Connecting people at BT: Tom Pape, head of learning innovation & platforms

Written by
Sarah Clark

12 Jul 2016

12 Jul 2016 • by Sarah Clark

What are your current responsibilities and how many employees do you oversee?

I lead on learning innovation for BT including the learning technology and our BT wide academy platform catering for over 90,000 people globally.

I also look after our internal digital learning design team, and mandatory training for design and delivery.

Why did you choose to work for the BT Group?

I have worked for BT since 1997, where I started in the retail sales environment. The role at the time was supposed to be stop gap until I could move back into the media industry (I had studied media production and ran a media production company after university).

BT is such an open and diverse organisation; it allowed me to move into areas I felt were challenging but linked to my core skill-set. From sales I moved to PR & communications, where I led our internal e-comms team including our internal TV network; BTTV.

I was part of the talent pool, and was offered the opportunity to move into business improvement. Here, I developed my lean six sigma approach and corporate financial awareness. During that time, we were challenged to transform our learning in BT Retail. Through those successful programmes – where we delivered £1m plus in benefits and installed innovative learning environments across our call centres – I was offered a new role in L&D in Retail and then later in the BT Group.

I have been very lucky to be able to build my career and development in BT and haven’t needed to leave the organisation to progress.

Whats involved in your everyday role?

My main responsibilities include:

  • Delivering the academy platform strategy to engage with our learners among other business drivers, including customer experience
  • Developing the mandatory training solutions, reducing investment in training time while striving to deliver a 100% completion success-rate
  • Driving learning innovation through design and high impact learning via interactive videos and mobile apps

What are your current challenges?

Our main challenges are:

  • Driving a simple, personal and brilliant user experience across a number of platforms in BT
  • Encouraging greater engagement into the culture of learning through the academy
  • Getting full mobile access across all devices including BYOD
  • Showing real value to the business

What do your academy models and learning platforms look like?

People learn and develop in different ways, and historically we have focused on the formal type of learning. As we now are very much driven by the 702010 model, we aim to support our people by providing a one stop virtual learning environment that offers many different ways to learn and engage.

We have also built the academy around social interaction, so people can connect and share quickly and effectively. We have looked to Google and Facebook among many other successful platforms in the creation of the academy, but the key thing for me is similar to Amazon and Apple, you start with the customer/user and work your way back. The experience has to be simple and easy to engage with.

How are you better connecting people through these processes?

We are offering greater value and choice through simpler experiences. It’s key to make the journey personalised and relevant, and we are doing more over the next development phase to improve this.

Video is definitely a popular way of learning, many of us do it via YouTube and don’t even realise the power of seeing and doing. A move to interactive video/animation is growing as is the importance of making learning social, and allowing users to create learning and give back.

Culturally, this is always challenging and if you take our approach to mandatory training, learning has to be made simple, and accessible to all.

How can business leaders find the right learning platforms for their organisations?

It’s tough when you have multiple platforms that you may need to work around, but again if it’s possible to focus on the user experience first, let that drive your technology rather than the other way round.

Whether you use an open source learning management system (LMS) or one of the big three learning theories, your offering doesn’t have to be super expensive to deliver the impact. There are a lot of companies out there offering learning platforms, some will fit your needs, others will not.

Many of these products are cloud-based so it's very difficult to ask for bespoke requirements without great time and cost, but on the other hand these platforms are easier to manage.

What key skills are required from our future workforce?

Good question. Coming from a design and technology perspective, certainly digital skills are becoming more and more important as technology innovates and gathers greater pace.

With more and more people using mobile devices in their daily lives, it's key work replicates life. In terms of effectively educating employees, ensure you have the right quality learning resources available to your people. There are many good companies that offer this, Lynda and Pluralsite are great platforms, to name a couple.

What is the future of learning?

I certainly feel we are moving away from a 'build, design and push' L&D environment.

Focus should be on being enablers in our roles to drive key business outcomes. One prominent area is the give back  the DIY approach to learning. YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn among others enable their users to do this, and organisations need to replicate what is going on in the real world.

Also a move away from formal face to face (F2F) learning to more informally via mobile and tablets. Internal surveys certainly support this. I can see a lot of opportunity in virtual reality (VR) too, specifically in scenario based and virtual environments. 

Exciting times ahead.