The Digital Adoption Show: Why Adaptive Learning Is What The Future Workplace Needs

Kelly Palmer
Kelly Palmer

CLO, Degreed

Entrepreneurial culture is undergoing a paradigm shift today. In this era of technological disruption, jobs are being displaced and at the same time, creating new roles. Paradoxical but true. In fact. The Future of Jobs Report, 2018 throws light on this precisely by pointing out that technological revolution will displace about 75 million jobs while creating new ways of working and nearly 133 million new roles.

In such a dynamic economy, the key to survival is simple to adapt.

For every business, this creates a crucial need to constantly upskill and reskill their workforce.

With today’s employees facing a dire lack of time to set apart for training, this stands as a significant challenge. One that can only be overcome by encouraging to ‘always be learning’

In the latest episode of our podcast – The Digital Adoption Show, we asked the CLO of Degreed, Kelly Palmer on how companies can nurture employees to become agile learners who are always learning and in the process, constantly upskilling and reskilling themselves.

Kelly has had a tremendous career in Learning and Development so far working with companies like Sun Microsystems, Yahoo! and Linkedin in senior leadership in Learning and Development and the latest as the CLO of Degreed.

She is on a mission to change the way the world learns. She is a workplace futurist, a world renowned speaker, innovator, practitioner, and the co-author of the book The Expertise Economy.

Here’s the TL: DR version of our podcast with Kelly

  1. Workplace futurist: What it means and how it plays a crucial role in helping businesses adapt to changing trends
  2. How modern-day companies are thinking about the concept of workplace futurist
  3. A look at how large enterprises are embracing the concept of Always be Learning
  4. How do businesses execute the process of upskilling and reskilling employees
  5. The difference between and LMS and an LXP and how it impacts the learner

Why Adaptive Learning Is What The future Workplace Needs

Excerpts from the Podcast

Here is the transcript of the episode.

 Your LinkedIn Profile says ‘Workplace futurist’. Could you explain to us what that means and how it ties up to your career so far?

When you say workplace futurist, it’s really a way to say that the world of work is changing. The way that we think about learning is changing. The idea of the workplace futurist is to get leaders to think about what’s happening in the future. The people who are preparing now for the future are those that are going to be most successful. We need to talk about what skills are going to be needed in the future. How technology is impacting us. We have to be ahead of what’s coming at us and not be complacent and just work with the tools that we’ve had, we’ve got to prepare. If you don’t prepare and think about the future, it sneaks up on you. And then you realize that you are not in a great competitive advantage for your company and that you’re falling behind in terms of innovation. So, it’s imperative that we think about how to prepare for the future. And that’s the whole idea behind a workplace futuris. To think about all the things that are happening in the future, but also to help push others to think about what’s happening in the future, and to get ready for that.

When you say workplace futurist, it's really a way to say that the world of work is changing. The idea of the workplace futurist is to get leaders to think about what's happening in the future.

How are companies preparing themselves to be workplace futurists?

 

Some of the most forward-thinking companies are doing exactly what I just described, they’re thinking ahead to prepare their companies for what’s coming next so that their companies can be successful. And that is by thinking about the kind of skills employees need two or three years down the line especially in light of automation and digitization and the acceleration and other trends in the workplace that are impacting us in such dramatic ways. So learning leaders are thinking about those workplace trends and thinking about how they can help their companies be successful. I see that happening more and more, and especially the last three years where, you know, you can’t open a newspaper or a post on LinkedIn or, any online content that’s not talking about how companies are thinking about upskilling and reskilling the workforce. It’s on the top of the agenda for business leaders and also for L&D people. So we’re all trying to figure out how to best approach this. Many organizations are beginning to increasingly understand the importance of adaptive learning in the workplace. How it paves the way for a workforce that needs to be constantly upskilled and reskilled. I say a lot of people, although they might not have the title, they are workplace futurists in spirit, you know, thinking about the future and preparing for it.

One of the things that I kept seeing in the book Expertise Economy, as well as in the speeches that I’ve heard from you is to always be learning. What’s the story behind that?

The Expertise Economy ties a bit into what we were just talking about – this idea that people need to be thinking about what skills are going to be most important for the future and to be putting themselves on a path where they can actually be learning those new skills so that they stay relevant in the workplace. The idea of “always be learning” or continuos learning actually comes from the mission behind Degreed, the company where I’m the chief learning officer. We believe that a college education isn’t enough to get you through the entirety of your career. With how fast things are changing right now, in order to be ready for what’s coming next, you need to always be learning new skills. And oftentimes, I talked about that in terms of having the skill learning agility, which is the curiosity and the motivation to be continuously learning and building new skills, thinking about your future. And so those people that are most motivated to learn new skills, and who are always learning something new are those that are going to be the most successful in the workplace moving forward. Those are going to be the people that employers are looking for. Those will be the most successful candidates that companies will be  trying to hire or trying to retain at their company, people who are always learning.

