Interview with O’Reilly Media on Technology Enabled Learning



“As more sophisticated integrations between learning tools and HRIS systems evolve we might see learning integrated more into the entire employee lifecycle.”

A thought-provoking interview with Karen Hebert-Maccaro, PhD, Chief Learning Experience Officer at O’Reilly Media, on technology-enabled Learning. Explore the issues and potential of new ways of corporate learning. Ponder questions such as – who should own learning in the organization, and much more!

1. How do you think HR leadership’s attitude toward leveraging technology for L&D has evolved over the last several years?

The data is pretty clear, the adoption of e-learning technology to replace and augment traditional classroom training has been rising over the last several years. This digitization of learning has benefits including perhaps most importantly the fact that it can be done on demand and at the learner’s discretion. Unfortunately, much of this has resulted in what feels like click-through voiced over “powerpoints” with minimal interaction. I think HR leadership is beginning to expect more – a consumerization of the learning experiences within their organizations and gaming technologies, use of software such as Jupyter Notebooks, business simulations and augmented reality tech. All this can be interesting ways to provide engaging asynchronous learning experiences. 

2. The future of work – both the workplace and workforce – is upon us, and HR managers find it increasingly difficult to compete. How should organizations adjust their L&D goals in the wake of distributed workforces, and how will learning technology help manage enterprise transformation?

The important thing to remember here is that while distributed workforces aren’t new, distributed learning isn’t either. Admittedly, the gig economy takes it to a whole new level and requires some adaptive strategies for L&D. Fortunately, the sophistication of learning technology has also risen at a very rapid rate. Providing opportunities to learn in a performance adjacent manner becomes increasingly important. Performance adjacent learning is simply learning that happens just to the side of the workflow, with minimal disruption and maximum relevance. The learner gets into a learning tool, finds an answer or an idea and gets right back to work. The rise of technologies like natural language processing (can make search more precise) and voice interfaces (can mean asking for learning support without taking eyes off the workflow) enable this type of learning, which would work well for a highly concentrated or highly distributed workforce. 

3. What are the typical challenges faced in learning ROI? Why do HR leaders struggle with proving ROI from L&D investments?

The truth is ROI is easier measured in some parts of the business than others and while L&D is arguably among the hardest – it isn’t the only business unit that struggles. It’s much easier to measure a return on sales force investment by an increase in bookings or quarterly revenue than it is to quantify the returns on a learning program, an HR initiative or even in some cases an IT investment. Learning may not be the only business unit that struggles with ROI, but it is one of the more persistent when it comes to attempting to meet requests for financial ROI. Unfortunately, I think that it is likely to continue to be a frustrating endeavor.

Learning is a human process not a financial one. You can’t use typical metrics to prove ROI, given that the return is likely to be highly distributed over time and space and hard to observe. The answer, in part, is to start using correlational metrics to tell a story about how learning engagement relates to performance.  

4. You talk about shifting the focus of L&D ROI from financial to human calculations of success – how does that work in reality? Have you seen any recent successes on how leaders accept that in lieu of the hard factors?

Some companies are using correlation to connect learning activity with increased bonus amounts, promotion rates and high potential ratings already but it is only one part of the story. We need to also get active about talking to senior leaders outside of HR and L&D about how learning is a part of the acquisition process, the employee value proposition and overall employee engagement and retention levels. If a leader can remember the last time he/she learned something and how they knew it was useful and if/how anyone else knew, you can open up a door to this discussion. Also, manager observation and selective use of other more time-consuming measurement strategies can also be employed to compliment correlation and narrative shifts. 

5. What typical mistakes do you see large enterprises make when it comes to building a learning culture? Do you think they are leveraging technology in the right way to achieve automation, scale, and effectiveness?

The biggest mistake I have seen is assuming the responsibility of building a learning culture is on the HR and L&D departments or even on one person in particular (usually in these departments). In fact, the responsibility of building a learning culture rests more with managers and line leaders than with HR and L&D. Sure HR and L&D can serve as guides, provide resources and support but if the leader or manager isn’t encouraging open discussion about mistakes, after-action reviews, team success over individual success then the HR and L&D folks don’t stand a chance. Technology can help make such processes easier but they are innately human processes, and a tool alone simply doesn’t guarantee the behavior change necessary to make a learning culture a reality.

6. What is the impact you are seeing, in practice, of technologies such as Mobile, AI, the blockchain, and machine learning – on how employees learn? What technologies and trends are your trackings in the learning as we head into 2020?

I am watching the adoption of technologies outside of the learning space for how they may play inside of it. For example, voice interfaces like Alexa and Google Home are increasingly inside households and APIs that connect those services to learning tools and content repositories will create a new way to routinely learn in the moment. There may be a near-term future scenario where wearables such as smartwatches become interfaces for in-the-moment learning (in bite-sizes). The integration of learning into the talent management framework (how learning plays in acquisition, development, retention, and succession) may also prove to be an interesting space to watch. As more sophisticated integrations between learning tools and HRIS systems evolve, we might see learning integrated more into the entire employee lifecycle.

HRT: So many great questions to ponder! Thank you for that engrossing conversation on the confluence of learning and technology, Karen! We hope to speak with you again, soon!

About Karen Hebert-Maccaro, PHD:

As Chief Learning Experience Officer at O’Reilly, Karen Hebert-Maccaro, is responsible for leading the organization’s content and learning strategy. She oversees the development programs for O’Reilly’s learning and training platform, manages both creation and curation of available content and directs the internal editorial teams in acquisition, development, and delivery of content for learning, training and events. Prior to O’Reilly, Karen served in various talent management roles including Vice President of People Development and Chief Learning Officer for companies in biotechnology and healthcare. Karen holds a PhD from Boston College, an EdM from Boston University and a BA from the University of Massachusetts.

About O’Reilly Media:

For almost 40 years, O’Reilly Media has provided technology and business training, knowledge, and insight to help companies succeed. Their unique network of experts and innovators share their knowledge and expertise through the company’s Safari training and learning platform and at O’Reilly conferences. As a SaaS learning platform, Safari delivers highly topical and comprehensive technology and business learning solutions to millions of users across the enterprise, consumer, and university channels. For more information visit

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