to see a survey from ASTD sent one week after the show to attendees asking them what vendors they visited online with specific requirements that they did so, without visiting the ASTD app, ASTD online site showing the exhibitors and their web sites and the heavy book.

  • Giving out books to attendees after they listened to the the vendors’ sales pitch. The problem with that angle – no mention of the vendor, thus its poor marketing. I got a book and can’t recall the vendor who gave it to me. Great idea, major backfire.
  • Marketing materials that showed screens of the product, had the vendor’s url, a contact section – whom to contact, etc. – This is very good – so why did I have it in this area? Because there were plenty of vendors who had marketing materials but it was all text, and contained no info on whom to contact.

I heard from a couple of vendors who told me that they were fixing the materials and it would be better next show. The funny thing about that pitch – I heard it at the previous show from the same vendors.

This show draws huge and if you can’t spend one week updating your marketing materials – you have bigger problems then you think. Here is a hint

  • If you are a LMS vendor and they are looking at you – they have some inkling on e-learning and a LMS – so why do you have some lame pitch about what is a LMS, what is e-learning, etc.
  • Marketing drives business especially in this space – its about buzz and excitement not about you writing War and Peace


  • No materials – really?
  • Many vendors focused more on the person’s badge than on the person themselves inquiring about stuff – I heard this from numerous attendees
  • Huge booths, lots of salespeople and they are not on the sides – i.e. front, left, right, back – rather they are congregating next to one another, even though people are walking around
  • Small booths – lots of salespeople – more then needed – it actually hurts you – because it intimidates people
  • Eating their lunch at their booth – the number one thing you should never do
  • Salespeople who were indifferent – I saw this a lot – you could clearly see on their faces they were bored and did not want to be there
  • Salespeople who had their backs turned away from the expo attendees walking around

What you should never do

  • Pearson not letting people know about their open source LMS that is in the works – you had to specifically ask them. I get it that you are focused on sales, but how about letting people know about the other – especially since you are marketing it on the web
  • Blackboard Learn for Sales – Let’s talk about these guys in particular

Blackboard Learn for Sales – a wonderful (j/k) experience (not really)

This is a new feature set in the Blackboard Learn for Corporations which is tied into the system. Makes sense, and it will be effective.

What stunned me was their booth and in particular the salesperson I talked to and the system i.e. what the product looked like.

You can’t make this stuff up

  • The salesperson told me they have been in the commercial space for years – Yeah, I know that – but when you think Blackboard you think education
  • The course they show you uses educational terms, not corporate terms – which is funny since the product i.e. integration with is purely corporate

Education you say?

The salesperson showed me the course example which contained on the left side of the screen – the table of contents – very common with WBT and really a requirement for end users.

But with this course example terminology included

  • Course Syllabus
  • Course Units i.e. Unit 1 and its title, unit 2 and so on

As a former college faculty member and high school teacher, these are terms used in education – not in the corporate side of the plate.

When I stated as such to the salesperson he told me the course was created by (I can’t recall whom) and this is what they are using. On a side note, the right side was pure text. Snoozeville.

When I asked the salesperson to show me the administration side, he seemed surprised. I repeated it again, saying I wanted to see the admin side, which a tab stating as such was clearly visible on the screen.

His reply – “it’s customizable”. Great, but that is not what I am asking nor seeking. Requested it again to the salesperson.

His retort – “It’s not active”. Which means that you could not see it, because it was turned off. Well done (not really).

It’s all about “mobile”

It is about time! I was very excited to see the number of vendors who showed off mobile capabilities with tablets and even smartphones. The bottom line – they were finally realizing that mobile learning was the place to go. Many vendors stated as such to me. SWEET!

I was surprised at the number of vendors who had no idea on what is Tin Can. I was equally surprised that a couple of vendors did not see the value in online/offline synch nor were aware that end users wanted this feature.

Many of the mobile learning features, had apps, but when you clicked the app – you could see that it was taking you to the system or site on the mobile web browser. IMO, this is not mobile learning.

Yes, you can access your courses, but why use the app, when I can go directly to my browser

Best Product I saw

This one, has real potential and honestly it contained a wow factor, especially since it was a game for learning.

The company: GameLearn


  • Looks like a game that people would want to play – i.e. cool graphics, interactive, engaging, fun
  • The game I saw was for time management and personal productivity
  • I would play this at home – too many game based learning solutions look like freeware or the old Atari games from the 80s
  • Works with mobile devices

Two Negatives (I wish there wasn’t)

  • Its all in Flash. Thus in order for it to work on the iPad series or iOS mobile devices you need to have the SkyFire app or something similar which can run flash on your device
  • They give you the app for free – it comes with the game. While that is a positive, I wonder how many people wouldn’t understand how to use it – since it is a mobile browser. Thus you do not use Safari.
  • Cost – for some people it won’t be an issue, for others it could be a big issue, depending on your budget.

The cost is $325 per license, but a minimum of 25 licenses. I surmise that when you get into the high number of licenses they give you a discount. Thus if you purchased 25, the cost would be $8,125.

Final Word

I saw a couple of prototypes with mobile that looked extremely cool and would be wins for the vendors.

Bottom Line

As with any trade show expo, you will have the good, bad and downright ugly when it comes to products, the show itself, vendors and such.

Overall, I believe this show was a winner for vendors, because the lead gen for the majority of them was very high compared to other trade shows.

Additionally, there seemed to be an extremely high interest in e-learning, which is awesome.

ILT folks are getting it – albeit there are still enough people who refuse to jump into the e-learning waters.

They see ILT as the only way. They ignore the data and research which shows e-learning is better for learners and students.

It has another name though

The Emperor wears no clothes.

E-Learning 24/7


  1. Hi Craig,

    Its a wonderful review. Even I liked gamelearn they seem pretty interesting. Also I was wondering about this new company Piron Corporation. They had this very cute little USB business card which was a very interesting concept and i guess they are into medical learning.

    1. Piron is a multi-faceted e-learningshop. They create custom content and other learning solutions. They also provide consulting services and have a LMS, called Flexiguru. You sign up and take courses on Flexiguru.

  2. I had the chance to look at the Gamelearn trailers, lovely!, such a great idea. The new wave is to learn having fun.

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