At this point in the 21st Century, people culture is a global environment. It’s an accepted part of the current skills landscape that specialists will be called upon to upskill managers with different levels of experience and different learning styles in different parts of the world. And to cap it all, those people will all be consuming content in very different ways.
So, the complexity arises from trying to create resources that are adaptable to a variety of cultural and personal preferences – materials that people can experience in their own ways and take away the bits that really resonate with them.
The delivery method is an important factor, too – and not without its own measure of complexity. In addition to what my organisation offers, which is online learning, you must account for how that blends with other elements. For example, learners may use face-to-face sessions, virtual sessions, webinars or podcasts – and may support those experiences with some sort of reinforcement mechanism, such as coaching.
From my perspective, then, it’s vital to ensure that the part my organisation plays dovetails neatly with the other solutions our clients are harnessing – and they’re all doing something different. In that context, one of the biggest areas of complexity is avoiding rigid and fixed approaches and being able to say to course designers, “This is a component, and you can combine it with other things to personalise the learning experience.”
My view of upskilling is that knowledge is probably the easiest thing to acquire – but unless you can convert it into a skill, it’s essentially inert. It just becomes knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and there’s little value in that. For example, it’s one thing to know what a SMART objective is – but entirely another to define one, apply it and report back against it.
Beyond turning knowledge into practical skills is behavioural change, and the complexities around that path are psychological hurdles – typically in the form of fear and lack of confidence.
Learners are seeking the assurance that they will be able to make that change in a safe environment – so it’s a delicate process of preparation to help them be less afraid to embark on the journey. It’s vital to provide them with the space, encouragement and psychological security they need to convert the knowledge we’ve introduced them to. That way, when they come to implement the resulting skills, they’re motivated to lean into the change, because they’re confident, can see the benefits – and know what sort of time period they must practice in to make the skills stick.
It's more than a process of imparting knowledge – it’s about taking learners to a point where they can do something new and different that’s advantageous to themselves and others.
With the rise of virtual and hybrid working, the training sector must recognise that anybody could work for anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time. And if you are speaking to a global audience, you must do everything you can to keep your materials from bumping up against barriers to understanding. That doesn’t mean that the resources you create should be bland – rather, it compels you to capture a tone that feels universal.
For instance, an expression like “A stitch in time saves nine” wouldn’t work somewhere like Singapore, because it’s not in the local parlance. And while ‘wellbeing’ is a very common term in the Western world, you would probably use ‘resilience’ across the Asia market.
Even if you’re materials are solely in English, as the main business language, you must take care with your terminology. All our courses – including our leadership and management ones – are in English. But we ensure that the language will be appropriate for a global audience with many different levels of experience and consisting of different generations. That’s a significant number of layers and variations to address.
Breaking down complexity
From a practical standpoint, as a provider of learning solutions, my role is focused on ideas creation – but also, importantly, coordination. We deliver some 6 million courses a year. Each experience has to be effective: learning should be a treat – not a chore. We present our flagship Management Skills series in the format of a soap opera, with broadcast-level production values. The creation of that offering – and the integrated measurement tool –involved marshalling, pooling and orchestrating a team of creatives with incredibly diverse skillsets: actors, scriptwriters, composers, graphic designers and animators. To measure and gauge impact, we work with specialists in data analytics.
As we work with a range of external people, it’s key to ensure that everyone is clear on what they are doing – and that we’re coordinating them in a way that’s appropriate to their personality and skillset. Our internal team has a shared vision of where we need to get to, but we rely upon so many other people around the world, in different cultures, to deliver the level of excellence we’re looking for.
When we’re in the process of creating our resources, our aim is to keep it straightforward – but most importantly, realistic and practical, too. Very often, what we find when we’re collaborating with our creatives and clients is that they come up with loads of ideas and want to put a lot of them into the final product. But the first thing we say when any new idea comes up is, “Will this earn its keep? Is it something that learners will find of use, or is it just adding something else in for the sake of it and overcomplicating the experience?”
For us, given the breadth of our audience, we don’t want people to be confused – so simplicity is better than just adding stuff in because we can. If anything we produce isn’t concise, easy to follow and – most importantly – practical, then we’ve failed. Certainly, if you look at how software development tends to work, there’s a temptation to keep putting in more and more features to leapfrog your competitors. We listen to what is most important for the learners and clients, and help them achieve their goals as quickly as possible. Everything has to serve the learning process. So, what we try to ensure is that our offerings are very sophisticated under the bonnet – but as simple as possible on the surface.