Leonardo Award

„We live in a world where there are tremendous opportunities for people to grow and develop“

Interview with Dr. Nick van Dam

Nick, you will receive the Leonardo Award in the category “Company Transformation” in September. In many articles your passion for people development is highlighted and you are described as “thought leader” and “visionary” in the field of learning and development, similar to Leonardo da Vinci, the patron of the prize. What does learning mean to you personally?

I reviewed a lot of research on what makes people happy in their lives. Key themes are the ability to connect and build strong relationships with people, have freedom of choice and personal development. Personal development goes back to learning. I think I am a lifelong learner, what the French call “Education Permanente”, and that means that you try to learn something new every day, over your lifetime. Thanks so the Internet, we live in a hyper-connected world where there are tremendous opportunities for people to grow and develop. In the networked world, personal development creates opportunities to connect and learn from others and provides people with choices in life, and as I mentioned, people who have choices tend to be much happier. By being an active learner myself, I have created opportunities to do things in my life that I truly enjoy and which make a difference for myself and others.

You have been working in the field of learning for 25 years. How have corporate training and development changed during that time?

The world we lived in 25 years ago is very different from the world we live in today: we didn’t have the Internet, social media, smartphones and even personal computers were in an early stage of adoption. The internal ‘learning’ function was called the ‘the training department’ and focused on the development of specific skills. The employee training department was in many organizations was organized in a ‘top-down’ structure. Organizations decided to a large extent which skills had to be developed by employees and all of this took place in a physical classroom. Learning today is much more learner-centric. Learning professions call this ‘adoptive learning’. Every person is in charge of his own career and development. As long as you master competencies which are in line with what the company needs, you are employed. However, the moment that there is a mismatch in skills, the employment will likely end at one point in the future. On the one hand, that’s a challenge. But at the same time that’s a tremendous opportunity for people who are intrinsically motived to learn.

People always learn from other people. In the past this was from colleagues in your office and maybe friends or family members. Today people can reach out to experts around the entire world, share information with others and take lessons online. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are offered by a growing number of top universities and provide people with high quality on-demand education at no costs. This concept was unimaginable 25 years ago.

Finally, sophisticated brain-imaging tools allow researchers to study the brain and revolutionize the understanding of how we learn. As a result, today we know more about learning than ever before, which provides great opportunities for training and development professionals to harness new insights and apply this new knowledge to advance the field. We know for example more about our brain and those insights have a huge impact on how you design interventions that will help people to be more effective in learning.

Which changes or transformations have you initiated in the companies you have worked? Are there personal milestones?

Advances in technology continue transform and disrupt traditional learning and development approaches. Within Deloitte, I have been leading the learning transformation with a focus on on-demand, social and blended learning. We have made significant investments in designing a world-class learning platform which provides 200.000 professionals in 140 countries access to a ‘personalized learning portal’. This personal learning portal offers learners a personalized view of learning offerings based on their role and the work they are doing for the Firm. People have 24/7 access to a very rich repository of the full spectrum of online learning solutions, ranging from web-based training, certification programs, webinars, podcasts, a library of more than 8,000 book summaries, to channels with the latest leadership videos and opportunities to connect with Deloitte professionals around the world through our own social media platform.

In addition to my internal role, I spent part of my time advising global companies on their learning strategy and learning transformation. It is exciting to notice that a growing number of organizations are increasing their investments in learning and leadership development.