Up-skilling your workforce to future-proof your organization: 6 top takeaways (Ep9)

How can up-skilling your workforce help keep up with change? Why does digital learning need a change of pace? How you can use xAPI to build new insights into performance? and mostly importantly… What do Happy Days and Game of Thrones have to do with eLearning design? These are the all-important questions answered by Jon Kaplan, read our 6 top takeaways below!

Jon Kaplan up-skilling your workforce

About Jon

Prior to working as a consultant, Jon was CLO of Discover, managing a team of over 200 to build the skills of a workforce of over 17,000 people. Jon’s original background as a teacher is demonstrated in his corporate career, where he rolled out a game-changing education assistance program which has now resulted in over 500 employees gaining a bachelor’s degree.

Hear what Jon had to say around up-skilling on the Learning at Large Podcast

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6 key takeaways from the episode:

1. Rather than focusing on telling people what to learn, focus on architecting an organization that creates learning experiences.

“I think in a classroom, you think of yourself as a facilitator of learning. You know, if you’re a good teacher, you probably shouldn’t be thinking that everything you say is what people should be learning—you should be thinking about architecting experiences from which people can learn. I think throughout my career, I’ve focused on that. After a while, when you gain more responsibility and you have a big organization working for you, you think about how you can architect an organization that creates these learning experiences. So, you become one step removed, but it’s still all about creating those experiences that can impact people and create greater capabilities when they’re done than they had when they started.”

2. Measuring performance impact is based on how an organization articulates that people are learning, the impact of the content, and how learners are meeting the objectives of the company.  

I think about it and right now I think in my consulting practice—I actually just thought about this—as a consultant, you’re actually two steps removed, because you’re working with learning organizations that are trying to create those experiences. So, with each step away from the learners, it’s more difficult to assess the impact you’re having. When you’re a teacher in a classroom, you get a really good sense of how much people are learning from just that authentic experience you have with individuals. I mean, you see them, you talk to them… I think a lot of being a teacher is constantly understanding. It becomes more difficult when you’re running an organization and you have people who are doing that, but how do they articulate how people are learning and what the impact is?”

“So, we got pretty good at assessing how effective our training was. For example, most of our work was in new-hire training. So, we hire people—they would come from all walks of life, but with relatively little professional experience—who had a high school degree, maybe a little bit of college. But very few people with college degrees would come join the call centers. And they had very little awareness of what the financial products they were supporting, in essence.”

“But what we found is that our employees graduating from these programs, if you measured their performance in the first month after they graduated, they were performing somewhere between 95 percent and about 105 percent of the performance of the tenured peer—so, someone who was in the business, who had been there for a while, we measured their performance on a bunch of business metrics. So, you measure like the time of the call, the engagement of the customer—there’s a lot of different things that you measure. You create a basket of metrics, you take a weighted average of them, and you compare experienced people to people just graduating. They really were performing almost as well—95 to 105 percent. So, these were enormously effective learning programs. That’s something we were really proud of.”

3. Organizations should keep an eye on future skills and behaviors that may be needed as the company advances, and proactively develop reskilling programs.

“For most jobs in the economy—well, I won’t say most jobs, but most of the jobs that I’ve spent my time around, it’s actually harder to know what the new role is going to be in eighteen months or two years or three years. It’s just, things are moving fast enough that a lot of rollouts are a little bit more iterative. So, jobs change, but you don’t really fully understand how jobs are changing until you get employees in the jobs who are doing the jobs. And then, oftentimes, companies do that and they find out, “Well, these employees really aren’t successful in these jobs. What we’d rather do is have a layoff. We’ll lay off these employees and go hire new employees and now that we know what they’re supposed to do, we can define the job descriptions well; we can hire specifically for the need.”

