Interview | Corina Anghel On How to Prepare for the Future of Learning

9 min read

We consider ourselves as the go-to place for Romanian HR Specialists when it comes to sharing knowledge & experiences, understanding what's next in our industry, and also meeting cool, inspiring people. As we're looking to broaden how our members interact with each other, we've chosen to design a new way to spread know-how - a series of in-depth interviews with industry experts, sharing advices, stories, wisdom with everyone who's curious to know more about their way of doing things.

Corina joined HR Hub 8 years ago, and we've seen her passionately talk about learning... well, everywhere. She charmed us at our own events, constantly wrote on her blog, talked about deliberate practice at Disrupt HR, and filled the HR Summit stage at Bucharest Tech Week two years in a row. Some good reasons for you to start following her, and for us to ask her some questions.

Let's dive in and find out more about how she joined the industry, what changed from that point, what will change from now on and what advices she has for both Learning Specialists and Individual Learners.

Corina Anghel, Training Manager | Learning Consultant & Entrepreneur | Associate CIPD & overall life-long learner

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did Corina land in Learning & Development?

I decided I want to work in HR in my first year in University while I was studying Management, during a series of workshops organised by an NGO. After that epiphany I enrolled in the Psychology Faculty as well and joined a Students’ Organisation with the plan of practicing as much as I can to become an HR Manager in the future (successfully making sense of both my BAs). So I did, learning about most of the HR areas by experimenting in my NGO and different communities of practices, attending different development programs such as the HR school organised by HR Club, reading and writing on my blog. Meanwhile, my first job caught me interested in organisational development, but soon after, because of the projects I was working on, I started to focus and deep dive into Learning & Development. I started to believe that people's ability to learn sits at the center of any successful organisation (career or life), I enjoyed delivering training sessions and received good feedback which gave me the confidence that it is something I could become very good at. Interest met natural skills and opportunity, so here I am.

What was the industry like when you just started?

I started working in the period when training budgets were recovering after the economic crisis in 2008. I got hired in a consultancy company where we worked with multinational organisations which were the first to reintroduce learning & development on the day-to-day agenda, focusing mostly on basic projects such as assessment centers to identify the needs or potential and 2 days in-class trainings on various topics. Even then, some would invite specific people to specific trainings, others would use the “training menu” strategy inviting people to choose what they want to learn from a list and approve it with their managers and companies were starting to be preoccupied by scaling. I had the privilege to work with one of the first experts in neuroscience in the country so we were pioneers on a market that was still maturing in terms of training content. It was hard to explain to my parents what my job was, but in the corporate world most people were talking about “training” as one of the requirements or tools to advance their career.

What changed up until now?

In short: we have more reasons to invest in developing people and more tools and methods available to do that.

The knowledge and technological revolutions changed our world and with that people’s expectations, behaviors, the way they learn, their attention span and so on. A simple example is access to information - if a few years ago, most of the information was only available in trainings and expensive books, nowadays you can find so much free information that one might get the impression she or he already knows a lot so it is much more difficult to bring the newness factor inside the classroom or to stay too much on one topic. People get bored more easily. The world is so fast-paced now, that people have lower patience so they rather move from one topic to another, but without going too far up Bloom’s taxonomy. At the same time new jobs appear, organisations grow faster, competition is tougher so to remain in the game both organisations and individuals need to keep up by continually learning and adapting.

The L&D industry had to mature and respond to these new challenges. First of all we focus more on connecting training impact to real needs and business KPIs. We are more open to experiment so the range of learning methods and tools expanded to a mix of various formats in blended learning strategies. In designing and implementing learning projects specialists combine new concepts such as gamification, action learning, micro-learning in order to respond to the ever-more-demanding population and to keep up with a very competitive global environment.

In short: we have more reasons to invest in developing people and more tools and methods available to do that.

How do you think it will change in the future? What are the main trends we should follow as L&Ds?

I would place my bets on personalised learning focused more on skill development rather than simple knowledge acquisition (where the growing interest in nootropics might come in handy).

First of all, I am very excited to be working in L&D in this period of time and the first thing that I think will change is that we will be spending less and less time in trying to convince stakeholders about the importance of learning because it becomes obvious and instead invest that time in finding meaningful learning experiences that can actually help transform the organisation.

Then, to follow trends I would recommend splitting them in two areas: what people will need to learn and how they can learn.

Regarding the first area, in 2016, McKinsey estimated that 60% of all occupations could see 30% or more of their activities automated and that until 2030 up to 375 million workers globally may need to switch occupational categories. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2022, no less than 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling and they update yearly their list of top competencies required in the new world of work. That is a good place to start. We already see jobs that become more popular, from Scrum Masters to UI/UX designers/researchers, but new jobs continue to appear, like Robots Coordinator or Virtual Reality Designer. As L&D professionals we really need to understand the business and where it’s headed in order to equip the organisation and the people for that future.

