Seventh in our series of 30 Under Thirty interviews is Leeann Watkins, Project Leader for the Training Department at Southwest Airlines. In its 42nd year of service, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines continues to differentiate itself with its world-famous customer service. Along with wholly owned subsidiary AirTran Airways, the company now serves 103 destinations and employs more than 46,000 People. At Southwest, Leeann supports strategic initiatives of the training department, such as the building of the company’s new training facility and centralization of the department.
Maestro: Tell me about some of the things you are doing to stay current in the world of learning.
Leeann: At work, I try to plug into projects where I know little about the subject. Constantly challenging myself forces me to stay current with what is going on. We’re also members of ASTD, Masie Learning Consortium, PMI, and have relationships with various other professional groups.
Maestro: What challenges do you see for the next generation of learning leaders - people like you?
Leeann: Breaking away from the mentality that “this is the way we’ve always done it” can be a challenge when presenting new initiatives. Technology is a great example. I remember my computer class from kindergarten; my generation grew up with technology. Regarding technology, the corporate learning world is often in a reactive mode, as opposed to proactive. The iPad was introduced in 2010. In 2011, colleges began using the iPad to replace textbooks. Why carry around seven books when you can carry around a 1.46 pound computer with all your books, e-mail, and internet at your fingertips? Southwest Airlines is now planning to pilot iPads in classes in 2013. That’s three years later! In the world of technology, three years is a lifetime.
Maestro: What excites you about the future of learning?
Leeann: I love that the field of learning is always changing. It keeps up with the trends of the world, which means training professionals always need to adapt. It’s exciting to be a part of this evolution of training. The traditional learning environment is progressing from a student using paper and pen, facing the front of the room, and taking laborious notes from instructors. Today, you see community and collaboration through technology in the classroom. This shift in learning affects everything from physical classroom setups to the ways curriculum is designed. Many corporate learning environments are not ready for the Millennial who grew up writing research papers on a laptop and expressing opinions through YouTube. I’m most interested in seeing these two learning philosophies collide, develop, and create an enhanced learning experience.
Maestro: What advice do you have for companies struggling to keeping up with the changing landscape of learning?
Leeann: Research what’s really changing. I think there is a perception that education is changing more quickly than it really is. It’s evolving, but there is still a need for an instructor, a classroom, and rich conversation. Changes don’t have to be drastic. Sometimes you can implement small changes such as rearranging the classroom or letting people bring their own devices to take notes/ interact at little or no cost to the Company.