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ATD Blog

Experience Leads to Lifelong Learning

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

“The future depends on what you do today.” —Mahatma Gandhi

I started working in the hospitality industry more than 40 years ago as a restaurant manager for one of the largest global hotel companies in the world. As part of my management training, I attended the company’s management training program. The quality of the materials and the engaging in-person delivery of the content impressed me so much that I set my sights on getting a job as a corporate trainer.

Reflecting on that singular experience and the trajectory it set me on professionally has led me to understand deeply the importance that a love for learning can have on one’s life and career.

When I started my career in learning and development (L&D), I found myself wanting to learn more about training, adult learning, learning technologies, measurement, and evaluation. I was truly fortunate to work for an organization that gave me the opportunity to travel the world. It was not only fun; I also learned about the learning and development field, people, international business, traditions, and culture. I sampled delicious food from all over the world! And these experiences made me a better L&D professional because I learned that taking a holistic view of people, their cultures and norms, business expectations, and learning theories and practices were all necessary to create effective L&D experiences.

As my career progressed, learning was always a key priority. Each time I advanced, there was more I needed to learn—like the importance of measurement and evaluation. I recognized that the more one advances in the field, the more one needs to know about how to prove the return on investment (ROI) and return on equity (ROE) of learning. Hitting the proverbial books should always be a first option for learning professionals. And so should volunteering.

One tremendous experience I had, and learned from, was volunteering for my local ATD chapter. I became chapter president for the Metro DC Chapter and was later asked to serve on the board of directors for the global ATD organization. This was quite the honor and helped me to have a greater and more strategic perspective of our field. Networking and benchmarking with colleagues from all around the world were important experiences that fueled my learning and the learning of my board colleagues. We were able to take what we learned and apply it to our own work.


Creating a culture of lifelong learning in an organization is a strategic decision. Why? Because it requires you to articulate your position on people and people development and how that investment impacts organizational success. I vividly remember working with a boss who had a keen focus on assessing talent. We were working together on a talent assessment interview of a senior leader. At the end of the session, my boss shared with me his view that every interaction with a leader is an assessment opportunity. I agreed with him, but I also suggested that the interaction with a senior leader was also a development opportunity for that leader. You need both a good assessment process as well as targeted development efforts to build skills that drive success.

As I look to the future, I am optimistic and positive. This is the best time to be in the learning and development field. I like to think of it as our “day in the sun.” Given all the shifts in technology and the latest sentiments around work, the organizations that place the employee experience in the center will be those that succeed. It is the employee and the employee experience that drives customer experience and customer loyalty.

Throughout my career in the hospitality industry, this was a constant theme: My managers would tell me about the importance of taking care of the employees to ensure that they are happy, secure, confident, well trained, and have the necessary tools to do their jobs to deliver great customer service.


When I became a leader, I saw this maxim played out daily.

Learning empowers. It empowers our own experiences and opportunities, and it empowers us to provide meaningful experiences and opportunities to others. Developing learning cultures in our organizations is a key strategy to creating psychological safety, belonging, and inclusion that builds a culture of accountability. Through coaching, mentoring, and providing great leadership, L&D professionals can also equip colleagues outside the L&D function to become champions in the development of talent.

Having a greater sense of purpose and meaning in all that we do matters; learning and experience can fuel both. Aloha.

Kimo Kippen is the luminary for Section VI, “Expanded Roles of Talent Development,” in the ATD Handbook for Training and Talent Development.

About the Author

Kimo Kippen, Founder of Aloha Learning Advisors, is a thought leader, speaker, and advocate for life-long learning and talent development. A native of Hawai'i, the former Chief Learning Officer at Hilton and and VP of Learning at Marriott International, Kimo has been creating life-long learning solutions for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

Kimo is also a founding member of ATD’s CTDO Next Organization and McKinsey’s Consortium for Advancing Adult Learning & Development.

Kimo’s passion for learning, facilitating, and teaching has drawn him into the academic world as an adjunct professor at the Catholic University of America, and George Mason University. Kimo also serves on the Rochester Institute of Technology Advisory Board for the Saunders College of Business. Kimo is also a lead facilitator for iVentiv – an HR Executive learning events Company. (London, Berlin, Amsterdam, New York City, Sydney, etc.).

Kimo has an M.S. in career and human resource development from Rochester Institute of Technology, a B.S. from the University of Hawaii, and is a graduate of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland's Post Graduate Program. Kimo’s home base alternates between Warsaw, Poland, Washington DC, and Honolulu, Hawai’i where he and his spouse, Dorota Kowalska, regularly spend quality time together.

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