How to create engaging learning experiences with AI?

Ulrika Hedlund, Founder & CEO ● Jun 21st, 2024

The full transcript

Oleg

Hi, everybody! Welcome to Devico Breakfast Bar! Here we speak with different people involved in the business landscape, share their expertise, delve into the latest tech trends, and explore the ins and outs of IT outsourcing. I'm Oleg Sadikov, and today I'm excited to have Ulrika Hedlund, founder and CEO at Storyals, Swedish EdTech startup, fully focused on helping organizations train employees on new digital ways of working with Microsoft 365. Don't forget to subscribe and hit the notification bell so you don't miss on new episodes. Hi, Ulrika!

Ulrika

Hi! It's great to be here.

Oleg

Thanks for joining this video podcast. Could you please start by telling us a bit about yourself and your professional background?

Ulrika

Of course. So, my name is Ulrika Hedlund. I'm Swedish, based in Stockholm, but I lived many years in the Middle East. So, I'm the founder and CEO of Storyals, and the origin of that is the name Storyals. It comes from story-based tutorials, and that really goes into, you know, the depth of what we do. We help organizations build digital skills using storytelling. In today's modern world, it's really important to have people have a growth mindset and for them to be hungry on learning new things. So, learning has to be enjoyable. So for us, our aim is to inspire, motivate, and educate users on new digital ways of working. And, Storyals, it is a Swedish company, but we have local offices in different parts of the world, and we cater a very international audience. So, I'm very, very thrilled about helping users all over the world to build new digital skills.

Oleg

What inspired you to transition from your role at Microsoft to founding your own company, particularly focusing on productivity and technology in the EdTech industry?

Ulrika

Well, so personally, I've never had that dream of becoming an entrepreneur or starting my own business. I was very happy at Microsoft. In fact, I thought that I would have a very long career. I worked at Microsoft both in Sweden as well as in Dubai, in the United Arabian Emirates, and my goal was to move to corporates, to Microsoft Corporate in Redmond, but things changed. I think a lot of it was working in the Middle East. I saw a lot of organizations that bought the technology. They got all the best – you know, the fanciest hardware and software – but they still didn't get the full value out of it because of the human factor. Employees were not adopting new ways of working. And so, they didn't get the value out of this. And after doing an executive MBA at London Business School, I really felt that I had the background because before I had just had a master's in electrical engineering. So, I had a technical background, but after gaining new experiences and also meeting a lot of people that were running businesses, I took the big step of resigning from Microsoft and starting my own business. But I can also say that it hasn't been easy. It's been a long journey, and I think anyone who is an entrepreneur knows the ups and downs of doing business, but you really learn along the way. And I haven't regretted it a single day since then.

Oleg

I don't know any entrepreneur for whom it was easy, at least from people I know. They paid out for it either by their health, or many, many possible ways. So, it was kind of inspiration for you then. How long have you been in Dubai?

Ulrika

So, I lived fourteen and a half years in Dubai.

Oleg

Fourteen and a half?

Ulrika

Fourteen and a half years, yes. So quite a long time. And that's where we did a lot of, you know, had our family there, three children. We were really settled in. But we, both me and my husband, are Swedish. And so we knew that at some point in time, we would move back to Sweden. And I do think that Corona expedited the whole thing a bit. We got a bit homesick, and we felt that we wanted to be closer to family. But it also showed that working from anywhere is possible. So today I work daily with our production team in Dubai and with our team in the US, and France, and Sweden. But we work over Microsoft Teams. And since this is also something that we teach and something that we lead with, we also need to be really good at it ourselves. And that's why the move was also possible.

Oleg

Could you share particularly rewarding moment or success story from your journey as an entrepreneur, where you felt your efforts had a significant positive impact either on your company or your customers?