If you’re a hiring manager, and you’re wondering whether the candidate is an agile learner, ask them what they learned last week, last month, or last year to get a sense if  they are always learning. The other piece to this is thinking about broadening our definition of what learning is. A lot of times, people think learning in the corporate world is just about those classroom trainings, or maybe the online modules that employers provide. But the reality is that we’re learning all the time every day from a variety of sources. And that could be by listening to a podcast, or going to an event or reading articles online, listening to books online, or a variety of things. And I think we don’t always count all of those things as part of our learning journey. And part of what we’re doing at Degreed is helping people track all of that learning, whether it be informal learning, or formal learning, or even learning on the job, in the flow of work. We need to make all that learning count so that people can see hey, I’m actually learning skills and getting ready for my future.

We need to broaden our definition of what learning is. Learning in the corporate world is more than just classroom programs. The reality is that we're learning all the time every day from a variety of sources.

Could you explain the key takeaways of the book that you and David Blake, the co-founder of Degreed co-authored?

 

The Expertise Economy came about as David Blake and I met each other and realized that we both have this passion for helping change the way the world learns and explaining what the landscape is in terms of the new way of learning and the future of work. David comes at it from the perspective of an ed-tech entrepreneur. He started Degreed and was at a few other education tech startups. So he comes at it from that mindset. I came with my perspective as  a practitioner, and as a leader of corporate learning organizations and actually making some of these changes happen in the corporate world. So that’s how the book came about. We decided to write it together. Interestingly enough, it was released in September and since then, more and more people are talking about the urgent need to upskill and reskill the workforce. The first part of the book is dedicated to helping people realize this. The book was written for business leaders and CEOs to understand how urgent learning is, knowing that HR and L&D people would gravitate towards this topic anyway. And interestingly enough, PwC does an annual report every year where they talk about what keeps CEOs up at night. Last year, the availability of key skills was number five on that list. And in 2019, the availability of key skills is number three on what’s most important to CEOs. Because if their employees don’t have the right skills, they can’t go after new market opportunities, and they can’t innovate. Companies don’t survive as long as they used to. The average lifespan of a company is something like 15 years. And so CEOs are really taking this to heart, realizing that so much of work is being automated and AI and other components are factoring into the future of workespecially considering how fast things are moving. So that was the main idea, getting people to realize this urgent need to upskill and reskill the workforce. The books also talks about learning cultures, for example, and how learning can be a competitive advantage for any company if they really focus on helping employees develop skills, for now, and in the future. We talk about the new way that people should think about content because content is now everywhere. And anybody can learn anything from any device anywhere in the world. So how do we take advantage of that? We talk about the science behind how people really learn and motivation. And then we get into a whole chapter on choosing the right technology and talking about some of the most innovative technology to help people really learn the skills that they need for the future. We have a couple of chapters on learning analytics —  how that’s going to be really key to helping people understand how their people are learning and building skills in the future, how companies will understand but also how learners will understand themselves how they are learning and building skills. And then finally, we talk about this idea of skills being the currency in the Expertise Economy, meaning, if we really think more about what skills people have, rather than just what university they graduated from, or what company they work for and if we think about skills, and how that can really help drive what work and what projects people will get in the future, then we can create internal career marketplaces where companies can actually help their talent learn and grow and move around the company to different projects and jobs, and then help people stay at their company longer. Those are some of the highlights of the book and it’s been something that’s really resonating with people.

 

In today’s world, how can actually businesses execute and adopt upskilling  and reskilling the workforce?

I think that that’s probably the question that’s at the forefront of most people’s minds right now whether you’re a business leader, or a learning leader or CLO at a company. The question is how do you put together a strategy around upskilling and reskilling the workforce. In fact, the subtitle of the Expertise Economy is “how the smartest companies use learning to engage, compete and succeed.” We’ve interviewed business leaders like Clayton Christensen and Sal Khan and Todd Rose from the Harvard Mind, Brain and Education department around how they see the future of learning. 

Here are some questions that leaders should be  asking before upskilling and reskilling their workforce.

One is, do the employees at my company have the skills that they need to be to help the company win in the future. 

So for example, we talked about Booz Allen Hamilton, and the fact that they realized that a lot of their employees were going to need skills in data analytics, and they didn’t have enough people with those skills today, let alone when they look two or three years out. So they actually put an initiative in place called Data Science 5K where they are helping to upskill and reskill up to a quarter of their workforce over the next two to three years. And so they’re using Degreed as a technology to help them do that. They’re also partnering with General Assembly for some of the in-person hands-on learning because you need to understand that there’s a difference between just getting knowledge, and then actually being able to do something with the knowledge that you gain. 

