Second in our series of 30 Under Thirty interviews is Niraj Swami, Director of Technology with Ellegro Learning Solutions. Ellegro is a provider of custom learning services. As part of his role at Ellegro, Niraj leads the technology and development aspects of the company’s solutions. Additionally, he has consulting responsibilities in technology, mobile, strategy and innovation.
Maestro: Tell me about some of the things you are doing to stay current in the world of learning. Niraj: I come from a technology and an entrepreneurial background. I think that has always allowed me to experiment, test and validate new avenues of solutions that may fit a learning context well. Ellegro also fosters a very innovative culture, which I believe is a key enabler. Apart from these immersive modes, I think the network is a huge (intangible) part of keeping up. Many of my peers from the Learning 2012 conference as well as clients that I’ve worked with find ourselves in conversations, discussions and message boards about how the industry is currently perceived and what are some common challenges. This informal access happens very subliminally.
Maestro: What challenges do you see for the next generation of learning leaders - people like you? Niraj: It seems that our industry is bound by some assumptions about technology and perspectives. Maybe we need to reassess them, today? On the surface, the challenge is ineffectively voicing the disruptive ideas that learning organizations could experiment with. But, the real challenge is in finding a balance with legacy methodologies and disruptive experiments in a way that we, as learning providers, can evolve to better serve our evolving learner.
Maestro: What excites you about the future of learning? Niraj: The people and the definition of learning. Today, collaboration is all about the attitude and not the technology. I think the people in our industry, as well as those that are in the less-intuitive periphery (like a behavioral psychologist or a data scientist), make this process of breaking down uncertainties very exciting. Along with that, the fact that our learners are now in newer contexts (mobile, social, voluntary, offline, etc.) is exciting because we may get an opportunity to measure and reframe how learning is served.
Maestro: What advice do you have for companies struggling to keeping up with the changing landscape of learning? Niraj: To collaborate and experiment. I think these words carry a sense of a culture of openness as well as the discipline to not go wild on new ideas or new technologies. The key anchor any company has is their users (in the learning domain, these are the learners). Collaborate with a small sample size of these users as well as some fresh eyes (outside consultants, other business units, etc.), and try to implement solutions using stable, simple and testable technologies that can help you measure the impact of learning. If it is a success, a small win is rewarding and builds credibility. If it fails, even better, you reveal some key challenges without significantly hurting the bottom line.
What’s next for this learning leader? Niraj is wrapping up work on a book and a framework around innovation close to the learning industry. The lessons he’s learned from his trials and failures with technology, new ventures and learning eventually drew him into researching and creating the pragmatic framework he plans to elaborate in the book. He says, “The framework emerged after more than two years of field and academic research, and digging under a lot of layers of hype around technologies and practices. The concepts of ‘collaboration and experimentation’ and ‘peripheral resources’ are key components of the book’s chapters and draw from the theme that we should put learning themes aside, and just look at a problem we need to solve for our learner. Then, we can decide whether/how performance support or a training solution (or something totally different) will solve them.”