As the manager of professional development for CME Group, the world’s leading and most diverse derivatives marketplace, Sarah Thompson is responsible for designing and implementing engaging learning content for over 2,600 employees across the world.

Figure 1: Sarah Thompson, CME Group

We recently connected with Sarah to hear about how CME Group approaches learning and development, its role in driving innovation within companies, and the importance of peer-to-peer learning. 

Doreen Lorenzo: What role does visual instruction and communication play in employee engagement at CME? 

Sarah Thompson: We’re a very international company—we have offices around the US and the world, but a significant amount of our workforce is based in Chicago, which is our headquarters. As with many companies today, visual instruction and communication is really critical to help our non-headquarters employees feel connected. We use a lot of high-definition video conferencing to help connect classes of learners together. And we also broadcast senior leaders delivering content for some of our educational programs. I think the visual element keeps these sessions engaging for learners and ensures that they feel a sense of connectedness while allowing us to have really consistent messaging and education for all of our employees.

DL: How have you seen mobile video and mobile learning start to play a role in some of the learning programs that you’ve been working on? 

ST: We are currently in a pilot stage with a mobile education platform for one of our management education programs. This is a great way for us to determine not only the appetite from our audience, but also just the appropriateness for our culture before rolling out more broadly. So far we’ve received really great feedback on the accessibility of being able to access content on a mobile platform, but it’s definitely an area we’re going to expand and explore as we continue to grow our international workforce.

DL: Everybody is talking about how Millennials are impacting the workplace today. How do you think they’re going to evolve the learning and development industry? How do you think they’ll influence how you deliver content and information?

ST: I don’t think it’s a new thing for the Millennial generation, but I do think the space is constantly evolving. So speaking as a Millennial myself, personally, I think a few of the trends that some of the younger generations are bringing to the forefront are, first, just a higher demand for quickly accessible, highly relevant training that’s both self-directed and on-demand. The second trend I think about is an increasing demand for more frequent, or real-time, feedback on the job. There’s a higher demand for transparency than ever before. And then the third trend is a stronger desire for peer and social learning. It’s really important to look at the trust that different generations are placing in crowdsourced knowledge. So think about sites like Yelp or Angie’s List. What I think that means for learning and development is that we need to consider how we might flip our traditional push for education into a pull.

DL: You talked about social sites like Yelp or Angie’s List that are more on the consumer end of things. How is that working in your world?

ST: One way we’re currently leveraging peer-to-peer learning is actually through hands-on work experience. We definitely believe and follow the 70:20:10 model of development—the basis is that the majority of learning happens through experience. So to help support experience-based, peer-to-peer learning, CME has implemented a talent exchange that simply matches project owners within the company to volunteers who want to gain more professional experience or expand their internal knowledge and exposure.

DL: What other trends are you following closely in the learning and development space?

ST: A new trend that I’m really fascinated by personally is microlearning. Short bursts of relevant content allow learners to get exactly what they need, when they need it. And that’s going to be a big area of focus over the next few years. And from the learning and development professional side of things, it also has the added benefit of being easier to maintain content in such a rapidly changing environment.

DL: How do you think learning and development can help fuel the innovation process in the company?

ST: Learning and development plays a very critical role in the innovation process, because it helps shape the organizational culture through creating safe environments and trainings where people are free to take chances and discuss and really learn from both successes and failures. Building a learning culture where people feel comfortable and supported is absolutely vital and is a vital precursor to innovation. That’s something we try to rely on heavily in our programs. We actually partner with our internal innovation lab to provide innovation programs, and we give people opportunities to hone their innovation skills by working on real issues with cross-functional teams across the organization to drive innovation.