When companies talk about that as a strategy, there are two parts to that. First, how do you get the knowledge about, for example, data analytics. But, second,  how do you get the learning so that you can actually apply those skills on the job? That’s really the key — and being able to measure what skills people have when they start, and then being able to assess, and to say, okay, in, in 2019, we had 1000 people with data analytic skills. But after this program, we now have 2000 people with data analytic skills at these levels, and to be able to actually quantify that by having a baseline. saying, The baseline helps you measure the difference between  the skills your people have and the skills your people need. And now we can actually show you when we’ve actually got people with the skills that we need to be successful moving forward. I think that’s the basic idea of how people are approaching the upskilling and reskilling strategies, 

I think the other part is that you’ve really got to help employees with guidance around what skills are going to be most critical for your company moving forward. We saw an announcement recently that Amazon is spending $700 million on upskilling and reskilling their workforce, they haven’t talked a lot about the ways in which they’re going to do it. But they know that automation is impacting their company and their employees in big ways. So they want to help their employees that are not going to have jobs anymore (because of automation)get new skills, so that they can work in other parts of Amazon andin some cases they are going to help people get skills so that they can get jobs outside of Amazon. So that’s the idea around an upskilling and reskilling strategy.

If we really think more about what skills people have and how that can really help drive future work and projects, we can create internal career marketplaces that actually help their employees learn and grow and move around the company to different projects and jobs,

So, are there any other companies in your mind that has been doing this upskilling and reskilling phenomenally?

I’d say one of the companies that was one of the first to announce the importance of upskilling the workforce with AT&T. Their CEO famously said in the New York Times, that all the employees need to be learning at least 5 to 10 hours a week on their own, or their skills were going to be obsolete, and they weren’t necessarily going to have a job moving forward. They didn’t just make that announcement, they actually invested a lot in helping people get the tools, the technology, and everything that was need to develop and empower adaptive learning in order to build the skills that they need. So at AT&T they put a lot of money into reskilling and upskilling. 

Boeing is another company that actually announced that they were putting $100 million dollars into upskilling their workforce. If you look in the news almost every day, you’ll see companies that are doing that. A company I’m working very closely with is Unilever  and their CLO in London, Tim Mundan. Unilever actually put together a pretty impressive upskilling and reskilling strategy for their company and identifying the skills that employees will need to be successful moving forward, not only at the company level, but also at the functional level. In fact, they believe in the power of “bite-sized” learning or microlearning and have been integrating it into their corporate learning and development programs.

I think some of these forward looking companies are also empowering their employees to say, look, we’re going to give you guidance, but you should also think about your own career aspirations. And understand for example, if you know your goal in the future is to become a product manager, what are the skills that product managers need most to be successful in the future and to come up with your own skill plan, but what skills you’re going to need in order to fulfill your career aspirations. So it’s a two pronged approach where the company is giving guidance for what they’re going to need for their company. But they are also empowering their employees to learn the skills that are most valuable for their careers moving forward. And, and those two pieces converge at some point, which I think is a really great strategy.

There would be a lot of friction involved in getting these plans streamlined. How do you actually tackle this friction? For instance, making a person believe that they should be upskilling and reskilling on a continuous basis is something which the company should do, but maybe the individual may not be ready to do it. How do you tackle such a situation?

 

This is the part in the book where we talk about learning cultures and learning as a competitive advantage. The reason that that it becomes so important is that employees should own their own development. And we did a study recently with Degreed and Harvard Business publishing, talking about how the workforce learns. And what we realized is that people are actually spending their own time and their own money, a lot of them to learn the skills that they need. They told us that they would even learn more of it if they were given credit for it. If you look at the old model of learning, it’s been very much command and control. There’s a central organization that tells you exactly what you need to learn and when you need to learn it. And employees in some cases, were used to that. But we haven’t been very successful with that kind of model. So I think moving forward, this idea that we’re all in it together, that companies can empower employees and give them guidance. But employees need to actually take some more ownership over their learning and what skills they want to build. And then what you have at the end is this learning culture where managers are encouraging employees to learn all the time every day as part of their job. But employees also feel like they’re empowered to learn some of the things that they’re really passionate about. And that help move their career forward so that they’re motivated to actually want to learn some of these things. 

 

So I think that that’s part of the key to success when you think about employees wanting to learn new things. Now, the otherpart of your question is what do you do about those employees who don’t necessarily feel motivated or want to learn new skills? I think the reality is that the workforce of the future is not going to be as tolerant around people who don’t have the right skills. I think those people are going to find out that their skills are becoming obsolete and that they can’t compete in the marketplace moving forward. So I think getting that message out and saying, Look, it’s in your best interest for you to keep up on your skills all the time. So that one, you can help your company, but two, so you can help yourself and your careers and not have your skills become obsolete so thatyou won’t have a job anymore. So I think those are the two messages that are really important.

What’s the difference between a learning experience platform and a learning management platform?

