In Episode 12 of  Talking Agility, host Elitsa Nacheva speaks with Bridie Fanning, Accenture Financial Services Talent & Organization Lead for North America, about how technological and demographic changes are transforming the ways financial services workforces learn.


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I’ve often heard the phrase “lifelong learner” in reference to polymaths like Leonardo da Vinci and Maya Angelou. While there is little doubt about their passion for ongoing learning, many people believe that once most of us reach a certain age, our capacity for learning dramatically declines, so much so that the prospect of acquiring a new skillset later in life­––especially professionally––is all but zero. And I’ve often heard people say “ah, I’m too old to learn a new language” or “I’m too old to learn this new technology.” I suspect you have too.

My guest in episode 12 of Talking Agility believes that simply isn’t true. Bridie Fanning, Accenture Financial Services Talent & Organization Practice Lead for North America, has written extensively on the changing nature of work and the future of learning in the digital age. In her view, it’s the traditional model with its emphasis on one-off training sessions that stops people from acquiring new skills as they get deeper into their careers. But that model is rapidly becoming outdated, in part due to the changing demographics of the workplace and rapid technological innovation. Continuous, adaptive, “always on” learning systems are now within reach of financial services organizations.

“For the first time ever, we have five generations in the workforce all at the same time,” Bridie notes. “These different generations bring with them different expectations.”

She adds that by 2025, 75 percent of financial services employees will be millennials. She believes this transforming workforce is fundamentally changing how we work and the skills that are required. Millennials don’t use knowledge in the same way as previous generations, since knowledge is at their fingertips through Google, 4G, and smartphones. With advances in technology appearing every day, what is becoming more important is how knowledge is acquired—and how it’s applied.

“Knowledge itself isn’t really what gives you a competitive advantage,” she says. “It’s the innovation of how you use it and how people collaborate and work together.”

To catalyze innovation and lifelong learning, Bridie recommends micro-learning, a process in which organizations and employees learn in small, digestible chunks. Crucially, new information arrives in a continuous “just in time” stream.

I found our discussion to be fascinating, not only because I have the desire to learn new skills and knowledge as my career continues, but also because it is something that Accenture has been putting time and energy into—we championed the Skills to Succeed Programme not that long ago. Additionally, Bridie brought up some work we did with MIT to research the impact and efficacy of micro-learning on employees at all stages of their career—which generated some fascinating findings.

This study, which can be found here, had four groups of employees watch the same video. The first group simply watched the video. The second held an unstructured discussion after watching, with no guidelines from the researchers. The third group were guided through a structured discussion by an instructor after watching, and the fourth group answered questions interspersed through the video. These last two treatments are part of the theory of micro-learning.

A little over 24 hours after watching the video, all four groups were tested on their recall. Members of the third and fourth groups scored significantly better on the tests.

“What this shows is that it’s really important for adults to continue to stay engaged and for learning to be done in small sound bites as opposed to all at once in large quantities.” – Bridie Fanning

What excites me about the practice of micro-learning is the prospect of workers acquiring new skills at various stages of their careers. So, it turns out that being a lifelong learner isn’t just for the polymaths. It is accessible to any member of the workforce—and is increasingly vital as disruption and change continue to reshape financial services firms of all descriptions.

My conversation with Bridie was really interesting and I highly recommend listening to it on this episode of Talking Agility. Her insight, experience, and ability to contextualize complex practices are invaluable to the practice of agility. You can also find more of Bridie’s writing on the Accenture Financial Services Talent & Organization Blog. To read Bridie’s recent report, “The Future of Learning: an opportunity for financial services,” you can register here.

As a reminder, there is a new episode every two weeks—you can subscribe on iTunes, Soundcloud or Spotify to revisit our previous episodes and be updated when there is a new one live. You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or through the website. I’d love to hear from you—please get in touch!

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