Fifth in our series of 30 Under Thirty interviews is Stephanie Dedhar, Learning and Performance Consultant with BP’s Online & Informal Learning team. Here, Stephanie partners with other learning teams and organizations across the business to support and inspire learning solutions that help BP staff perform, develop and connect. Her role includes working with internal clients, external suppliers, and end users to design and deliver solutions that either stand alone or complement other learning offerings.
Maestro: Tell me about some of the things you are doing to stay current in the world of learning.
Stephanie: One of the really exciting things about this industry is the rate of change. If I had to pick one tool that helps me stay current, it would be Twitter and my Twitter network. It’s the best way to get a sense of what’s working, what’s changing and what challenges people are facing. I read a lot of blogs (not all explicitly learning-focused, but all inspiring, practical or thought-provoking), and attend webinars and conferences where possible. But Twitter is at the heart of all that: many of the blogs I read are linked to from Twitter and many of the events I attend are supplemented by it. And at the heart of Twitter are the people, of course. I’ve struck up some really valuable relationships as a result of joining the Twitterverse and often it’s conversations with those people that help push me forwards.
Maestro: What challenges do you see for the next generation of learning leaders - people like you?
Stephanie: There is a certain amount of generational difference which poses a challenge: how do we cater for Gen Y learners at the same time as Gen X or Baby Boomer learners (and bearing in mind that in many cases our stakeholders will be in one of the latter two)? And this generational difference isn’t necessarily defined by age. I tend to agree with those people who believe it’s as much about how you use technology as it is about the year you were born. However it’s defined, it’s definitely a challenge.
We need to meet and exceed the expectations that Gen Y learners have about learning and technology, but also educate those we work with of the value of these new and different ways of working.
The other challenge I see could equally be viewed as an opportunity. In general, it’s fair to say that newer generations are less likely to stay in one company - or even one industry - for large portions of their career. This is sometimes viewed negatively, and perhaps moving around more frequently does throw up challenges in terms of developing deep understanding of specific businesses or industries. But, on the other hand, there’s an opportunity here: breadth of experience and understanding can be just as valuable as depth, and I think a generation of people who have worked in different roles and environments is well set to innovate and develop in a different way, perhaps, from previous generations.
Maestro: What excites you about the future of learning? Stephanie: There’s a lot of exciting technology out there - just recently I attended an event where we previewed NeuroSky technology, which uses an affordable headset to read brainwaves, and discussed all kinds of fascinating potential applications of it. But I’m not a techie at heart. For me, the pleasure of working in learning comes from communication, creativity and people.
So I guess what excites me about the future of learning is the gradual breaking down of barriers. Why should we limit ourselves to L&D conferences? Why don’t we look more seriously towards the film industry, the advertising industry, the PR industry and so on for inspiration? Why should online be an addition to classroom training? Why don’t we bring together people with expertise in both areas, as well as people from internal comms for instance, to design solutions where the edges between areas blur? I’m particularly glad that storytelling and infographics are popular concepts at the moment, and I think these contribute towards a wider, very positive, move away from linear online courses to something more flexible, varied, practical and user-friendly – resources rather than courses.
Maestro: What advice do you have for companies struggling to keep up with the changing landscape of learning?
Stephanie: This is a tough question! Maybe one of the best things to do is to look for a handful of companies that do it well and see what you can learn from them. Conferences or awards programs could be a good starting point for finding these companies. Or look for benchmarking organizations that could provide useful insights on this front: in the UK, Towards Maturity carries out a benchmark survey each year and publishes a report to highlight, amongst other things, what characterizes organizations that are doing particularly well on the learning front.
As well as looking externally like this, I’d also suggest looking inwards and engaging with your end users. Nobody is better placed to tell you how they’d like to learn - or how they already learn, outside of the workplace - than they are.