Training Gets “Weird” at Innovations in Training in Austin

A three-day “fieldtrip for trainers,” Innovations in Training (IIT) Austin provided participants insider access to cutting-edge learning organizations in the capital of Texas.

Austin—a hotbed of tech and innovation, bursting with creativity, and famously weird—was an inspiring location for Learning and Development (L&D) professionals from across the globe to gather for Training magazine’s Innovations in Training Austin 2022 event, sponsored by Revinax. Held September 18-20 in conjunction with Training magazine’s TechLearn 2022 Conference, Innovations in Training (IIT) Austin provided participants insider access to cutting-edge learning organizations in the capital of Texas.

Day 1: The Dumpster Project

A three-day “fieldtrip for trainers,” IIT kicked off with an innovation chat and tour of The Dumpster Project at Huston-Tillotson University, a historically Black university. The project launched in 2014 with this goal: “How can we turn a dumpster into a healthy home for you and the planet?” Since The Dumpster Project’s inception, it has reached more than 12,000 K-16 learners through 120-plus formal and informal education events, including site visits, classroom lessons, workshops, conferences, and educator “residencies” that have included teachers living in the dumpster for first-hand learning about “home,” sustainability, science, design, and several other topics.

People looking at The Dumpster Project and taking photos.

Educators use the dumpster as an innovative science and environmental education platform linked to lessons about energy, water, air, health, waste, and space. The genius of the framework is that educators don’t have to reinvent content, they just need to adapt it and iterate.

Day 2: IBM Design Studio Austin, Hands-on Immersive Lab, and Whole Foods Market

Day 2 began with a site visit to the newly rebuilt and reopened IBM Design Studio Austin, where participants took a behind-the-scenes tour of a building created expressly for designers, learned how IBM delivers design education, and experienced an Enterprise Design Thinking session facilitated by members of the IBM Design team.

With white boards hung like curtains as far as the eye can see, IBM Design Studio’s office was once home to 450 designers. Designers from all over the world were flown in for IBM’s six-week design bootcamp, Patterns.

In March 2020, that all changed due to COVID-19. During an innovation chat, the Design Education team shared how they pivoted their highly immersive in-person Patterns program to an entirely virtual environment in a matter of weeks as the pandemic unfolded. (Patterns now is delivered 100 percent virtually.) In addition to finding existing technologies that would enable designers to collaborate on projects and build a community online, Design Education developed a storied approach that combined IBM’s Enterprise Design Thinking, storytelling, and prototyping. Their method maps an emotional journey for the learners, drawing on the deliberate use of empathy to humanize the experience.

Following the IBM sessions, IIT participants experienced immersive technology and education design during hands-on labs:

  • Revinax’s session put IIT participants in the shoes of a surgeon receiving peer-to-peer skills training through first-person-view video in virtual reality (VR).
  • Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) enabled participants to experience a VR lesson on navigating for new bus operators.
  • Microsoft demonstrated how it is innovating Xbox customer support by providing augmented reality-enhanced content to reduce “customer pain” time.
  • J.J. Taylor Companies’ Pallet Stax activity demonstrated how it is using 3D-printed miniature replicas of cases of breakable beer bottles to help new hires safely practice building orders on pallets before trying it in a live production environment.

After IBM, participants visited Whole Foods Market headquarters. The adventure began with an excursion to their flagship store, where participants underwent a timed “Explore the Store” activity used to onboard new team members. Next, participants learned about Whole Foods’ blended learning approach and how it redesigned its onboarding process during the pandemic. The solutions include the heavy use of virtual instructional training made available on personal devices; tracking learning insights data; and touchpoints with managers at 30-, 60-, and 90-day markers to help new hires perform and be successful.

Whole Foods rounded out its session by showcasing its innovative Certified Cheese Professionals program, then treating IIT participants to a cheese tasting that included some of Whole Foods’ exclusive products and led by one of the nation’s top cheese experts.

Day 3: University of Texas at Austin Schools

The final day of the curated expedition into the future of learning began with a site visit to the University of Texas at Austin School of Design and Creative Technologies.

First, participants explored their individual designer types during a fun, facilitated activity using a card deck-based interactive assessment created by the Center for Integrated Design.

Next, they underwent a mini design thinking challenge, where each team was given a bag of craft supplies and 12 minutes to prototype a product that would get children to ingest a daily chewable Vitamin D pill independently. After groups had built and presented their solutions, leaders from School of Design showed a focus group video of kids and their (very entertaining) thoughts on the topic before adding a twist to the original challenge—to make a tweak to the prototypes based on their new insights from the video. A debrief highlighted the value of using empathy and a human-centered approach as a core value in design and in education.

The final site visit took participants to the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing Simulation & Skills Center, which is using simulation in nursing education to provide a “safe” place for students to learn the complexities of direct patient care. IIT participants toured the training and simulation spaces and got to try their skills on some of the equipment, including mid-/high-fidelity manikins, VR, and cardiopulmonary trainers. Not to mention, watch an obstetric simulator training mannequin (that talks!) give birth.

One unique way SSC is innovating is through its development of nursing performance exams using video-assisted peer learning. This student-centered component provides a testing environment without an intimidating instructor presence, encourages student-initiated deliberate skills practice, moves the focus away from “passing an exam” to learning and performing skills competently, and reduces student skill performance degradation.

Training magazine thanks all its collaborating innovation partners for “keeping Austin weird” and for their generosity in opening their “homes” to share their knowledge and resources during the IIT visits.

Kim McGaw, MAPP, ACC
Kim McGaw, MAPP, ACC, is a coaching psychologist, facilitator, and executive coach specializing in soft skills development in leaders. She is an adjunct at Rice University’s Jones School of Business and was named a “Disrupter in Higher Education” by the Austin Chronicle.