L&D QuestionTime – Alison Cunard

In your opinion what is the biggest anxiety within the world of learning and development at the moment?

In today’s environment, I think there are two critical priorities for the Learning & Development industry.  First, technology is moving faster than ever, and those of us in L&D need to figure out how to keep up with those changes to stay relevant and effective.  Second, We need to deliver excellent learning to individuals who are trying to stay abreast of changes, and to advance their own careers or areas of interest.  All professions either currently require or will require technical skills, and those skills are not readily found in all markets today.  I want to see us create great learning solutions that scale effectively and appeal to learners in new ways.

Who or what is informing your thinking around L&D?

I am studying the massive transformation underway in the education market alongside new thinking in professional education, and I know that the learning landscape is changing rapidly. I work for a great software company, and a high pace of change is integral to our culture.  I know that I need to apply that same mind-set to our Learning business.  I am always bringing in new talent to add to the great people I have on my team, and I meet regularly with emerging industry and innovative education leaders as well as with our partners and customers. These are the people who represent the true voice of the skills needed in the market. We need to understand what appeals to learners broadly to really drive the skills needed across industries.

What is the most exciting innovation on the horizon for learning?

From my vantage point, the availability of the Cloud platform and mobile technologies are helping drive real innovation in self-directed and community-based learning.  These technologies are improving access to far more people interested in learning, and giving people an opportunity to interact with communities of similar interests that promote the learning process. That is exciting to those of us in the L&D space as we try to drive scale through exciting and engaging learning.

What “game changers” would you like to see and why?

I believe the issue of access – across geographic, socio-economic and other boundaries – to technology and content can be the critical game changer.  At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.  There are approximately 7 billion people worldwide, but currently only approximately 3.7 billion have internet access.  As the reach of accessible technology continues to grow, we in the L&D industry should look for ways to provide the tools people need to improve their own lives, and also bring more minds to bear on the critical challenges we face around the globe.  We have an opportunity to play a key role in skills development to empower a much broader set of people moving forward as access improves.

What do you think the world of L&D will look like by 2020?

I believe we are laying the ground work now that will enable us to deliver true self-directed, personalized learning to a much broader range of learners by 2020.  Students at ever younger ages will need and expect customized learning experiences.  Demand for highly skilled workers will only continue to grow across all industries, and individuals will be expected to be highly flexible and effective in their changing jobs.  The days of people locking into one 20+ year career is uncommon now, and may be long gone by 2020.  We need to evolve as people’s learning needs evolve.   Broader availability of mobile technology, ‘always on’ content, community supported learning, and truly customized learning paths across students, educators, and professionals will be the norm.

What advice would you give your 21 year old self?

In this context, I would have told my 21 year old self to be prepared for and be excited about, multiple career changes during my life. I would also advise myself to establish a continuous learning approach at age 21 and maintain it for life, to plan to disrupt myself several times in my career, trust my instincts, keep an open mind, and remain passionate about any endeavour in front of me.

About Alison:

Alison is General Manager of Microsoft Learning Experiences (LeX), a training and skills development organization reaching millions of Microsoft customers worldwide with innovative learning products and services that help individuals and organizations maximize the use of Microsoft technologies to realize their full potential.

Alison oversees the development, distribution, and worldwide marketing of a comprehensive line of products and programs that include Microsoft Certifications, Microsoft’s authorized  Learning Partner program, Microsoft Press, Online Training, and other hosted learning services. Alison also manages Microsoft’s student and teacher programs, including Microsoft IT Academy (ITA) program, Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification program, Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) program, Student-to-Business and Digital Literacy.

Prior to becoming the General Manager for Microsoft Learning Experiences, Alison was the General Manager of Worldwide Sales & Marketing for Microsoft Learning Experiences. Through the adoption of these resources, Alison and her team enabled the growth of Microsoft technology adoption, deployment, and satisfaction through partner and market readiness.

Alison has a breadth of experience developing long-term account strategies in her previous role as the GM for Microsoft Public Sector covering US Federal Civilian and SI Services.  She has great depth of experience working with customers, through sales, consulting and support services with both enterprise customers and partners.  She brings a history of excellence in technology management and delivery through her roles in Microsoft’s product groups, Office of the Chief Information Officer, and Microsoft Consulting Services.

Before joining Microsoft, Alison was a Principal Consultant at Oracle, and a Software Engineer at Ford Aerospace. Alison has a Bachelor of Science, Systems Engineering, from University of Virginia, and an MBA, International Business, from University of California, Irvine.

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