Then, in how we provide learning I would place my bets on personalised learning focused more on skill development rather than simple knowledge acquisition (where the growing interest in nootropics might come in handy). The coaching industry is blooming because people feel the need of individual support, LMSs switch focus from content libraries to collaborative platforms, artificial intelligence helps us turn robots into practice buddies and virtual reality takes experiential learning to an unprecedented level of interaction. As millennials are more interested in challenging work than in building a career inside one organisation companies will have to turn themselves into learning environments where an autonomous learner can thrive even for short periods of time.

How do you think data and technology is changing L&D?

I think that both put together will help learning professionals to scale personalised learning experiences and to better evaluate the impact of their work. As I mentioned, technology helps us develop new learning tools and methods and data helps us to track which of them work best for each individual or in each particular setting. Also, although it might not be such a direct link, data can support L&D professionals in better understanding their field of work, people’s behavior or the world itself so they could better grasp those trends we were talking about and prepare the organization for them.

How are you preparing for the future of Learning?

First of all, I practice what I preach and keep a rhythm to learn continuously, being in charge of my own learning process. Every year I focus on a more complex subject (I recently graduated from an Anthropology Master, for example) and I combine it with smaller topics that are out of my obvious field of work: I attended a training on how to monetize mobile apps, I installed TikTok on my phone, I watched documentaries about the medical industry and I try to be the first to try any new learning method available. Basically, I practice my flexibility,  openness and ability to grasp trends on how our society evolves, while being up to date with what happens in the L&D industry.

What advice would you give to Learning & Development Professionals?

Remember to invest in your own learning. You know how they say, the shoemaker has broken shoes, the hairdresser has messy hair. I believe it is important not to forget to be a consumer of learning experiences as much as we are organizers. Apart from the obvious reason that it will make you a better professional and you will grow as a person you gain more credibility and it will even make you a better facilitator. I’ve seen trainers designing activities they would not engage in if they were to be participants, so why would you expect others will. Be a guinea pig.

How do you think L&D professionals could show their impact in business growth?

Start with the end in mind. When you understand exactly what impact is needed, you can picture a definition of done and figure out the metrics you need to follow to see if it was met. I like to use the Kirkpatrick model and partner with our analytics team. Most organisations base their decisions on numbers so when you manage to show them some you gain trust. You can capitalize on that trust for moments when the effort to show the impact is too great and it doesn’t justify itself enough.

How could L&Ds engage employees more in the learning programs they create?

Having a clear outcome that has to take shape creates that need: “we need to learn how to make that happen”.

Make it a priority to talk to people. I believe it is important to learn about their job, how their days look like, what tools they use, where they prefer to take their information from and how they prefer to consume it, what really excites them. People adapt to “newness” much faster than businesses so if you don’t pay attention or move fast enough you might work hard to bring an innovative approach that turns out to be already obsolete. When you talk to people you might even come up with very simple solutions. That way you will not have to think of what you need to do to engage people in the learning programs, you will know how to design a learning program people will engage in.

If that sounds too broad, a more quick-win trick is to treat the learning experience as a project with a clear start and a clear outcome. Some of my most successful programs were those when I managed to find a “product” people were supposed to develop by the end of it: give a speech in front of a big crowd, organize an event, solve a physical puzzle with their photo on. Most of the time, especially in business settings, adults learn when they need to. Having a clear outcome that has to take shape creates that need: “we need to learn how to make that happen”. So it’s palpable, you can see you’re making progress, you remain interested to see how it turns out and it’s memorable.

What advice would you give to people in general regarding their learning process?

Take charge of it and plan time for active reflection. We all learn all the time just by experimenting life and that’s like riding in a bus. You are on a direction you choose, but you can’t really control how you get there - how many stops you will have, how fast you’ll go, what roads you will take (and some might be pretty boring). And because the bus is full you don’t even get to see clearly the entire perspective, just what’s available from your window. Sometimes you might even fall asleep and miss some parts of the trip. So when we don’t set out a clear objective and a plan, the journey might be pretty random. That’s one way you can do it and sometimes is the one you need. But if you really want to see progress then you have to learn how to drive and take that driver seat. Don’t take an Uber, don’t expect others should pick you up and drive you (like your organization, for example). That way you can try out more roads, experiment more, see the full perspective, stop when you need, turn on the AC or put the window down.

Active reflection is necessary because the internet made us more superficial. We mistake “recognising” information with being able to actually “retrieve” that information from our heads, but just because we heard or read about a concept doesn’t necessarily mean we learned it and we can actually apply it. So you need to break the illusion of knowledge by spending time on actively making sure you integrated that knowledge.

Tell me about one book you think every Learning Specialist should read.

I think Mindset by Carol S. Dweck is a really good one because she explains some of the barriers people have in learning and it teaches you how to support them in breaking them, by cultivating that growth mindset. I think her theory is a great introduction to any learning experience, just to set the scene for whatever learning topic might be addressed.

We're at a point when learning is on everyone's lips, when we're starting to understand the importance of active, personalized learning. The future is here, so don't forget to keep yourself, as a Learning Specialist up to date with how trends progress and what you can do to make your own role more meaningful.