Interview With Amy Rouse, AT&T Learning Services

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I recently had the privilege to interview Amy Rouse, a great discussion which examines many of the most important issues in L&D these days. Amy is Director, Learning Architecture and Design Solutions at AT&T Learning Services.  In her role, she is responsible for standardizing the learning design processes (eLearning and instructor led) for the entire enterprise. Her responsibilities also include partnering with clients and IT on the development and implementation of the enterprise-wide Learning Architecture which includes the identification and establishment of standard approaches, tools, technologies, processes and methods for instructional designers, instructors and performance consultants. She has over 20 years of experience in the field of adult learning, including design, development and delivery of both classroom-based and electronically delivered instruction. AmyHS_2011 In the interview below Amy shares her thoughts on a wide range of L&D issues, including gamification, MOOCs, learning on demand, performance support, measurement and evaluation, mobile learning and more.  I want to thank her for her insight, and hope you enjoy! Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Training Station: Why don’t we begin by just giving a bit about your background in the learning industry? Amy Rouse: My career in training started in the United States Air Force, which in the early 80’s had converted to electronic training records and offering a lot of training via video and slides (the old fashioned “online training”!). The really exciting part of my career began in the late 90’s when my company (acquired by what is now AT&T) moved into Computer-based Training (CBT), then rapidly into Web-based Training (WBT). It was then that I stepped into the Learning Architect role and it’s been a fast and exciting ride ever since! TS: In the year 2013, what in your opinion are some of the most important qualities that it takes to be a great trainer? And beyond training, to be a great team leader getting the most out of your team? AR: Today, great trainers need to be flexible and creative with design and delivery methods, open to new ideas and technologies, and actively engaged in expanding and enhancing their skills and knowledge on a regular basis. I think to lead a team of professionals well you need to ensure you have the right people on the team, provide a clear line of sight to both short- and long-term goals, give people the tools and latitude they need to showcase their talents, provide plenty of opportunity for collaboration, and have as much fun as possible. TS: As someone deeply involved in learning technology, what are some new and developing technological tools that you’re excited about these days? AR: We’re involved in some very exciting things at AT&T including our second generation of immersive learning (high-end simulation and gaming), designing and delivering MOOCs as employee training, and implementing Experience (TinCan) API. We’re in our second year of delivering learning via mobile devices and also interactive virtual learning (IVL) broadcast studios, and we’re starting to set standards for augmented reality, QR codes, and competitive quizzing. The ability to blend any and all of these things (and more) is extremely exciting for anyone whose objective is to provide engaging, effective learning to such a large and diverse employee population as we have within AT&T. TS: From my experience speaking to people involved in employee training, there is a gap period between the end of initial training sessions and the time when the worker is actually able to work independently and proficiently at a high level. What are some ways to best connect learning to performance? How do you think learning can and should continue after an initial training course? AR: Each of our business segments handles this transition a little differently, but we know that most learning takes place outside a formal learning event. One way that my organization is planning to help connect the dots here is researching and prototyping a holistic informal/social learning platform and strategy that would enable each business unit to offer on-demand resources to employees at any stage of their professional development,  as well as a means for employees to connect with each other and with on-demand resources. TS: A lot of focus among learning officers these days is on performance improvement tools. Specifically, in the moment of actual work, how we can best aid the worker in performing the task in the most successful way possible. What do you feel is the proper balance between training and performance improvement tools? Is the focus in the right place? AR: Again, learning organizations and leaders need to recognize that most learning takes place outside the formal learning events we are creating. And yet we place nearly all of our effort into these formal experiences. This is backwards. Performance resources—both skill- and knowledge-based—can take the form of traditional job aids, context sensitive system help, forums, tutorials, and many more. Industry-wide we’re seeing a major shift from a narrow focus on formal learning events to curating meaningful, just-in-time learning resources available to learners how and when they need it. TS: In an age of continuous employee learning and development, how can and should managers measure competency and performance levels? Should analysis and expectations of competency levels evolve to reflect a more long-term approach? AR: This is a new challenge with emerging solutions. The ADL’s Experience API and Mozilla’s Open Badges can help us with this. Not only can we now capture non-formal learning experiences we can validate the level of competency for those experiences. These technologies are new and evolving but I think we’ll quickly see some standards emerge as well as a greater emphasis on the competency validation. TS: Informal Learning – Do you think, that online technology and learning will advocate for online collaboration, or for individual research and individual study? What are your thoughts on informal learning via social media, webinars, YouTube videos and more in order to enhance hard skills? Also, even within the more “formal” training environment, what’s your reaction to the increased adoption of gamification techniques? AR: AT&T Learning Services is very much involved in exploring various gaming technologies from simple WBT games that we’ve been doing for years, to mobile competitive quizzing, to high-end simulation using state-of-the-art gaming engines. We use these both formally and informally. We have been using video in training for many years but are seeing a huge shift to informal video and we’ve added two internal video hosting platforms to accommodate the latter. We also have significant and heavily used social media resources. As I mentioned earlier, our objective is to pull these things together for our employees so they are not wasting time searching in ten different places, or drinking from the proverbial internet fire hose of information. Informal learning is a huge trend and important link in the learning technology framework. Companies that develop a sound, holistic strategy in this area will succeed. TS: Switching topics a bit, regarding the increased use of mobile devices in and outside of the office, do learning managers have a choice in the matter? How can mobile technology best be leveraged in the employee learning arena? AR: As I mentioned, we are well into our second year of delivering training via mobile devices. In some business segments employees now have only mobile devices, so everything they consume is via their tablet. One of our biggest challenges in this area is creating and delivering training that is compatible with many different devices. And as AT&T is constantly adding to the mobile device offerings available, this is an ever-moving target. Ideally we hope to use a learning content management system to develop content once and deliver it to multiple devices. Currently, however, we find ourselves with two or three versions of courses for multiple platforms. TS: What role do you think employee learning can play as part of the larger employee engagement strategy? AR: It’s huge. Our employee engagement survey results indicate that employees feel training opportunities and professional development are extremely important. The good news is that we do a great job at providing excellent learning opportunities for our employees. AT&T Learning Services and our sister organization, AT&T University (which focuses solely on leadership development) have taken 1st, 2nd, and 1st place for Chief Learning Officer’s Learning Elite the last three years. I think this has to do with both the quality and quantity of our offerings. TS: Finally, If you would be giving advice to someone just beginning their career in L&D, what would you tell them? AR: Fasten your seatbelt! I firmly believe we are sitting squarely on a technology megatrend and learning architecture is in center field. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet, but what you learned in school and what works today may not be relevant or appropriate tomorrow. We will soon find ourselves facing five generations of learners in the workplace, constantly emerging and evolving technologies, and a dizzying array of informal and blended learning opportunities. Critically evaluate the needs of your learners and create the best learning approach with the tools available; never settle for “we’ve always done it that way.” And finally, never stop learning! There are amazing resources available at your fingertips: LinkedIn, CLO, eLearning Guild, ASTD, ISPI, Bersin… the list goes on. Webinars, social networking, books, conferences – keep your skills up and your brain sharp!
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog