Michael Arena Discusses the Post-COVID-19 State of Learning

Michael is a speaker participating in CLN’s L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change




The Corporate Learning Network is preparing for its very first virtual conference: L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change. The event, scheduled July 14 and 15, promises to engage Chief Learning Officers, learning and development leaders and Chief Strategy Officers in conversation about topics related to thriving in a post-COVID-19 business environment.

Leading up to the event, Corporate Learning Network's Editorial Manager Mason Stevenson will be interviewing speakers about various topics and getting a feel for their perspective on the corporate learning world now and how it will survive in the future.

One such speaker is Michael Arena, Vice President of Talent Management and Development at Amazon Web Services.

State of Learning 

The Post-COVID-19 World 


Mason Stevenson:
If you were giving a post COVID-19 “State of Learning” address to a room full of learning leaders, how would you describe the current landscape?

Michael Arena:
It is said that necessity is the mother of all invention. This certainly seems to be true in the current working environment. I truly believe that we will look back on this point in time as an inflection point for learning. We have likely fast-forwarded the advancement of learning activities three to five years into the future.

No longer can the naysayers propose that learning must be face-to-face. No longer can the skeptics suggest that we don’t have the right technologies to scale. To keep things running, we had no choice but to propel past such arguments. And, for the most part, it is working. Maybe even better than expected.

Mason Stevenson:
Number one challenge facing learning leaders right now? What’s the solution(s)?

Michael Arena:
Working past all of the challenges and limitations to rapidly pivot learning solutions into a virtual environment. This requires an agile mindset and a willingness to experiment in designing, building and launching curriculum.

It is a scrappier approach than many of us are comfortable with. However, this will pay huge dividends into the future, as the uncertainty of the world around us will likely not change anytime soon.

Mason Stevenson:
Number one strategy all learning leaders must apply? Why?

Michael Arena:
As mentioned above, an agile mindset. Many of our businesses already operate in this manner. So why would we expect anything less for the learning and development function? 

Mason Stevenson:
From your perspective, what does the future of learning look like for companies/organizations?

Michael Arena:
I believe there are major trends that we need to pay attention to. The speed and scale of many businesses limit our ability to drive off-line learning activities. As a result, learning professionals need to enable learning in the “flow of work.”

First, we need to provide everyday learning opportunities by providing micro-learning moments that are facilitated through multi-modalities. Second, we need to more fully embrace the richness of learning through day-to-day experiences by creating reflection tools that enable greater sensemaking. Finally, we need to flip the class room and take full advantage of the peer-to-peer network connections to drive tacit learning. This will require new platforms that encourage local peer connections driven by local mastery.

In short, we need to embrace they fact that many learnings are “caught more than taught.”

Mason Stevenson:
How should learning leaders transform now to meet the needs of the future of learning and the future workforce it will support?

Michael Arena:
Content is no longer king. As learning professionals, our job needs to extend beyond time to proficiency and toward speed to contribution.

Our businesses are less worried about what people know and far more worried about how quickly or how much they can contribute. This requires a leap forward for learning professionals.

We need to not only focus on ensuring proficiency, but also making sure that people know how to get themselves placed in the network to contribute at an optimal level.

Mason Stevenson:
What’s the role of innovation in corporate learning now and in the future?

Michael Arena:
My prediction is that learning functions will be more deeply disrupted than any other human capital activity in organizations. Traditional learning is expensive, slow and difficult to scale. These are early signals that disruption is around the corner. That is, if it hasn’t already happened.

The only way through such disruption is innovation. To innovate, learning professionals will first need to get much closer to the needs of individual learners. No longer will one size fits all models work. We will need to understand the nuances of every learner to design a menu of solutions that can be coupled together for a given learning. Design thinking will be a valuable tool to help us better understand such individual needs.

Second, we will need to more aggressively lean into a machine learning (ML) model to help us better predict mastery at the individual level. Learners bring a multitude of different experiences and skillsets with them. Therefore, no two learners begin at the same level of comprehension. Furthermore, no two learners develop at the same rate of speed.

As a result, we will need to build ML models that better help us to predict the mastery of individual learners at any given point in time. The result will be greater mastery, sooner. Avoiding the waste of content consumption that is redundant. Innovation is the key to the future of learning.

L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change

Most seasoned learning and development executives have been through economic crises before. They know the agony before the organization adapts and bounces back.

Yet in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, the collapse in business activity is far more severe than in previous recessions. That's the reality.

That’s the focus of our first virtual conference: L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change. The event itself and accompanying webinars are designed to help learning leaders navigate through uncharted waters. To learn from the best. To avoid expensive trial-and-error learning.

Why attend this virtual conference? You'll hear case studies, winning strategies and evidence-based results from strategic management leaders & learning executives charged with the awesome responsibility of managing L&D in today's new business climate.

The virtual conference is free-to-attend and is open for registration. It begins at 12pm Eastern Time on July 14 and 15. To learn more about the event, see the premiere speaking faculty, access pre-event content and to register for the event, click here.

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