The thinking behind BP’s Future of Learning conference


Towards the end of last year oil giant BP ran an event entitled the Future of Learning which aimed to bring together the company’s learning community and look at some of the future trends in learning and development.

Held in Houston, Texas, the two-day event brought together 100 L&D professionals with strategic responsibility for L&D.

The event was noteworthy for the range of speakers which included Greg Williams from Wired and Robert Ligon from Linkedin. You can get a feel for what was discussed at the event from this review by Stephanie Dedhar.

LearnPatch asked event organiser Nick Shackleton-Jones, director, online and informal learning in BP’s Talent and Learning team, what he hoped it would achieve.

Why did you decide to put on the Future of Learning?
The background is that BP is seen as a place to come if you want development – we spend about the same as a mid-size university on development each year. Over the years, we have grown and acquired businesses which has meant the the L&D community in the company is quite fragmented. We felt it would be a good time to bring people together to meet each other and look at the future.

The original idea was to run an event for people with an interest in learning technology but we widened it out to cover the future of learning and included people who were not just interested in technologies but had an interest in moving the needle in terms of learning.

What drove the event aside from the agenda was people’s appetite to come together and work as a community to share challenges and identify solutions.

How did you develop the content for the conference?
We had three aims for the conference:

  1. To look at inspiration and future orientation, which is why we invited future looking speakers.
  2. To discuss here and now business issues and how to improve what we could do immediately, sharing best practice.
  3. To develop the community – building interpersonal networks to help us collaborate.

We focused on improving networking so a big part of the event was given over to helping people network and connect. Towards the start of the event we had quite lengthy speed networking sessions where colleagues got to know each other and that transitioned into working in small groups on themes and shared conversations.

We brought in speakers to discuss here and now issues as well as more future looking trends.

What feedback did you receive?
Feedback was very positive. We carried out qualitative and quantitative feedback, scoring highly on the quantitative side plus we received lots of comments to say it was a useful event. People appreciated the coming together of the learning community in BP. What we didn’t appreciate was how much appetite there was for people to come together and work together as a community. We are using an online community to facilitate that post-event.

What kind of picture is this event painting of where corporate learning is going?
It’s a big question and difficult not to bias an answer with my personal opinion. Nigel Paine made a good point when he put up a slide of a droplet of water above a pond. His message was that L&D has focused on the droplet and not on the ripples. We need to look at our systems and the implementation of learning programmes and measure their impact. We need to think about how we connect with out audiences and measure that too.

There was also lots of excitement around technologies and the impact of the changing demographic at BP. We, like the oil industry as a whole, have a v-shaped demographic which means we have a lot of experienced people approaching retirement and a lot of new recruits with less experience. Training and knowledge transfer are big issues.

Shackleton-Jones said the event was such a success he is planning to run it again this year.


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