How can you guide your workforce towards the skills and competencies you and they need? The answer, for most companies, is the learning journey: a designated sequence of activities, often from different sources and in different formats, designed to develop the skills and behaviors of colleagues. At best, learning pathways bring together disparate educational resources into rich, diverse, cohesive, and instructive learning pathways that can have a transformative impact on our professional and personal lives. Curation is part art, part science. This article offers a checklist on how to choose, organize and motivate people to embark on learning journeys that open eyes, broaden horizons and improve careers.
With all the recent changes in the labor market that have been accelerated by Covid, the skills gap has exploded; last year, the World Economic Forum calculated that closing the gap could lead to a $6.5 trillion increase in GDP by 2030. At the same time, the world is teeming with learning content. So what’s the best way to ensure people can find and interact with the right content to develop the skills needed to close that gap and drive the business results that are needed in your organization?
The answer, for most companies, is a learning journey: a designated sequence of activities, often from different sources and in different formats, designed to develop the skills and behaviors of colleagues. Enterprise learning systems – learning experience platforms (LXPs) and learning management systems (LMSs) – make learning paths a centerpiece of user experience: learn this and you can do it. Indeed, each time content is shared by one employee with another – whether via email, Slack, Microsoft Teams or LinkedIn – an informal learning path has been defined. Content curation is increasingly replacing the previous trend of content creation. We don’t just see it in the corporate world; the explosion of reaction videos on YouTube and TikTok are examples of immensely popular mainstream curation and added value.
At best, learning pathways bring together disparate educational resources into rich, diverse, cohesive, and instructive learning pathways that can have a transformative impact on our professional and personal lives. At worst – and this is far more common – they add detritus to an already saturated sea of corporate content and end up confusing and disillusioning learners.
Curation is part art, part science. Below, we provide a checklist on how to choose, organize and motivate people to embark on learning journeys that open eyes, broaden horizons and enhance careers.
What learning paths?
So, what learning paths should be built? A number of relevant data sources inside your company’s walls will offer clues here, including search queries, business priorities, research on trends and future skills, and job descriptions. Overlay this data with conversations with your target audience about their learning desires and difficulties and keep asking until you hit the root cause(s). For example, consider a colleague who says, “I’m not good at presenting.” Instead of jumping to a solution from a course on presentation design or storytelling, dig deeper to understand their underlying concerns by asking questions like, “How do you prepare for presentations?” “What expectations do you have for your presentations? Or, “How do you feel before and during a presentation?” You may find that a lack of confidence and a fixed mindset are the root causes that could shape your subsequent journey to help the learner achieve their goals. You can also prioritize some of the candidate needs and backgrounds based on time and usefulness to get the best value for money in learning as quickly as possible.
At the same time, try not to get locked into traditional business thinking. Human beings are much richer and more diverse than their corporate analogues, such as job titles, roles, and job descriptions. If we are looking for clues on how to inspire someone to learn by analyzing their job description, our success will be limited. Instead, take a liberated approach to capturing your colleagues’ imaginations. Consider that the name of your course is also important. ‘Difficult conversations’, ‘Resilience’ and ‘Collaboration with colleagues’ are examples of sensible pathways you may need to build. But “crisis negotiation,” “controlling your amygdala,” or “perspective shifting” are avenues that might intrigue and excite people.
Once you better understand the needs and interests of learners, it’s time to start creating pathways to support them. Good course design includes thoughtful structuring and sourcing.
A useful way needs an appropriate structure. Are you clear about the purpose of the path? Who is it for? Is it to instruct or inform or inspire or something else? Is there a logical order that tells a story that the learner can follow? Is there the right mix of engaging content to entice the early learner, as well as more advanced material to deepen their blossoming understanding? Do the elements complement each other or are there unnecessary duplicates? Is the overall duration of the course adapted to your audience and the expected benefit?
Next, you need to provide content to your course structure. Note that having a structure will greatly speed up curation because research will become much more intentional and specific. Here’s a checklist to help you find the right content for your journey.
- Mixed modalities. Offering a variety of format types (articles, videos, podcasts, infographics, etc.) will keep learners engaged longer, increase recall of concepts, and cater to a wider range of learning preferences.
- Recency. Fresh content is essential in rapidly changing fields, such as machine learning. Timeless classics (like this 1973 article on thinking and writing) can endure for many decades in more slowly evolving fields like writing.
- Suppliers. Include a mix of vendors in your journey for variety, as well as diversity of viewpoints and authors, to mitigate subtle biases.
- Length. Abbreviated content can be great for grabbing a learner’s attention and introducing and summarizing concepts. This can be usefully supplemented with longer content to build skills.
Course building tends to be an iterative, non-linear process. The choice to include a particular item will shape the rest of the way, eliminating or eliminating possibilities along the way. You may think you’ve found the perfect article only to then exclude it in favor of alternative videos or courses to ensure the course has diversity, serendipity, novelty, and coverage (qualities often cited in recommender systems). You may need to revisit the research and definition steps to clarify learner needs as you discover more about the content available.
Here is an example structure for a data visualization channel:
- Aperitif – Edward Tufte: Beautiful Evidence (Highlights), intelligence squared (Youtube video
- Simple and accessible explainer – The 5 most important principles of data visualization, towards data science (Average), items
- Methodology 1 — Data analysis and presentation skills: the PwC Approach specialization, CourseraCourse
- Methodology 2 — Data Visualization: Data Visualization with Tableau Fundamentals, future learningCourse
- Methodology 3 — Introduction to Data Visualization in Python, Towards Data Science (Average), items
- Example Competency Application 1 — Data Visualization, harvard business review Information center, report
- Skill Application Example 2 — Errors, we have drawn some of them, The Economist (Medium), Items
- Further reading — FinancialTimes visual vocabulary, FinancialTimes (GitHub), Infographics
If you build it, will they come? Increase the likelihood that they will by explaining and communicating your background well.
Learners are more motivated to invest their time when they understand Why a path will be useful to them. Whether the benefits are task completion, personal development, or simply the joy of learning, spell them out so the learner has a chance to weigh them against the unavoidable costs (their scarce time and attention). Consider the following ways to convey the value of your journeys:
- Description at the pathway level of what the pathway will help the learner accomplish. Adapt them to your organization or industry if possible, e.g. for a company-wide initiative, provide different explanations to each department/team on how the journey can help them specifically.
- Content-level explanations, such as why it was included or a particularly relevant subsection. These are not only helpful and effective, but also reassure the learner that the path creator has properly reviewed the content themselves (this is not always the case!).
- Social proof. If the path is curated or endorsed by a subject matter expert or influential business leader, learners are more likely to follow it.
You must also communicate these explanations and benefits to your target audience if the route is going to get the traffic it deserves. Associate it with a key event or initiative and ensure that your journey benefits from the associated visibility. Amplify the message with a dedicated campaign on your company’s preferred communication channel. Convince senior and influential stakeholders to promote it meaningfully.
Anyone in your organization can become a Curator of Brilliant Learning Paths. These pathways will play an important role in your organization’s development journey and can have a transformative impact for the individual learner. Train and encourage your employees to become subject matter experts and share their expertise by creating high-quality, in-demand learning paths. Guide your workforce to the skills and competencies you and they need.