Analysis of ASTD International Conference and Expo 2013

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EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it.

It’s the yearly review of the ASTD International Conference and Expo.

Did I get your attention?  If I did, then you might be one of the folks still standing in line at the Starbucks at the convention center.  If you are, don’t worry the $5 pumpkin loaf is still available.

Well, this year’s show had all the fun and excitement you can expect in the biggest training conference event of the year. From the hijinks of no continental breakfast (who hoo!) to the expo vendors who forgot to bring any type of product example to the show – this event will go down in history!  Okay, probably not, but as you can see – I’m hucking the event, like any good showman.

On to the Show

First off, this part is going to sound like I’m bashing ASTD, and perhaps to a degree I am. It is not like this is the first go around for our beloved association in having a conference and trade show.  If you were a volunteer to ASTD, this is not about you – it is solely about ASTD.

What the heck?

Among the many missteps that occurred at this year’s event, no more was major than the lack of any coffee/continental breakfast. For those of you who did not attend – the only place open in the morning at the convention center was Starbucks.  Even though there were signs to various food courts, none were open – although I did find one who was selling muffins that you wouldn’t want to eat.

I thought I was the only one irritated by this, but thankfully a lot of attendees I spoke with were as well.

Let’s take a quick look at the other “what were you thinking” misses.

  • Sessions times being messed up
  • Photo ID required when you got your badge, especially when you had your e-mail with you and their bar scan – which didn’t work me and apparently more than a few others
  • No geolocation for the app – just in case – here is where you can find the code (for next year)
  • The funky map – even on the app it was challenging, and the map itself that came with the book – only booth numbers – pure genius!
  • An additional fee of $700 per day for vendors who wanted to use Wi-Fi, which some vendors found to be spotty at best. One vendor I know declined the Wi-Fi and instead used their 3G smartphone tied back to their laptop.


  • Lots of vendors sponsorships – always nice to see, but I wonder how many people tossed all that stuff out of their free ASTD bags before they went about their business – seriously, I’m wondering.
  • Shuttle service – exceptional. I would like to give a shout out to my hotel, who would come pick you up at whatever time you wanted – now that is service!
  • Lunch – Can’t say much about first day, I went after the masses and there was no food, but the second day was quite tasty
  • ASTD bags – always nice.. thank you for that
  • Twitter feed

The Expo itself

I did not attend the seminars – the comments I heard about the session times were from others – but I did hit the expo floor for two days and it did not disappoint.


  • Best booth – Gamelearn, very modern and hip – but no demos; so Mindmarker wins out – nice hip booth and mobile devices with their product on it to play around on

Products that rocked

Each year this is always a few products that wow me and this year’s show continued the trend.  

  • I like Gamelearn’s new training game dealing with negotiation. It was fun and I could see how it would reinforce the necessary skills required. 
  • Leapfactor – mobile for sales training with apps – including on/off synch, also good for POS (Point of Sales)
  • Mindmarker – another mobile product with on/off synch, has real potential

Enough of that, let’s hit the analysis

I was enthralled to see more e-learning products than in past shows. Even with products that are typically classroom based – some were including mobile learning capabilities. If I was to place an estimate on it – it would 50% e-learning.  I suspect it will go up more in 2014.

So what was hot?

  • Sales training – It was huge, especially with mobile learning and gamification products.  Since this is e-learning review, I won’t go into the classroom angle – but it was there too, including books (who reads paper anymore?)
  • Gamification – Another sizzling item, although it was misleading a bit – since there were resellers there for some of the vendors who were also there.  I saw some “learning games” and with the exception of Gamelearn was seriously underwhelmed. One looked like freeware.  That said, quite a few products promoting “leaderboards”, “points” and the infamous “badges”.
  • Mobile – it was in full bloom, even with products that were ILT focused.  I was surprised though that mobile from an e-learning standpoint did not crush.  Equally disheartening were the number of products that were not mobile specific – i.e. via on/off synch, but rather mobile ready via the web browser. 
  • Learning Management Systems – I expect to see more next year, but this year was solid
  • Authoring tools – Usual players were there, and a couple of newbies – but hey it is a start
  • Training Reinforcement Tools – Big! Big! Big! – Another example of a product line that was adding mobile learning features
  • Tin Can – Seemed to be the buzz word of the show. If a vendor didn’t visibly list it, then upon asking, many said they were going to include it

Did You Know?

  • Blackboard offers multiple domains and thus multi-tenant?
  • SumTotal is coming out with a new UI for their learning module in August. I can tell you it is way better than their current learning UI. 

I also learned that the “portal” example they show in their demo is with two or more modules, that most people do not buy all the modules, and that you can see the product – as much as you want – without being qualified (this is in reference to an internal salesperson via a phone conversation at SumTotal who told me that in order to see the product you have to be qualified)

  • Speaking of SumTotal, whoever showed me the product should get a raise! He answered all my questions, showed me the back end and never once asked me for specifics on my client or anything like that – he did what you are supposed to do at a trade show – Show the product!
  • An inordinate number of vendors showed up with no demo nor anything that you could physically see the product. How hard is it to invest in a screen recording software and record your product on it ? 
  • No show deals. It would seem to me that in order to push a lead towards a potential sale is to offer a special ASTD International show discount.  What’s the worst that could happen? Oh, right you sell the product.
  • A person at Kenexa told me that so far IBM has been hands-off with them
  • RISC updated their UI, but honestly to me it still looked the same
  • Speaking of UIs, I still cannot believe the number of vendors whose interfaces look dated. One of the most common requests I get from clients “the system must have a modern user interface.” 
  • Salespeople eating at their booths – I know it is a major peeve of mine. One guy was eating his sandwich while talking to me..thankfully it was not tuna.
  • Vendors who do not see their learning platform as an LMS. Let’s see – you can upload courses? Check. You can track courses? Check. You can assign learners to X or Y group? Check. Congrats it’s a five pound baby LMS.

Bottom Line

From an e-learning standpoint, the ASTD show received an “A”. For ASTD itself, an “F”.

Unless you are still standing in that Starbucks line, then incomplete.

Next week’s blog: Features you must have in your LMS to land more business 

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