This goes back to the beginning of our conversation when I talked about this idea that technology can do so much more than what we have been using it for in learning. So for the longest time, for decades really, the only technology that learning organizations have relied on was a learning management system. 

A learning management system was really designed for an administrator and it’s actually designed so that you could track compliance training and so that people could register for in person classroom training. That was the reason LMSs were created in the first place. And so you could get transcripts of whether people completed compliance training or whether they completed the classroom training. You could report out to management that these people completed the training. This an old model. And we also e know through the research that this kind of learning and training just isn’t effective. The stats show that $87 billion were spent on learning programs that weren’t very effective, and that most people believe that what L&D organizations are providing in that kind of model is really a negative influence on employees. 

Now, most employees aren’t happy with that. So what Degreed sought to do was to find out how can we use technology to help people learn the way they really want to learn. And so a learning experience platform is not an LMS and it’s not a place where you create content, it’s actually the layer on top that helps people build a learning ecosystem. So what Degreed does isprovide access to all the content that’s out there. It connects to your learning management system for all of the company-specific content, any paid content you have, as well as all the free content that’s availableDegreed can connect all of that and integrate all of that. And so the layer on top of it is the experience that is great for a learner. 

So you can access curated and personalized content, you can recommend content to people, and tie learning content to skills plans. That’s the layer that Degreed provides. So the learner gets this great experience. The idea about a Degreed profile is that you’ll have a learning record of everything that you’re learning, both from an individual level and at the company level, so that you can see what you’re learning and the skills that you’re building. We’re helping people map their learning to how they’re building skills, so they can fuel their careers. And so it’s everything that we’ve been talking about today, in terms of upskilling and reskilling if people understand what skills they have, what skills they need, they can actually track and measure that through our learning experience platform, Degreed. And so that’s where the future is headed in terms of technology, and really focusing on the learner rather than the administrator and also giving the company a view of what people are doing as well as the individual. 

So you did mention that it can have multiple types of content, let’s say podcasts, or books are blogs and everything. So how do you actually create this content and what goes into the content creation process?

There’s so much content out there, that people are often overwhelmed. We have a chapter in the book about this as well. It’s called “combat content overload.” And this idea that you can now learn about any topic from any device anywhere in the world at low or no cost. So what that means for L&D professionals is that we don’t necessarily have to create all of our own content. Now, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to create any content, but we can also use all of this great content that’s out there. 

So for example, if you want to learn about data analytics, or if you want to learn about presentation skills, or if you want to learn about negotiating skills, or if you want to learn about tools, like any of the Microsoft tools that are out there are Salesforce, that content, there’s so much content out there, that learning professionals can leverage it so that you don’t have to create it by yourself. So learning leaders are either leveraging the free content that’s out there, or they’re buying content libraries like LinkedIn learning has the lynda.com content or you’ll have Coursera or edX to get some micro degrees or nano degrees. Some of this is paid content, but a lot of it is free content. All of this content that you provide for your employees makes it so powerful. 

And this other idea about a learning experience platform in regards to content is that there’s two ways that people get content within Degreed. One is that we use machine learning to actually understandwhat employees want to learn. For example,say someone is  interested in learning more about data analytics, so the machine learning within Degreed will start offering up content to a learner based on what they said that they wanted to learn. Then the second thing is that then you can actually curate content, you can actually say, look, there’s an article about data analytics here and a podcast and a video over here, I’m going to curate all the best content about data analytics, and I’m going to serve it up to you through a pathway. And that can be done either by the L&D organization or by subject matter experts. You have a lot of content pathways based on different topics and different areas that people want to learn about. You need to think about content strategy in a whole new way. The role of the chief learning officer or learning leader is becoming more complex. 

As an influencer, there would be many people who actually inspire you. Who would actually be on the top of that list for you?

The person who’s inspired me the most over the last three years has been David Blake, the co- author of the book and the co-founder of Degreed. He’s so passionate about learning that he poured his whole life and his and his passion into building this company to really help people change the way they learn. Then I’d say from my end, a more well-known person, Michelle Obama is another person that’s influenced me a lot. She’s someone who’s inspired me to realize that you can take your passions and actually apply them and make great things happen. 

What is the one word that comes to your mind when we talk about Digital transformation and digital adoption?

The one word that comes to mind for me when we talk about digital adoption and transformation is Journey. The reason I say that is that I believe that we’re all on a journey together in this quest to help the world learn. I believe learning has the power to change lives and transform the world. If you’re a learning leader out there, or if you’re a business leader, we’re all on a journey together. Our goal is to always help each other. One of the things that I love so much about the learning industry is that it does feel like we’re all in this together and that we’re trying to help each other on this journey to move from these older antiquated models of learning into this new world of work and learning and that everybody I meet along this journey is willing to help others succeed in their journey. 

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