Ulrika

So, this is what's so rewarding by doing your own thing is every little thing. Every time you get an email from an individual or a customer that says, 'Oh, I learned so much!' or 'Storyals has opened my eyes to a new way of working.' those, you know, moments are super, super rewarding. So, that's the joy, right? Where you feel that you get that inspiration to continue every single day. But I think also on a bigger level, as a company, as a startup that's bootstrapped, we haven't taken in any external funding. It's all through organic growth. And this means that we have to be very, very limited in how we spend our dollars. We do not have a big marketing budget. We do not spend a lot of money on having an online presence. So, that makes it even more rewarding when large companies find us. So, recently, we had one of those. It was one of the largest oil companies in the world. They were launching Microsoft Copilot, a new AI-based tool from Microsoft. And they were launching this to their organization, and they wanted to work with a company, specifically for their senior VPs. And so, they found Storyals, and they actually wrote that they wanted us to deliver that digital upskilling for their senior VPs. And for me, that was one of those moments where, 'Ah, they found us! They put it through.' And we were there, and we delivered on that. So, that was a great moment.

Oleg

In addition to your professional life, do you have any personal interests or hobbies that you're passionate about, and how do they complement your work or provide balance in your life?

Ulrika

So, I love being outdoors, and I love nature. Maybe this is also one of the things that made me want to move back home to Sweden because in Sweden we have four seasons, and they're very different. So, in the wintertime, we go skiing and ice skating. In the spring, you can go out in the forest. And then, in the summer, you go out boating and hiking in the mountains. And then, in the fall, you can go out and you can pick mushrooms. So, I love being outdoors, and I'm very active outdoors. And I think this is a very, very good complement to always working digitally. And I try to be very mindful. So, when I'm working, I'm very focused on just work. And I'm super just, you know, in the moment. But the same thing goes when I'm outdoors in nature. I can really enjoy the experience of what nature has to bring. Same thing with being with family and friends – just being very present in the moment. That's one. I also love music and singing. Growing up, I used to sing in a choir. I tried, but unfortunately, I cannot get my work schedule to be able to do it on a weekly basis. But I do sing a lot in the shower, and sometimes at weddings, and with the kids. So, that's a lot of fun. And I do think, you know, looking at how this complements my job role, well, in my role, both as the CEO but also as an expert, I do a lot of speaking and also in our productions. in order to create engaging story-based learning, we need to create good stories, and we always add music to that. And even though I have an amazing editorial team and production team, I always have, you know, that final feedback and say, 'No, not this music. We need to change this and make it more engaging,’ or something like that. So, I do think that my hobbies in a very good way complement my work life.

Oleg

Great. When you lived in Dubai, how did you manage to stay there? I guess you weren't staying there full summer, right? You probably leave it. Because that's my question, how could you manage to stay there? Okay, I understand in winter, it's comfortable...

Ulrika

For those who haven't been in Dubai or in the Middle East in the summertime, it gets really, really hot. And, you know, as a Swede, you just think, 'Well, just open the window or just go swimming in the ocean.' But the ocean is too hot, and the sand is too hot. So, the answer to that is that you don't go outside, unfortunately. You stay inside, you go to shopping malls where there's air condition. And there are a lot of indoor sports centers and indoor sports events that you can do. But absolutely whenever possible, I would go with a family to Sweden to enjoy summer in Sweden as well. And again, since we can work digitally from anywhere, it also makes it quite easy to travel. So, that's how, that's what we did – stayed inside and then traveled to Sweden in the summers.

Oleg

I was there at the end of July once, and I tried to swim. It was impossible. The water in the sea, I think the water was something like 40 degrees, 38.

Ulrika

Exactly. Feels like having blow dryer, like in your face with the wind, right? It's so, so hot.

Oleg

Yeah, I remember I was going out of the hotel, and every time my glasses wet immediately. You open the door, and you cannot see anything. That was humidity. I don't know what was the humidity, probably 90% or whatever. Yeah, it was a pretty interesting experience. Are there any professionals or leaders in your network who inspire you in your professional journey as an entrepreneur?

