Article: Jonathan Vehar on the future of learning – AI, innovation and skills

Learning & Development

Jonathan Vehar on the future of learning – AI, innovation and skills

In an interview with People Matters, the Vice President of Product Development at Dale Carnegie talks about how to become innovative, and which trends in L&D are most likely to shape the future of learning
Jonathan Vehar on the future of learning – AI, innovation and skills

Jonathan Vehar is the global Vice President of Products at Dale Carnegie Training, where his team develops new products and manages their lifecycle.  He has worked with organizations for over 20 years helping them to improve their leadership and cultures in support of effectiveness and innovation. Some of the organizations that benefit from his work include: Chrysler, Disney, Kraft/Mondelez, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and many others. He has been called an “Innovation Thought Leader” by Fast Company, and “Innovation guru” by Investors Business Daily, and an “Innovation Geek” by Forbes.

Q: Let’s begin with trends in the last five years. What major changes have you seen from learning, development and training perspective?

During the last five years, the focus has been on technology as a tool. Fundamentally, training, learning, and development hasn’t changed. Learning is always a social process. We learn with other people. But the tools that we are using to learn have shifted a lot. It used to be all face-to-face classroom training; now we have the opportunity for asynchronous, virtual instructor-led lab sessions with different ways of creating that connection.

Technology trends are changing so quickly that we are not even trying to predict them. There are some interesting opportunities with Artificial intelligence. In terms of the ability to really pay attention to what is going on with our participants? Human beings stand and read participants, but artificial intelligence would allow us to do that more effectively. It would allow us to understand what the key drivers, barriers, what are the things that people are dealing with. Artificial intelligence and augmented virtual reality are right now really interesting tools that are attractive because they are novel and new. I think we are still looking for how do you use those things in compelling and meaningful ways especially in the soft skills arena.

The other focus area is 'how do we make sure that the micro-learning, byte-size learning is impactful? and how do you measure that it’s effective and used as the right tool to help people learn?'

Q: With the rise of AI technologies impacting jobs, we’re seeing a lot of companies emphasizing on soft skills. Which skills would be most critical according to you?

Soft skills are a fundamental work skill. For seeable future, it is not replaceable. It is not something that automation or technology can replace. So we need to think about how do we connect and how do we make sure that we are connecting, cooperating and collaborating. That’s the essence of soft skills.

And recruiters typically don’t have a problem finding technical skills. The big problem is the soft skills. Universities and Business Schools are turning out candidates with lots of credentials and hard skills and technical skills but not soft skills. I don’t think it is getting any easier, especially as universities and programs are getting more technical and trade-oriented.

Q: How would you think professionals in your field - Training and Development, and as heads of L&D, should be thinking of innovation in learning? And how should they learn to innovate?

Innovation is a critical survival skill. It is not just coming up with a new idea. Ideas are easy. Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, said –“Everyone who's ever taken a shower has an idea. It's the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference”. That’s where the innovation and values come from. Survival strategy is also a value creation strategy. That’s why it is critical.

I think there a few main things that HR professionals can do. The first thing is to be pro-active in understanding their customers. So that, not only are we saying that here is the job that match the competencies. But really looking at the things they are wrestling with, so that, we can help them overcome it. It is making sure that we are personalizing their experience using technology.

Then there is the notion of 'how do we make sure that we have the people who can be the ambassadors for the work we are trying to do?' That’s all about how do we thrill and delight the people we are working with.

The other thing is being open to what’s going on around them and looking for the opportunities to borrow from other industries, from other functions, from other skills. I think that’s base level and I think that’s where innovation comes from. If I have to pick two words, then I would say – “get out.”

Get out of HR, get out of your building, get out of your organization and see what is happening at other places.

Q: You have also authored a book on innovation – “How to Energize Innovation Teams.” Could you talk about the enabling environment that organizations need to create?

If I look at the book now through the lens of Dale Carnegie, it involves a lot of Dale Carnegie principles. The job of the innovation leader or creative leader is to shape the culture. Shape the culture so that people can do things which they need to get done.

We have been doing some work lately with Alan Mulally (former CEO of Ford, 2006-2014). At that time he was taking on the role, Ford was losing 12 billion dollars a year. In 2013, the turnaround profit was around 7.2 billion dollars. One of the things he talks about, regarding the secrets about turnarounds, was not the strategy or the automobile business but about creating a culture. He says that when you have the culture that is operating under the same principles that Dale Carnegie is perhaps, which is about “how do you connect with other people? How do you get people to cooperate with you? How do you get people to collaborate with you?” using the principles written in a book – “How to win and friends and influence people?”  That’s what shapes the culture where innovation can flourish; our book talked about what are the behaviors and attitudes that people need to have to work well together, to allow innovation to flourish.

Q: One thing we hear about the technologies that are in play in learning and development is that classroom is redundant now. And micro-learning, gamification, and byte size learning is the future. What is your comment?

There is a quote that says – “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

You have to use the right tool for the job. So, gamification is interesting, and micro learning is really useful. But it’s not the only thing.

My analogy about the hammer is – you can cut a board with a hammer but you have to work really hard, it’s not going to be pretty, it’s not going to be elegant, but you have to do the job. Even better is a saw because that is going to make work quicker and it can give you a nice and elegant cut. So, I think it’s the same thing with micro-learning and gamification. It’s like those are useful when you need them but it’s not enough. So, microlearning doesn’t replace the time in the classroom. Learning is a social process. We need to learn from each other’s behavioral changes, especially, soft skills. It takes time. Behavior doesn’t change overnight. So, that’s something that requires one-on-one coaching that gives you opportunities for learning and advancements and practices and all sorts of things, unlike learning a skill.

The thing I would push back on is what’s stopping us from investing time on our improvement? Do we think that we can just watch a three-minute video and it’s going to change behavior?

Taking a pill to communicate better might make people happy, but the reality is that there are things that are getting in our way and we can remove those barriers from learning to have a significant impact. For me, the interesting thing is how do we remove the barriers to learning, training and development? That for me is the big issue that we need to address. I think it’s a mindset and technology problem. We are all connected 24/7. It is really hard to step away. It’s the pressure and the speed which the organizations operate I think it’s a fact that we are running incredibly lean. It is a lot of different things. There are lots of barriers that are getting in our way and the challenge is to remove those barriers so that we can be effective in bringing change. 

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Topics: Learning & Development

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