“I think there’s an opportunity for companies to be more foresightful and more proactive in trying to understand what the jobs are like and having more effective reskilling programs. And to the extent that they can’t have those targeted reskilling programs, I think putting in place a university program, some sort of upskilling—and I define upskilling as just trying to increase the base platform of skills that are generic and transferable across multiple jobs—I think these upskilling programs are really helpful, because they help people develop the learning skills, develop the collaboration skills, develop the problem-solving and critical thinking skills, that are broadly applicable. So what you do is if you don’t really know how the jobs are changing, you can have more generic programs in place that give people a really good chance to learn new jobs much more quickly than they would if they were coming with little academic background.”

4. Content is less important than the process of learning.

“The content has something to do with it, but I think the content is less important than the process of learning. I think that’s probably what a degree program does more than anything else; it creates a rhythm in which learners have to learn. That exercise, it’s like just building a muscle—learning to learn skills, I think, is incredibly important. And I think a degree program actually builds that muscle of learning how to learn.”

5. xAPI shows promise in tracking user behaviors, providing a much more specific picture than other systems.

“xAPI has the capability of monitoring a wide range of someone’s activities on someone’s computer that SCROM could never do. So, for example, if you’re training someone to use a computer system, you can just embed some code in the back of the computer system that will connect with your learning resource store. They got trained; we know when they got trained; five minutes after this training, they went and they did these things. You can track that.”

“Then, you can track things like how long it takes them to complete a task on that particular system. There are lots of different applications; I think we’re just at the beginning of those applications. There are some really big holes in that—maybe you’re training people in things that have nothing to do with their computer, or you’re training them how to have a good conversation with their direct report or manager. You can’t really use xAPI to track that. You can use xAPI to track how they interact with a learning asset, whether or not their attention on their computer wanders from one place to another—there’s a lot of different things you can track. I think probably for xAPI, the best thing that learning technology teams can do is keep it simple, start tracking a few things that you can’t track through SCORM. Meanwhile, probably the best proxy for how effective learning is, simply ask the learner. Say, “Was this learning valuable? Do you intend to use this in the future? Would you recommend this?”

“Those smiley sheets aren’t great measures, but as a first order of approximation, they’re probably not the worst thing in the world. Really measuring whether or not people change their behavior is always incredibly expensive and time-consuming. They involve—especially if you’re doing soft skills, you’re doing leadership skills—what we call professional development. Those are things that are just difficult and time-consuming to study. It’s not to say you shouldn’t do them, but one thing you can do is do a few of those studies, correlate them with the results you get on a sort of “will you recommend this training” kind of questions, and see if you can use that question as a proxy for how your studies assess change and behavior

6. Learning can sometimes feel slow, due to the fast pace of contemporary media 

Media actually is ahead of where learning is, and media is constantly getting more rich, getting more detailed, getting more nuanced. And I think that’s why it feels, oftentimes, like learning is too slow. Because it doesn’t keep up with other popular forms of—other popular media. The goal is to get more and more information to you because that’s what drives future conversations and Internet traffic and posts online, is when people start debating the Game of Thrones episode. [19:38] They intentionally create more complexity in order to drive that conversation. That actually makes people smarter. And that’s one of the things we haven’t really figured out the creative level of ambiguity in learning and a level of complexity that makes it harder to learn, that forces people to use those muscles to learn.

Jon’s book recommendations

Everything Bad for You Is Good, Steven Johnson

“his premise is that, your parents always told you that watching TV would turn your brain to mush and video games are not good for you, and it turns out that there’s really good data to suggest that because all media is getting richer and more complex all the time, that sifting through popular media actually makes us smarter. In this book—it’s a wonderful book, I recommend it to everyone—the thought experiment… maybe it’s not an experiment, it’s more of a challenge.”

Contact Jon

Linkedin: Jon Kaplan

Website: Corvantus.com

Join the conversation!

We’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s podcast, so feel free to get in touch on Twitter @learningatlarge with any questions or queries. You can also email me at simon@elucidat.com. As always, don’t forget to subscribe to Learning at Large in your favorite podcast app and leave us a 5-star rating if you enjoyed it. Thank you for joining us, and see you next time.

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