Ulrika

Well, you know, I would lie if I didn't say that some of the leaders at Microsoft are great inspirations. I really think that Bill Gates with his enormous hunger for knowledge. And, you know, he reads so much, and he's also very fascinated in how technology can be used for the good of the world. So, I must say that he's a big inspiration. And also, the current CEO, Satya Nadella, has really done a fabulous change of Microsoft. He really propagates a learning culture. There's a popular quote from him that I like to use is that he wants Microsoft to go from a know-it-all culture to a learn-it-all culture. And I really think that this change is seen both with the people that I work with now with Microsoft as a partner, but also if you look at the outcomes as a business. If you look at other leaders, now that we're looking at OpenAI and artificial intelligence, I think Sam Altman is extremely humble and also has a great vision of how artificial intelligence can be used for good in the world. So, those are kind of like, you know, big names and big profiles. But I also have a number of people that I look up to that are closer to me and a lot of amazing female leaders. I have a good friend of mine. Her name is Rosie Kropp. She's extremely well-educated, has a wealth of knowledge, both in brand strategy and creating brands. But also as a coach and, you know, how to be strong mentally, so she's a great inspiration, a great businesswoman. Also, the former CEO of Microsoft Sweden, Hélène Barnakov, I think the way that she leads is extremely inspiring. Always looking at people and how you can get into the best possible output based on, you know, building peak good people around you. So, those are a few of the people that inspire me, but there are, of course, many, many more. On the learning space, I would say Josh Burson also is extremely knowledgeable and looking at corporate learning and how organizations really need to invest in continuous learning. We cannot just look at learning as something that we did in school. We need to continuously incorporate learning into our daily jobs. So, there's also a lot of great knowledge that he shares.

Oleg

Are there any specific trends or emerging technologies within the EdTech space that you're particularly excited about? And how do you think they will transform the way education delivered?

Ulrika

Going back to what I mentioned before, one of the challenges that we've seen is that investing in continuous upskilling and especially looking at digital upskilling hasn't been a priority for many organizations. The IT department, they look at IT; the HR department, they look at, you know, soft skills and don't want to communicate about technology. We see that this is changing. Having the latest technology, but also investing in building digital skills, becomes a key essential for organizations to stay in the front today. So, I'm really excited about how this is changing. And I think AI is also bringing this conversation to leaders that they understand that we really need to look at having a consistent, continuous investment in upskilling our employees and what is that look like. So, also what I think is really cool with the way that we can leverage new modern technology is that we can bring learning in a format that suits people. I think a lot of people have a bad experience with, you know, boring e-learning or boring training where they had to go into a classroom and listen to something that was outdated just, you know, a few days later. So, having modern technology come into the learning space, we can have learning in the flow of work, we can have story-based engaging learning, and we can also have blended learning – learning that suits different needs. And so, I'm really excited about how AI is becoming a way where we can make learning more adaptive to the different users that we have.

Oleg

Regarding AI, how do you see artificial intelligence playing a role in shaping the future of education?

Ulrika

Massive! AI is going to have a massive impact on the world of education, both for schools as well as for businesses. Let me take just a simple example so that we don't get to kind of too far-fetched to begin with. Take something like ChatGPT or Copilot, which is Microsoft's version of the AI digital assistant. I use this all the time now when doing homework with our kids, or even when the kids ask a question about how the world works. So, what you could do with these language models is that you can ask it to describe something for that specific, you know, age group. So, I would ask Copilot to explain how gravity works for our 13-year-old. And I get a very good description in words that he understands. Then I ask the same question, ‘Explain how gravity works for a 9-year-old.’ Again, I'm still getting an explanation for gravity, but in the 9-year-old case, it's more structured around, you know, an apple falling to the ground and imagine that you're dropping a stone versus in, you know, the 13-year-old, it's more, you know, looking at more kind of words that are a bit harder. You could ask it again, and you can ask, you know, ‘Explain gravity to a scientist,’ and you will get a very in-depth explanation. So, AI can help us tailor education so that the receiver really understands it. Now, here we're still just talking about a language model, but let's take the next step. Since you today can use generative AI to create visuals, you can also start paint me a picture of what it would look like when, you know, gravity is applied to this apple. And you get an image that shows an apple falling from the tree. We will also be able to use, or already we can use AI to generate motion graphics, so video-based learning. So again, we can use artificial intelligence to create also very live visual representation. Now, if you take this further, and further, and further, imagine that you are explaining the Roman Empire and the fall for a child. But instead of them just having to read the text in a textbook, they can walk into a world where they can participate in this, and they can see it with around them, and they can really fully immerse in this experience. And if they need help, they can have an expert by their side that they can ask questions and that can explain things to them, but at their own level. So, I see all the different components of artificial intelligence, but also the technology that's evolving will have a huge impact on learning, and you know, how we speed up the way that we learn different formats for different users. So, I'm very excited, as you can understand.

