Defining the learning of the future
How do we actually learn? What helps us to become better, which tools and strategies are there to make learning more efficient? How can learning be fun and made more individual? Michael Schlothauer has been asking these questions since his studies in media informatics and throughout his 11 years at IMC.
In the job slot he reveals what is hidden behind his title, talks about the latest learning trends and clears up false expectations where artificial intelligence can help learning - and where not.
- Name: Michael Schlothauer
- Job: Vice President Learning Solution
- Works in: Munich, Germany
- At IMC since: 2008
- Superpower: Authenticity
- Favourite food: Duck breast fillet with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts
Hello Michael, you have worked at IMC over the years in various areas of IMC. Where have you been and what are you doing today?
Originally, I started in consulting, then I was in international sales, then I became Vice President Sales Operations and for 3 years I have been in product management. So I've been around a bit and had the opportunity to get to know many different customers, IMC departments and processes.
What exactly do you do as Vice President Learning Solutions?
I lead a team of motivated people who have different tasks and work together to develop a solution for our customers. There are three levels: The product managers, the designers and the product owners.
Put simply, the product owners describe the customer's requirements in technical terms, agree it with the designers as a visible solution and the development team then implements it. The product managers are the direct interface to the customer, so they establish contact or identify requirements and needs. Identifying these requirements at an early stage helps with roadmap development.
That's where I come in: Together with the team and the Executive Board, I define the roadmap and thus the future of our Learning Management System (LMS), the IMC Learning Suite. To do this, I must coordinate with customers on the one hand, but also internally with colleagues and other stakeholders on the other. We then draw up the roadmap and process it iteratively every three months in so-called "Innovation Packages". In doing so, we always try to maintain a strategic direction and look where the learning trends are going. We define two to three pillars and everything we do is ideally designed to move closer to this goal and towards learning for the future. If we make sure that our products help our customers to love us, we have done everything right!
In one sentence, I am responsible for team leadership, release management and strategic product development issues.
You were just talking about learning trends. What are they now?
The trend at the moment is moving away from face-to-face training towards more blended learning, from monoliths, i.e. large learning units to smaller learning nuggets, and a thirdlyfrom standard learning to ubiquitous and workplace learning.
Basically, we also think that soon there will be an increasing trend towards individual, competence-based learning, and social and workplace learning will also move more into focus. These are the four key trends that we have identified for ourselves and that we want to support with our tools and services from start to finish. Then, of course, there are topics such as artificial intelligence (AI).
What role does AI play in this?
We see AI as an essential trigger of automation. AI can be very helpful where connections are difficult to establish and would be very difficult to administer manually. If, for example, you ask a question in a forum and I answer to you, you (hopefully) learn something from it. AI can track the learning you have done and make it visible in the system.
For companies it is of course very interesting to know what every employee can do, especially on a non-formal basis, but rather informally. This is our starting point for the AI to establish these links and make them transparent.
Can AI also recognise what type of learner I am?
As in many areas of learning management, AI can also support you here. Learning type recognition is basically possible without AI and has, for example, been practised for some time in "learning to learn" approaches in which a learner can learn more about his personal learning type.
AI helps to make learning type identification more efficient by freeing the learner from manual inputs or tests. It can automatically identify learning preferences and behaviours and correlate the resulting learning outcomes.
The topic is strategically particularly important in terms of increasing efficiency in learning and in terms of learning at the moment of need. It is about providing the most appropriate content at the right moment. Here it is necessary to identify the use cases in which the AI can not only help, but also demonstrably offers real added value.
To achieve this, our tools must seamlessly integrate with the learning content to create the optimal learning experience. This is not a self-runner, but one needs content production that is appropriate for the learning type as an essential prerequisite. The AI can only serve learner types with tailor-made content if it is also produced and available.
In other words, what is not there cannot be displayed. So, corresponding, as up-to-date content as possible must be integrated, which is then displayed by the system. Ideally, this content should also be as easy to create as possible so that it can be constantly updated.
This is another strategic topic on which we are working very concretely on, the development of an authoring tool. The aim is to make content creation as simple as possible so that every knowledge carrier can enter content into the system. AI will then automatically curate this content and recommend it according to the type of learner and competence.
Exciting, but let's go back to the job slot. What do you value most about your job?
Interdisciplinarity. I work with such a broad spectrum of people, from designers, developers, project managers, customers to financiers and experts. That's the big challenge at my interface, I need to speak a common language with everyone that help us to reach our goal.
Which skills are particularly important in your job?
First, to understand all disciplines and to establish the connection between the individual disciplines. Second, to always serve the customer and third, to get the others on board as well. When I talk to a designer, I am not allowed to express my personal opinion, but have to put myself in the customer's shoes, argue from their point of view and consider how I can make it as easy as possible for the customer. You need a strong customer focus and the passion to satisfy the customer.
Which tool is indispensable for you?
I wouldn't be referring to a specific tool right now, but it's all about communication skills. For me, good communication is the be-all and end-all and can only be supported by tools. And sometimes you just have to find solutions yourself, even if there may not be the perfect tool for your needs.
On a scale of 1-10, how well did your studies or training prepare you for your current job?
A clear 9. My study of media informatics fits my job perfectly, that was a very small course with only 20 participants and media production was directly combined with interdisciplinary subjects. I did video design, project management, marketing and programming. So, I was able to get a good taste of all disciplines and at least got a good overview. That's why people with a background in media informatics or educational technology are predestined for my and similar roles.
Do you have a professional or personal role model?
I find Apple as a company very interesting and both Steve Jobs and the current CEO are very inspiring and visionary. I think having someone like that as a supervisor is very motivating, you can really look up to such people and let them drag you along with them. I appreciate it when people know how to transfer their passion and visions to others.
eBooks, yes or no?
I read books on a regular basis, but I only take out the portions that really interest me. I only download ebooks when I have a specific need and then I only read technical books. I like real books better in my private life.
How much coffee do you drink a day?
You could say too much. About 4-5 cups.
Thank you very much for the exciting insights and good luck with the next challenges!
Working at IMC
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Career at IMC
I have been working in the Marketing & Communication Team at IMC since March 2019. Communication, creative content and social media are my passion. "KISS - Keep it short and simple" is my credo. To explain complex content in an understandable way and thus make the topic of eLearning accessible to everyone is an exciting challenge every day. Privately I love to read and travel a lot. I am always happy to receive feedback or suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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