In a continuation of the L&D QuestionTime series we hear from this years finalists of the Learning Professional of The Year award.

This week we hear from Kate Nicholls of Sponge UK.


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

I see various symptoms of the same underlying challenge – keeping pace with the rate of business change. Whether this is the attempt to adopt technologies and approaches to keep workplaces on parity with our tech expectations at home (or close to it!), or being able to deliver work fast enough to meet the demands of an ever evolving commercial landscape; it feels like L&D are often producing work based on quick-sand foundations. Of course, this creates a playground to try new things so I find these conditions pretty exciting!

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

Speaking at DevLearn this year gave me a really valuable opportunity to attend the conference and I found that very inspiring. Now that my role is in innovation, I tend to focus on hunting down the more cutting edge applications of technology for learning and being so close the US West Coast I think some of that Silicon Valley magic crept in to inspire us.

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

Oooh, great question! Lots of people are talking about VR and AR and these are exciting areas. The draw is twofold as far as I can tell – we’re experiencing phenomenal engagement with immersive experiences and the tech is now within reach. I think this is going to explode and we need to think carefully and creatively about how we can build beautiful and effective work in these formats.

That said, I’m also really excited by the opportunities for AI and wearables. AI because I think we badly need to get beyond the flat wall of elearning and make it personalised, and wearables because I think there are interesting personal performance use cases that concentrate on improving the life of the person behind ‘the learner’.

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

One of the barriers to innovative and effective workplace learning is a simple one that we have the control to change: the RFP process. If we could shift the way work is commissioned to avoid baking the solution in as a foregone conclusion, this would open up possibilities.

We’re  currently creating a set of services that give clients space and time to explore, imagine and ask ‘What If?’ to help tackle this to drive more courageous and mould-breaking solutions.

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

So that’s only 3 years away..! Companies will have a more diversified audience, there will still be a need to retain talent and there will continue to be a mix of uncertainty with newer disruptors coming in, balanced with a need to meet external and internal compliance.  There will be a soup of technology to choose from in terms of platforms and methods of delivery and always a need to demonstrate return, for both internal and external L&D teams.

What advice would you give your 21 year old self?

I’m far too close to 21 to possibly comment! Just kidding. I think I would have advised that it’s better to be kind than right, it’s really important to have routines to keep the creative mind channelled and that it’s OK to live with ambiguity.

About Kate:

Since Sponge was founded Kate has worked with many international clients over the long term on digitally supported learning interventions.

Kate is passionate about creative learning and strive always to design solutions that balance zeitgeist design ideas with the practicalities of the delivery format and budget. She is used to working with designers as an art director, with instructional designers to shape learning experiences and with developers and coders to define technical parameters and possibilities. Kate also has experience in print design, film and digital media.

Projects Kaye has initiated and delivered at Sponge with our team have won awards for excellence in elearning and contributed to us becoming ELearning Company of the Year in 2015.

In 2014 Kate successfully completed an MBA (on top of the day job!) her dissertation covered enhancing creative output at Sponge UK.