Oleg

Definitely. It's pretty exciting, but in everything, there are pros and cons. In your particular example, when you're using ChatGPT or Copilot explaining your kids how gravity works, what could be cons here? I think if they know that there is something like ChatGPT, maybe they wouldn't be interested to learn. They will do their math, they will do their history, geographics, all that kind of learnings with ChatGPT. And probably it's one of the cons. What do you think about that?

Ulrika

Yes, but if you think about the calculator, when the calculator came, parents were saying, 'Oh, now our kids will not need to learn math anymore. They won't need to learn how to count.' But we know that, you know, you still need to understand mathematics. And you first need to learn how to count, and then comes the calculator. It's the same thing with artificial intelligence. At the moment, we're saying very much like, 'Oh, are they allowed to use ChatGPT in school? And what if they don't write themselves? Or can they use Copilot?' AI will become such a natural part of our world, so it's not going to be like either or. It's just going to be here, and we're just going to have to embrace it. But with that are also the pros and cons. Even today, and you brought up that example of, you know, using ChatGPT in school. So, ChatGPT and Copilot in these large language models, they're built on statistical models, not absolute facts. So, they don't get it right all the time. But even if your kid were to ask an older person or someone else the answer to something, they also might not get it right all the time because they don't have the absolute facts. So, there are cons because it is not an absolute, but I think that there are more benefits to AI and to using it in the world for healthcare, and for diagnostics, and for education, and for production. And, you know, so I'm extremely positive that it will do a lot of good for the world. With that said, as with any tool, you always have the good guys and the bad guys. And, of course, this can be a very, very powerful tools, tool that can be used for things that are not for the benefit of the world. But here, I really have confidence in the leaders and of our tech leaders, and that they are putting proper policies in place, and that they're also putting so-called guardrails so that it actually cannot be used for malicious content or for doing bad things. So, I think definitely we will see both, but I'm very optimistic that the benefits will overweigh the downsides

Oleg

Make sense. With the rapid pace of technological advancement and digital transformation, many industries are facing shortage of skilled talent. How do you perceive the current landscape of talent?

Ulrika

So, I think that the scarcity of talent is only natural when we're seeing these enormous shifts in technology, or if we go back in history, other, you know, shifts that we've had in the world. And here, I really believe that upskilling and reskilling are key important factors. So, organizations need to look at not just finding the talent out there but making sure that their existing employees get these new skills, so to invest in upskilling and reskilling employees because artificial intelligence will change the jobs that we have today. You will not have the need for the same type of roles because artificial intelligence is going to change that. But that doesn't mean that we don't need people. We're always going to need people, but we might need to change the way that they work. And something that we're seeing also with artificial intelligence is that managers that are used to giving tasks, and giving feedback, and breaking things down into smaller components, they're actually better at using generative AI. So, this is also something that, you know, the younger generation that are coming in, they might be really tech-savvy, but they don't have a lot of experience in giving feedback and being managers. And this is a skill set that you also need when you use generative AI. So, this is also something when we're investing in digital upskilling, we also need to train people on how to be better managers, whether you're managing people or you're managing AI.

Oleg

Based in Sweden, do you notice any unique challenges or opportunities in the tech industry, compared to other parts of the world?

Ulrika

So, I'm quite fortunate that I get to through Storyals that we serve customers in different parts of the world. And so, we see a number of different challenges, both when it comes to language challenges, data power, regulations, and different things like this. So, what I see in Sweden is that Sweden has always been a country that invests in education, that is innovative, and has IT. A danger that I see is that the Swedish population is quite small, about ten million people. That also means that the amount of data that's available in Swedish is very, very small if you compare it to English. So this, of course, becomes a challenge when we're looking at generative AI and AI models that use data to build new information. So, those are some of the challenges. Also, you see different countries working together. That's really powerful, but it can also hinder some of that innovation. But again, I'm very optimistic when it comes to technology that we will be able to, you know, break down those geographical barriers. Also, that the big tech innovators, a lot of them are US-based, but that they also take an international responsibility to make sure that they also support other languages that are not as big.

Oleg

Ulrika, thanks for joining the video podcast. I'm sure our guests will find a lot of interesting information in learning space. The insights you shared are definitely valuable. Thanks for having time with me, and wishing you all the best in your career, professional journey.

Ulrika

Thank you so much, Oleg. I really enjoyed the conversation. And yes, same to you. Good luck in your future success!

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