TJ interviews: Nokia’s Ritva Elo

Conor Gilligan interviews Nokia’s Ritva Elo about her background and how the modern learner actually learns.

Reading time: 6 minutes.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background in L&D.

I’m a learning and development professional, who is passionate about people development, agile and lean methodologies, and modern ways of learning. I currently work in NokiaEDU, the company’s premier learning organisation. 

My background is in agile software development and communications, where I worked for years before L&D. The biggest turning point in my career was nine years ago when I was appointed in my team as Scrum Master, which means a kind of project leader or facilitator in an agile team. In this role I understood what I’m truly passionate about: people, teams and helping them develop.

I believe in the words of Wanda Sykes: “If you feel like there’s something out there that you’re supposed to be doing, if you have a passion for it, then stop wishing and just do it!” And indeed, moving to L&D was the best decision of my life! It still feels amazing to do something I’m so passionate about.

The focus should be always on the learners and giving them the best learning experiences to help them with their daily work.

Besides my work, I love sports (gym, cycling, yoga, circuit training – you name it), gardening and baking chocolate cakes. I have two kids – a 10-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter, who also keep me active.

What is agile product development?

Agile product development is composed of self organising teams who have the power to organise the work themselves. The line manager’s role is focused on coaching and supporting the teams rather than directing and supervising them.

The teams develop software in short cycles (usually these cycles are two weeks long), one feature at a time, and deliver these software packages to customers frequently, instead of having long customer projects of months or even years.

Continuous learning and improvement are an essential part of agile mindset and methodology. An agile team continuously reflects on its activities, aims to learn from its successes and mistakes, and then seeks to together improve their actions based on their learnings. An agile team has a learning, innovative mindset, and they work together as one team, continuously sharing knowledge with each other.

How do you apply this to L&D at Nokia?

I see that L&D and HR have two roles when it comes to agile. First, we must understand what agile means for our internal stakeholders so that we’re able to support them in meaningful ways. For example, we need to understand the role of line managers in agile, and provide them with learning possibilities on coaching and other skills that they need as agile leaders.

Second, L&D and HR can apply agile also ourselves. Some of our teams in Nokia have decided to adopt agile methodologies, such as retrospectives and Kanban boards, in our own development projects. We also develop product training with our R&D in agile mode. Because product development is done in shorter cycles than before, we have to be able to develop also product training faster and in smaller entities.

What changes are you seeing in L&D?

I feel very lucky to work in L&D right now, as there are so many exciting things going on! There are new learning methods such as AR and VR. Analytics allow us to analyse, understand and predict the behaviour of learners in ways that weren’t possible before.


I still believe that the technologies alone don’t lead to better learner experiences. Therefore, I’m happy to see that also personalised learning and user centricity (be it called Service Design, Design Thinking or User Experience) are emphasised in many organisations. The focus should be always on the learners and giving them the best learning experiences to help them with their daily work.

How does the modern learner actually learn?

Modern learners learn as needed, anywhere, anytime. Their work is often busy and fragmented, and they seek learning in the moment of need, typically when facing a challenge in work that they’re unable to solve alone. Learning typically takes place at work, but also quite often on weekends and evenings at home, or during lunch breaks. 

For modern learners, learning is such an integral part of the job that they don’t consider it separate from their normal work. When facing a problem, they immediately open Google or the company LMS, and search for an answer.

What are the current challenges for the modern learner?

Lack of time for learning is the biggest challenge for sure. I can say this also from my experience: every time that I’m browsing through the contents of our company LMS, I feel that the world is so full of interesting topics and content. It’s so unfair that there are only 24 hours in a day!

How can organisations prepare for this?

I see that in many software companies modern learners are already the majority, but I understand that the situation can be very different in other service businesses or manufacturing. In those companies, modern learners are often in the minority, as the conditions for learning are so different.

All work is becoming more knowledge intensive. We’re also starting to see the YouTube generation enter the job market, and they have a modern learner’s mindset already from preschool. I’ve seen first hand how my kids actively search for information from the internet for their essays, and use mobile phones, social learning and online polls daily at school.

Organisations and L&D can prepare for modern learning in many ways:

  • The learning content must be easily available, anytime, anywhere, at the moment of need. We need learning in mobile format so that people have access to it when commuting and traveling on business trips.
  • Your company’s LMS has to have good search functionality to enable easy finding of relevant content. Analytics and machine learning can help us recommend courses for our learners.
  • Learning content is available in micro-learning format, no longer than 10 or 15 minutes in duration. This allows people to find time for learning more easily.
  • Learning courses have to be of good quality and relevant for people’s work. According to studies, a modern learner decides in only seven seconds if a course is right.
  • Learning has to be personalised, meeting people’s needs and solving their problems at hand. I’ve noticed that people now often ask for shorter, tailored training that answers their exact needs, rather than attend generic public training.
  • Organisations have to offer tools and platforms for collaborative learning, such as Slack, Yammer and Webex.

We must be able to offer learning content in many formats: classroom, web based, AR, VR, social learning and so on. Face-to-face training still has its place and can be the best format on some occasions, such as hands-on technical training.

Many of the best learning solutions combine these formats in innovative ways so that the end result is the most effective for the learner.

So, there’s much we can do as L&D professionals to get prepared for modern learning. And that’s not all: we can also support our people on their way to becoming modern learners! We can encourage a learning culture where people see the value of learning, take time to learn, use with ease different learning methods, and share knowledge with colleagues.


About the interviewee

Ritva Elo is learning and development manager at Nokia


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