People Innovators Summit 2019: Imagine a New Future for Learning

Jennifer Juo

Content Marketing Team Lead at Udemy for Business

October 24, 2019

As new technologies rapidly reshape the future of work, 230+ People, learning & development (L&D), and business leaders came together at our annual People Innovators Summit 2019 October 16–17 in San Francisco to reimagine the future of learning.

Speakers included senior leaders from Delta Air Lines, Box, Genentech, Freddie Mac, Publicis Sapient, DoorDash, Naspers, ATB Financial, SNP Communications,  SuperDataScience, Udemy, and keynote speaker Matthew Luhn, former Pixar and The Simpsons Story Artist and Animator.

The 2-day conference kicked off with skill-building workshops for People and L&D leaders followed by a line-up of visionary speakers. During their sessions, speakers envisioned a new future of learning to help prepare employees for whatever comes next.

Now is the time to reimagine learning 

The world of work is transforming on a large scale — driven by changes in globalization, demographics, and technology. Global supply chains are becoming more efficient, five generations are working together for the first time, and massive technology transformations from the cloud to artificial intelligence (AI) are occurring at all levels of the organization.

Udemy for Business instructor and CEO of SuperDataScience, Kirill Eremenko, highlighted how AI technologies like robotic process automation and computer vision are reshaping the world of work and suggested ways to equip employees with the skills of tomorrow. “While much media attention is given to the 75 million jobs AI will replace by 2022 worldwide, there is a historic opportunity for learning leaders to provide retraining for the 133 million new jobs AI will create,” recommended Kirill.


Kirill Eremenko, Udemy for Business instructor and CEO of SuperDataScience

Brandon Carson, Director of Learning at Delta Air Lines,​ explained these forces of change are a call to action for learning & development (L&D) leaders: “The next 5 years are going to be more disruptive than the last 50. We’re in the middle of the largest-scale job transition since the Industrial Revolution, and L&D is at the center of it. Now is the time to reimagine the business of corporate learning.” Brandon shared how his team is reimagining learning programs at Delta by implementing immersive virtual reality training for airport ramp workers. In the process, he is also reinventing the L&D team by hiring new roles not historically in Learning, such as data analytics experts.

Innovation is a culture, not a skill

In a world where the ground is constantly shifting, organizations will require a different kind of culture and a new skill set for both leaders and employees to innovate and thrive in change.

“Innovation is a culture, not a skill,” said Kat Steinmetz, Director of Global Talent Success at Box. “Transformational leadership is the catalyst that helps bring innovation to life in your culture.”  Kat shared how to develop new “transformational leaders” that support agile and changing environments. In contrast to transactional leadership that relies on motivating through rewards and punishments, transformational leaders believe in inspiring others to motivate themselves. At Box, they are developing transformational leaders to help inspire their employees to live their cultural values such as take risks and fail fast, 10x it, and bring your (___) self to work every day.

Keynote speaker Matthew Luhn, former Pixar and The Simpsons Story Artist and Animator, highlighted ways to build a culture of innovation. He attributed Pixar’s success to their transformational leader, Steve Jobs, who purposefully created a safe zone for people to create and fail. “Steve Jobs didn’t want a place of closed office doors. Instead, he wanted a place where ideas could cross-pollinate and thrive. For example, he built all the bathrooms and cafeterias in one place, so people organically bumped into each other, shared ideas spontaneously, and solved problems together. He wanted everyone to speak up from the intern to the leader, and he regularly rotated eating lunch with different teams. It made us feel like our ideas mattered,” recalled Matthew.


Attendees at the People Innovators Summit 2019

Change is not just from the top

However, you can’t just rely on your leaders to drive innovation and change. You also need to equip your employees with the right mindset and skills. “When you think of change, you hear of change management or how we’re going to manage and tell people about change. It’s very top-down and inauthentic. At Udemy, we wanted change to be driven from the grassroots, so we created a training program to turn Udemy employees into change agents,” explained Shelley Osborne, VP of Learning at Udemy.

Shelley’s L&D team applied the Escape Room concept of puzzles and unpredictability to simulate the feeling of change. Their innovative training program enabled employees to understand what change is like, apply frameworks to manage change, and develop ways to solve problems in a dynamic environment.

The future of learning: Disrupting L&D

Other ways leaders are reimagining learning is through disrupting L&D itself and taking risks as a learning leader. “Disruption is uncomfortable, but you have to ask tough questions. For example, at Genentech, our L&D team asked why does a procedural document have to be a document? Why can’t we try a chatbot?” said Gerry Somers, Associate Director and Head of Quality Learning and Technology at Genentech. “Luckily, my leaders were on board to do something different and take risks. Our first iteration of the chatbot was bumpy. We learned a lot along the way, like the fact we needed a conversational designer to ensure the chatbot mimics natural conversations.”  

Brittany Ward, Manager of Learning & Culture Transformation at Freddie Mac, echoed this idea of taking risks, “Fail fast, learn faster. You have to challenge the status quo. There will never be a blueprint that works 100%.”


Panel discussion on Imagining the Next Five Years: L&D Best Practices and Programs

Darren Shimkus, President of Udemy for Business, unveiled new ways Udemy for Business is helping our customers disrupt and reimagine learning. “Talent is at the top of CEOs’ list of priorities. Once the world changes, how do we help our employees’ skills change? Learning is how you get to the future,” envisioned Darren. 

L&D leaders can now create unique learning paths for individual employees using Udemy for Business. Learning paths can be built with online courses and bite-sized lectures on Udemy for Business as well as custom courses and third-party content like blogs and podcasts. We’re also rolling out Learning Programs to create a deeper learning experience through assessments, practice exercises, and social community and equipping our customers with Learning Playbooks that include customizable launch plans, integration tactics, and marketing strategies.

Improving lives through learning

South African tech investor and operator, Naspers, shared an inspirational story of how they’re disrupting learning to improve lives. “I have the best job in the world,” shared Belinda Bowling, Social Impact Director at Naspers. “It’s about empowering young people to change their lives for the better. We’ve taken a complex socio-economic problem and developed an innovative solution to address widespread youth unemployment in South Africa.”


Belinda Bowling, Social Impact Director at Naspers

Naspers Labs’ innovative program blends technology and in-person coaching to prepare low-income youth in South Africa for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Using Udemy for Business, their program creates personalized learning based on an individual’s strengths. They’re also experimenting with facial recognition and AI to offer more adaptive learning experiences. For example, if a learner’s facial expression looks bored or excited, they can suggest different kinds of courses to learn next.

We hope you’re energized to reimagine learning and prepare your employees for the future. We look forward to seeing you at next year’s People Innovators Summit!


About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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Discover the latest trending tech & soft skills, top 10 skills by industry & role, and how organizations are preparing their workforce for the future.

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