Review of #ASTD2014 International Conference and Expo

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If you attended last week’s show in Washington D.C., you probably left feeling one of the following

  • Exhausted, but thrilled at everything you attended/saw
  • Exhausted and hungry – how can you run out of lunches on day one?
  • Thrilled
  • Thrilled and angry about lack of free coffee – is it too much to ask for the amount of coin dropped to attend the show?
  • Angry – don’t be looking at me, I’m something else..
  • Intrigued
  • Any of the above plus another or two.. hey it is a Mashup of Emotions!

I’d place myself in the last bullet point – which is intrigued, exhausted, irritated (a category just for me) and perplexed.   Although after talking to several vendors, irritation seemed to be a part of their response to me.

Quick Notes

  • The review is only for the expo
  • And the lack of free coffee
  • And the lack of lunch
  • And the lack of Wi-Fi
  • And…. oh, forget it..



  • Estimate 55% e-learning related content, including e-learning vendors and ILT vendors who added a “virtual training” component as part of their offerings
  • To me, many more LMS vendors than in the past, especially some newbies I’ve never seen attend the show
  • Debuts of a few products that intrigued me
  • An ILT product that has so much e-learning potential and recognized it as a possibility down the road – I respect that!  : )
  • Great to see Saba attend the event. Welcome back, Saba, we missed you – okay, some people missed you, okay a few..okay..a couple
  • More course content providers including those who offer course marketplaces
  • Expo vendor pick up in terms of leads and traffic. Day one was a disaster in my opinion – heavy traffic in the morning, but by lunch died out.  Many vendors I spoke with said it was horrible, lack of leads.  Day two really picked up, with those same vendors telling me they had a great day, good leads. Day three also solid, but day two was far better. 


  • Generally speaking, I didn’t see a lot of e-learning new vendors making their debut – i.e. for their product – a shame really
  • I wish there were more LMS vendors in attendance.

For example, Desire2Learn and Blackboard were there, Instructure was missing, along with many other well known education focused systems.  Before you say, “well it is more for corporate”, i.e. the show, I’d mention that all three of the above vendors are offering solutions for business as well.

I’d add that there are folks who want an education focused system for their business “universities”, rather than the “corporate/business” systems, which I would recommend over those in education for the business side of the house.

There was one video learning platform vendor that I can recall,  but the two who are mentioning “enterprise for business” in their respected marketing were not  – i.e. MediaCore and Panopto.

Speaking of which, in my January report for top 50 LMSs, I present the top 10.  Of those vendors,  the following were at the show

  • Blackboard, eLogic Learning, Biz Library, Docebo, Administrate, Meridian

Out of my top 50 list, you can also add

  • Cornerstone On Demand, SumTotal, Saba, Totara, Moodle, MindFlash, Net Dimensions, ANewSpring, Litmos, Upside Learning, Inquisiq R3, iSpring

On the authoring tool side of the house

  • dominKnow Claro (#1), Articulate (Storyline #2 and Studio), Adobe Captivate,  Lectora and their other offerings, Ancile, iSpring, Litmos Author, TechSmith, Udutu, Allen Interactions and one other I can’t recall, but they were there
  • A lot of leadership content including a lot of books and their respected authors either in attendance or not.  I can’t recall seeing that many in the past, but who knows.  All I know is some authors signed autos if you bought their books, two authors I recognized, the others I did not and some guy was on a stage hyping up some book or something with “Zap” as part of it – as you can see he must have done a great job, because I can’t recall the product.
  • Custom development shops in attendance
  • Usual universities who offer online courses, degrees, etc. in attendance
  • ILT vendors – with the exception of one vendor mentioned earlier, no one else really Wow’d me, although two baffled me


I heard it from quite a few vendors and a lot of folks walking the floor who either I overheard it, or a vendor said the attendee stated about the following three:

  • Wi-Fi was the worst – possibly of all time.  I mean, if you wanted Internet as a vendor, you would need to spring for over 2K for hard wire, because the Wi-Fi wasn’t cutting it.

There were vendors who bought the Wi-Fi and could not access at all the net. Attendees couldn’t access the net as well, and I’m not just talking about the Wi-Fi, I mean in general on the show floor.  The same for vendors as well.   I was planning on real time tweets from the floor, but my 4G did not work, nor could you get Wi-Fi.

I just don’t get how a show that has been around this long and whose core constituency is T&D folks including those who put on their own shows, cannot figure out how to ensure Wi-Fi works well, let alone the next two issues:

  • No free coffee –  Anyone who attended the show will tell you that when you got to the convention center you had two options (there was a 3rd but it was hard to find),  either you bring your own coffee OR you stand in line forever at Starbucks for over priced coffee.   I stood in the line for 30 minutes.  A friend of mine, was nearly an hour.

As for the 3rd option, it was difficult to find and trust me, if their muffins were any indication, you were better off drinking dirt.

I should note this was the same issue at ASTD in Dallas, where your only options were “difficult to find coffee cart”, “bring your own” or “Starbucks”. Guess what?  The Starbucks line was big as well.

Considering that plenty of smaller shows give free coffee, how hard is it for ASTD to do the same?  Heck, go to Dunkin Donuts and buy a few of those cartons of coffee, if you won’t pay for the coffee from the convention center.

The final bad issue was the running out of lunches on the first day of the show.  For me, it didn’t matter, because I had other plans, but trust me as an attendee who failed to get a lunch, I would be ripped and not in a muscle kind of way.

Really, is it this difficult to do?

Other poor items include

  • Underwhelming number of e-learning tools vendors – especially in the video and gaming areas.  Considering that video is exploding off the charts for e-learning, the severe lack of vendors who either offer solutions to enhance, tweak, etc. Or those who offer a VLP or video related service was mind boggling.

This is equally true for gaming e-learning content.  Listen I’m a big fan of GameLearn, but they still only have two games out.  Two, the same two they had last year.  If there was one market someone could do extremely well in (and there are others), gaming courses i.e. courses that are like games and have the design to match, would be it.

But, for the show, it was slim pickings.

I’d even include gamification offerings.

For LMS vendors, I didn’t see anything that made me go “I will buy!”, nor did I see e-learning gamification vendors.  What I saw was a couple of vendors who offer gamification but for any vertical not just e-learning or learning in general.  The best of the two was Online Rewards, which solves the “what do I do with the points I acquired” issue.


 The biggest challenge I had with this year’s show is the lack of saying this X is a trend or A was seen a lot or vendor VZS launched this and OMG it rocks, because frankly there wasn’t any such thing.  A few vendors felt that compared to other shows, that this year’s ASTD show seemed much more standard as usual fare – in other words, nothing life shattering or launching of rockets into space excitement.  

For me, I tend to agree.

However, I did find a few nice gems amongst the usual fare and here they are (in no particular order)

  • Shift iQ –  A new entry into my Top 50 LMS Rankings (report available for purchase in June – yes, blatant promotion).  While Shift will state they are the anti- LMS, I tend to disagree.  Rather what they do in terms of the offering does make them somewhat unique in that the solution is competency focused and competency progress oriented – skills Rock! Sure other systems, may include competencies but rarely is it the core of the platform.  Toss in a nice UI and the standard LMS feature set and you have a nice balance of happiness. 
  • Axonify – Another new Top 50 entry.  While they miss in a few areas – mainly in (e-commerce), I did like that the solution enables learners to play one of four or five games (can’t recall) for a few minutes before zipping into the core of the LMS i.e. their homepage.  

  The games are not super amazing graphics, more like early Atari (real early), but hey it at least offers something new.  The platform also has a solid gamification component.  Solid UI.

  • WordRake  – Its an add-on for Microsoft Word and it rocks.  Simply speaking, you write your stuff, the software add-on reviews it and then removes the extra filler we all put in, to make the writing tighter and crisp.  

I like it over Grammerly, which while more robust, tends to give you options to select from including suggestions and the ol “recommend changing words” and then leaves it at that.   Just go through my document, pull out words and make it look nice. WordRake does it.

  • OpenSesame+ –  The fine folks over at OpenSesame have launched OpenSesame+ (plus) just in time for the holidays (j/k).  Seriously though, the approach makes sense, and I hope that others in the content provider world will follow suit. 


  • Follows NetFlix like subscription
  • Access to over 2700 courses
  • Pay per month – fee is based on number of users
  • Cancel anytime
  • Mindflash – While I would argue that the product has some flaws (linear for one), they have done a few cool things to their solution

Cool Stuff

  • Ability to upload courses built in Adobe Captive and Articulate Storyline  (no other authoring tools will work at present time)
  • Micro expressions capability – 72 micros to be exact, which are tracked via your web cam or mobile device cam.  On the back end, the administrator can see the micro expressions percentile at any given time, while the person is taking the course or viewing the content
  • If the course/content is a video or a course with audio, when the person viewing it turns their head away the video pauses and will not start again, until the person looks back at the content

This is all really cool, but I still have an issue with the use of “slides” to mean pages, the output of linear in terms of course viewing, which according to the salesperson at Mindflash, does not apply to the content uploaded from Storyline and Captivate.

