Today marks five years since Daniel Steff, Adam Steff and I co-founded Guroo Producer with the goal of making better learning accessible to everyone, and every organisation, and—most importantly—creating positive change in individuals, businesses and the wider community.
Five years later we are succeeding in having a positive impact on our clients and the lives of their learners. The task of reinventing learning at work is continuous, much like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge we will never be done.
To continuously reinvent learning we need to continuously reflect on our practice and strive to master our craft. So today, at the five-year mark, I thought I would reflect on the five big lessons we have learned along the way.
Data is most useful when enabling actions
We love data. After all, not having access to data as a learning platform (where are we starting from?) means that you’re building your learning on a foundation of little more than guesswork. Similarly, lack of evaluation data (where did we end up?) leaves you with no way of measuring your ROI.
But while data and analytics can give you interesting insights into your organisation and the knowledge, skills and attitudes of your people, they are of limited value if you are not acting on them.
Over the past five years, I have seen that the best way to avoid wasting data is to design the use of the data into the learning journey. Data should not just be something you look at after a program runs (sure, you should do that too). It should be something that drives engagement, embedding and the fostering of more powerful learning relationships. Data should be used to support managers, coaches and facilitators to build relationships with learners based on insights.
Data should also be used to personalise and adapt the learner's experience in real-time. The continuous feedback loop is so important and should be designed into the learning experience, not just the learning production process.
Data also has a powerful role to play in supporting learners in embedding their learning into practice, and at scale. The key here is establishing a data-driven link between formal learning, coaching and workplace practice. Data can be the “red-thread” in the 70:20:10 model. On this, we are just getting started!
Good design should drive technology, not the other way around
Scoreboards, awards, animations, games: learning trends come and go and each year there is more technology available to enable all the bells and whistles. Does that mean we should use them all? Of course not.
It goes without saying that design should be driven by sound learning principles supported by research and data. That said, it can be challenging to defend these principles in the face of people insisting on the latest shiny thing. In those situations, I have learned to stand my ground, confident in the knowledge that good learning design leads to successful outcomes, higher ROI and happier clients.
Further, good design means something different depending on the project and the learners involved. That is why spending a considerable amount of time on scoping, analysing and planning is imperative for success.
Successful businesses see learning as a competitive advantage
If it wasn’t clear before COVID-19 hit, it certainly is now: learning and development is no longer a ‘nice-to-have' but an absolute requirement for businesses to stay competitive.
Over the past five years we have worked with some of the biggest brands in Australia and what they all have in common is their commitment to their staff’s continuous professional development. Not only does training ensure that staff are equipped to do their jobs, but it also makes them more likely to stay around to support and grow your organisation.
LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2021 reports that 76% of Gen Z professionals see learning as the key to their professional advancement. Further, Gen Z list learning and development as one of the most attractive features of a prospective employer.
Investing in L&D won’t only make sure that your business is competitive in relation to the products and services you offer, but — more importantly — it will help you attract and retain the talent to make continuous growth and success possible.
L&D functions need to be fast and agile
Another learning from recent times is that we never know what challenges are awaiting us around the corner and the ability to respond quickly can be the difference between thriving or barely surviving.
The idea is not to train your staff to be ready for anything at any time (let’s be honest, if that was your goal, you’d do little else). Instead, it is about having solid structures in place within your organisation to enable fast rollouts of upskilling and reskilling initiatives.
LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2021 states that 59% of L&D professionals globally now say that their top focus is on upskilling and reskilling their staff. Interestingly, a Gartner survey from October 2020 reports that only 19% of HR leaders believe that their workforce can effectively change directions based on changing priorities.
Of course, planning and executing high-quality upskilling and reskilling programs require time, which means that these initiatives need to be proactive, rather than reactive. Theory also needs to be focused and aligned to strategic needs rather than a smorgasbord of learning approach we see with some learning marketplaces.
In other words, now is the time to locate any gaps in skills or capabilities holding you back from responding quickly to the next crisis and ensure your L&D functions are set up to support quick and flexible responses.
Reports suggest that many businesses are already taking the lessons from 2020/21 to support the development of a learning culture. Those who will succeed are those who move away from a set-and-forget approach to training in favour of continuous initiatives to anticipate and manage change.
Aligning learning to operating rhythm and organisational structure is key to program success
Building on the previous point, learning initiatives only succeed when they are embedded in organisational culture and structure. Unfortunately, I have witnessed businesses, on several occasions, spending considerable amounts of money on training their staff in new behaviours and skills only to have them return to work in roles without any opportunity to practice them. This could be a result of staff being assigned training that is not actually relevant to their role, or, that the training was ordered and designed without the involvement of managers and stakeholders to consult on appropriate timing for rollouts.
Poorly embedded training also sends the signal to staff that developmental initiatives are one-off, siloed activities, distinctly separate from their day-to-day role. Not only does this devalue your course or program, but it can make staff approach training feeling slightly guilty, like they “should be doing work” instead.
Further, staff can tell the difference between management that ‘signal’ that they value their team’s development by sending them on a one-day course, and management that builds L&D into the fabric of the company and leads by example by regularly understanding training themselves. With a growing number of young professionals actively seeking out companies and roles where learning is valued, the bar for what can pass as a healthy learning culture has been raised. I, for one, think that is a great thing.
I can’t wait to see what lessons the next five years bring as we continue on our journey of reinventing learning at work.