SBCo January Newsletter: The Inside Perspective on Innovative Learning at Qualcomm
For the New Year, we sat down with one of the most inventive people in Global Learning and Development in California, who also serves as
Sherry Benjamins: How did you navigate into learning technologies and specifically Mobile Learning?
Geoff Stead: I was a Computer Science graduate and after 2-3 years of classic coding work I wanted to move into something with more “soul”, and found learning technology. I’ve spent the last 20 years in Learning and Development - initially on the vendor side. My primary focus was inventing new technology to reach potential learners that were not being well served. Our goal was to help employees get the best possible support with entirely new approaches to learning.
SB: So who tapped you for the Qualcomm role?
GS: Tamar Elkeles, the Chief Learning Officer at Qualcomm. She had spent months looking for vendors that could provide the technology for her vision at Qualcomm, but couldn’t find anything suitable. We connected online and after a few months, she persuaded me to join Qualcomm. Initially I worked out of the Qualcomm UK offices and later moved my family to San Diego County. I joined the team 2 ½ years ago and formed a new Mobile Learning team. We now have a team of fifteen who work with employees and vendors to improve mobile performance and engagement.
SB: Qualcomm has received many awards (Gold: Brandon Hall (Best Advance in Mobile Learning and Gold: CLO magazine.). What has surprised you about this global recognition?
GS: We have really been surprised by the appetite and enthusiasm for this kind of learning. Both from our employees, and peers in the industry. We’re also surprised by how difficult some other organizations are finding it to go mobile. We’re trying to help the industry along, by publishing our success stories, and guidelines on www.worklearnmobile.org
SB: What do you think is the end goal with Mobile Learning?
GS: On the employee side of things, we want to offer the best possible support to our people, to help them succeed. We now have over 50 apps ranging from learning to productivity tools. Employees can download them for free and we plan to grow this capability.
From an industry perspective, there is enthusiasm in this space, but not great tools. We want to help peers and vendors embrace mobile, which is great for Qualcomm from a business and partnership perspective.
SB: You and Tamar have been hosting Qualcomm events across the world. What is the purpose of those?
GS: We were both being asked to speak at an increasing number of keynotes and could not attend them all. We decided to bring organizations together (with minimal vendor influence) as an open forum to discuss new ideas in this space. There is no financial gain for us, but there is great intellectual gain for everyone in the room.
We also want to use these events to help push vendors forward; Qualcomm has a multiple-vendor policy, and are always ion the lookout for new and exciting products. We are sometimes a bit harsh to long-standing vendors that are too slow to move to mobile, swapping them for smaller, hungrier businesses with a clearer mobile ambition.
SB: So where do you see the most adoption?
GS: I think Qualcomm has one of the most mature mobile learning initiatives, though others like Apple, Google, IBM, GE and Abbvie all have internal app stores for their employees. If I had to guess, I would say 5% of organizations are at a similar level to Qualcomm, and tghese organizations. And 10-20% want to be at this level, but aren’t yet. At all of our events, I have yet to see a dedicated team like ours.
SB: Are there markets this technology works best in?
GS: To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. It works for our company because we are a mobile technology company. We also like risk and we’re bold with experimentation; that is part of our culture naturally.
SB: I love that Qualcomm knows that something’s will work and some won’t, but still want to experiment and re-invent failures to make them successes.
SB: How does your technology look and feel for new employees?
GS: We believe in self-service; find what you need without any restrictions. With that in mind all our apps are available to employees from the start. We also have features that allow you to see what your colleagues are learning. Within our on-boarding process we recommend three to four apps including a campus map and a game that helps new employees get familiar with terms that are common in the office and with our technology.
SB: What is your prediction on where mobile learning is headed?
GS: I think there is a perfect storm brewing. There is the relentless rise of mobile and cloud based technology, a blur between work and home, and a shift in employees’ expectation on learning and career growth. Adding to those factors is an expectation of immediate gratification, the immergence of digital communication, and a demand for digital access to information 24/7. These things are coming whether we are ready or not. Mobile learning can address all of these storm factors.
SB: Do you think organizations are still in denial about Mobile Learning?
GS: Maybe. I think the real “denial” is the difficulty of reframing Learning and Development when faced by the storm, mentioned above. Historically, L&D has been defined by one mode of learning, yet employees want ever increasing ways to improve their skills, via multiple modes. This requires collaboration and management alignment across departments, geographies, and employee levels. For instance, we work closely with IT, Legal, and Communications to make our initiatives thrive across all markets. This desire by employees to have options won’t go away, so Qualcomm decided that we would rather be at the beginning of this trend than try to catch up.
SB: What do you like most about your role?
GS: I like the breadth of this role. I have the ability to span across all departments. We have the flexibility to invent which is rather unique. In fact, we just launched an interactive mural, which you can learn about in an upcoming blog post on Qualcomm's website.
SB: So what can you tell us about the 2015 plan for Qualcomm?
GS: We are enthusiastic about new vendor partnerships. We are also excited about ways that phones can boost interaction based on where you are and what you are doing. We have 19,000 employees interacting with our apps. In 2015 we want to understand better what people are doing, be able to segment groups and follow their narratives.
Geoff shared that more than 90 percent of Qualcomm senior executives use this enterprise technology. He is passionate about how mobile is changing enterprise learning and communication at all levels. The time is right for leaders in HR and L&D to be bold. Wouldn’t you want to be the “go-to team” for learning transformation in your company? Your workforce is ready for a new way to interact and learn. Let us know about your adventure and we will include you in our 2015 newsletters!