Q&A with Colin Kennedy - Digital learning and the changing world of HR

We met Colin Kennedy, CEO of ICS Learn to discuss key opportunities and barriers in the future of HR and the evolution of digital learning

Q&A ICS Learn

CIPD: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at ICS Learn?

Colin Kennedy (CK): I have led a number of technology businesses over the past 20 years. I joined ICS Learn as CEO in January 2015. I was attracted to the company by its blend of an unparalleled track record of success via its 30-year partnership with CIPD, and its desire to be at the forefront of creating compelling, flexible, digital solutions for students. The flexible nature of our courses has had strong international appeal, particularly in the Middle East due to its rapidly growing HR community. It has been both rewarding and fascinating to be part of the development of this international HR hub.

My focus is on making our courses even more flexible and accessible for professionals with busy lives, and ensuring that every learner receives the highest quality of education and support from our teams. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved for our students!

Could you share some tips on how to ensure the learning sticks after taking a digital CIPD qualification?

C.K: Whether it is a digital CIPD course, a traditional CIPD course or any other form of learning, making it ‘stick’ relies on a number of factors.

Without doubt, the use of a range of media - visual, audio and written - helps get the message across to students with different learning preferences which is a good place to start.

Probably as important, if not more so, is choosing a learning format that allows you to study at a time and place that is best for you. This is absolutely key to effective learning; if you are tired and distracted, learning simply won’t stick.

Digital learning provides reinforcement of key points via short self-assessment exercises, giving you instant feedback on your understanding. This provision of timely and positive feedback not only encourages you to keep going, but helps you memorise what you’ve learned - we naturally remember what we’ve done well (and sometimes what we’ve done badly!)

Certainly, making learning fun and memorable goes a long way to making learning stick, but perhaps the most important thing is application: if the learning is practical and able to be applied in the ‘real world’, it will certainly be remembered. This is useful for students who are working within HR or L&D during their qualification, as they can often put their learning into practice at work almost immediately.

In your opinion, what are the biggest opportunities for change in the HR world today? 

C.K: Without being flippant, the biggest opportunity for change is change itself, and change is constant. 
Organisations exist to serve customers, and successful organisations do this efficiently and effectively. Customer expectations and the manner in which they can be met are constantly evolving, with much of the evolution being driven by technology and the available labour market.
As a support function with a remit for people, what HR needs to achieve is relatively constant, but the type of support required and the manner in which it is provided will become increasingly diverse.
With advances in AI and e-learning continuing at pace, the opportunity to make use of advanced learning technologies will become viable for smaller organisations as well as large corporations. 
The other big opportunity will be in matching the increasing flexibility required by employers with the flexibility desired by employees, whilst maintaining and hopefully increasing elements of the psychological contract like trust.

And what are the biggest barriers to change?

C.K: People, poorly considered change, and ineffective communication.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to change is when we try to throw the baby out with the bath water.  HR can be seen by some as a profession of fads and fashion. CIPD came into existence as the Employee Welfare Institute, but it was 100 years later that HR professionals started to focus on employee wellbeing (again!) 

To support businesses effectively in people management, a holistic approach is required. It might not be exciting, but effective administration is as important now as it was 100 years ago, and all the ‘important’ initiatives and high-level strategy in the world won’t be effective without buy-in from employees.

Change what needs to be changed and what can be objectively justified; change for change’s sake is always going to meet with resistance. Effective change requires a solid practical and rational basis, and this must be communicated effectively, too. A degree of candour is required, and unfortunately this is often missing. A change is seldom beneficial for all stakeholders and employees, and in our communication of change we could be better at highlighting not just the benefits but the disadvantages. Honesty and open communication is key.

How do you see the evolution of digital learning in employee development?

C.K: Digital learning will undoubtedly continue to play an increasing role in employee development. Businesses must be efficient and effective, and flexible, scalable digital learning has facilitated both for many organisations. For example, it’s over a decade since the financial crash and increase in banking regulation, and the majority (if not all) the big banks use digital learning to meet their regulatory obligations in relation to matters such as anti-money laundering.

This use of digital and online learning will increase hugely in coming years. Work often follows society, and increasingly in our personal lives we turn to YouTube or similar media to learn how to do things – it’s quick, accessible, and easy to use. Going forward, workplace learning will adopt this model with training just a mouse-click away, providing relevant information at the time and place that is most useful to the employee.

This will be driven both by the business need for flexibility and productivity, and by employees themselves. A recent Towards Maturity report found that 94% of employees prefer to learn at their own pace and 80% think online learning would help them further their career. This will only increase as generations who have grown up using the internet as an on-demand ‘second brain’ move into the workforce.

It’s an incredibly exciting time for online learning, and for the many people who benefit from the flexibility that it provides.

ICS Learn was a Gold Sponsor for the inaugural CIPD Middle East People Conference and Awards on 10-11 April 2019.

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