One of the items I am still trying to find out, is whether or not Mindflash accepts SCORM, since in the past it did not.   It should also be noted that at this time, you cannot upload any 3rd party course from a course provider into the Mindflash platform.

Who is the 2014 ASTD Product of the show?

For me, it has to be OpenSesame+. 

I just liked the approach and subscription NetFlix angle.  Yeah, others offer subscription packages too, but many are contract committed or when not, they do not offer as many courses as Open Sesame does.  I will also note that Open Sesame is well aware that some of their courses are lackluster in terms of design – i.e. really bad course design.  According to an executive at the company, they are starting to clean out and remove those courses, through a vetting process.  About time.


There really wasn’t any one set trend this time around.  Nothing that if you attended, you would clearly see a lot of THIS or THAT happening.  But there were little indications of a tiny this or a tiny that.

Tiny Rumblings

  • Two ILT companies, Fierce and Mind Gym now offer a “virtual instructor” – which is their e-learning entry point (although they probably won’t state it as such).  Both use a web conferencing provider to offer this “virtual training or virtual learning”.   Mind Gym is WebEx.  Fierce is Adobe Connect. 
  • Some ILT companies are not sure what “E-learning really is”.  The item such as that “virtual learning instructor” term is erroneous.  Say either “virtual classroom” or a “webinar” both of which will work and dump “virtual learning instructor” or similar.    I also saw a few vendors who didn’t understand that “e-learning” is the umbrella term and thus “creating content online” which could be a course (i.e. WBT) would fall under e-learning, just as mobile learning, falls under “e-learning”.
  • Mobile wasn’t that massive.  It should have been.  I mean there were plenty of mobile learning components mentioned whether it be a standalone device or mobile through a learning platform, authoring tool or any e-learning tool, but nothing earth shattering.   I just don’t get it.  And for the last time, no one will take a course with a smartphone.  Move on. 
  • Speaking of mobile, last year, numerous vendors posted or mentioned the Tin Can inclusion to their offering, yet when I walked around, I rarely saw any mention of it.  In several cases I had to ask if they planned to add Tin Can (xAPI).    Strange.   What I did see though was mention of LRSs – two by vendors Rustici and SaltBox, and the other by another firm, who is behind Learning Locker where you can store your learning data files.

Bottom Line

People always mention to me that I seem to gripe at such petty things when it comes to ASTD (i.e. coffee or food), but when you are talking about the biggest professional member association for T&D folks in the world, whose own members may oversee their own shows, having even such minor issues must be mentioned.  It isn’t as though ASTD has never had a show Or just debuted in the last three years.

Rather they are experienced at it or should be.  Which is why it is always a shocker when they misstep at the simplest of items, which can easily be resolved.  And don’t get me started on the “go to this line to get your badge”, then this line to get your “badge holder” and so on.

The point of it all, is the show itself and what it can do for not only those who attend but also those whose offerings can be presented.

What I saw was an awakening of sorts. 

An awakening for those who are ILT driven, realizing that a tad of e-learning to make it blended works just as well, if not better.

An awakening of e-learning focused attendees realizing that there is something for them at ASTD International and that it is not just books, universities, associations, ILT content and ILT driven applications. 

And an awakening to those e-learning vendors who have recognized that the ASTD show can bring the leads.

It is for this reason that

I strongly recommend any e-learning vendor, especially those in the LMS/learning platform space and those on the authoring tool side of the house, to get a booth at the ASTD International Conference and Exposition in 2015.

But bring your own satellite dish for the internet.

Because you’ll need it.

E-Learning 24/7









  1. Great review Craig, we’ll definitely consider it for next year! +1 on the coffee and Wifi – these are pretty fundamental (and basic) issues for conference organisers to resolve.

  2. Great review Craig.
    I also saw Mindflash and thought it was a highlight of the show.
    But my highlight was something called Sightboard from GoToMeeting/Training. It’s a tool that allows you to point a webcam ad a whiteboard and share it. The cool thing about ti is that if you get in the way (say when you are writing on it) the software ghosts you out.

    Would have been better with free coffee, but…………

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