5 essential L&D themes from Coursera Partners Conference

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Coursera Partners Conference in London, where we brought together academic, business and tech pioneers in a two-day celebration of learning. Amongst guest speakers were Thomas Friedman, Yale University, the Abu Dhabi Dhabi School of Government, AXA, Novartis, Coursera Co-Founder Andrew Ng, and many more.

Throughout the event, I met with over 40 Coursera business customers who exchanged insights with executive leaders in our enterprise track. The experience and results were truly inspirational, and worth sharing in the spirit of learning.

Here are my five key takeaways:

1. Technological change is outpacing human adaptability, and not just jobs are at stake.

As a result of global competition, AI and technological acceleration, it’s no longer viable to simply do what we did before. Virtually every job is undergoing change and is at risk of being outsourced or automated out (in full or part). We need to adapt to the changes around us or risk being left behind. To do so, we need to engage in smarter learning, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Wherever you are, you need to invest in developing and transforming skills at an increasingly sophisticated rate, as the useful lifetime for a skill continues to diminish over time. Where previous generations could look forward to a future of learn, work, retire, the current world of work is far more cyclical. For many employees the pattern is a more continual flow of learn, work, change, learn, work, change – and with longer life expectancy, this pattern will take us through a longer work journey than ever before.  The concept of lifelong learning has been around for some time, but we’re seeing more and more organizations embracing this philosophy and building a social contract where employees who invest in self-development will have greater opportunities for longevity in the workplace.

2. To stay in the game, L&D leaders must foster a self-learning organization.

Empower your teams to be lifelong learners and you empower lifelong employees. During one of our classroom breakouts, Stephanie Ricci, Chief Learning Officer at Axa, explained, “If you can build a lifelong learning journey that can improve daily work and lifelong engagement, you unlock the secret to success.”

How can we build on our existing foundations to become a self-learning culture?

  • Start with a learner-first mindset, and personalize your employee’s learning paths to their unique needs and career aspirations.
  • Allow them to access their program anywhere, anytime, and try pairing video lessons with interactive assessments, quizzes, and peer-reviewed assignments to offer an intuitive experience.

This is not a simple goal to achieve. Fostering a self-learning culture in many organisations involves cultural change, and learners need guidance, support and encouragement. An individual employee needs both the ability to learn (the right tools, capabilities and environment) as well as the desire to learn. Desire is fundamentally a function of “What’s in it for me?” Why should the employee learn? Identifying motivation is key and there are many reasons that could apply (including job security, internal mobility, longevity, opening up new career paths, greater pay and promotional opportunities).

Linking the value of self-development for the employee in terms they recognise to the value for the business that can be derived from transforming skills creates a powerful connection between intent and outcome. It links employees endeavours to business outcomes, helping individuals to feel their work and their learning is meaningful to their organisation.

Companies who are successful in fostering a self-learning culture will reap considerable benefits. Improvements in staff retention arise from staff feeling their employer is investing in their development and providing options for career growth and change within the organisation. Talent acquisition costs can fall as hard-to-find skills can be grown internally rather than acquired externally. The potential for improvement in business outcomes is also huge — improvements in customer service, leadership, productivity, time to market or market competitiveness — translate to the bottom line driving increased revenue growth and margins.

Watch how Telenor fostered a culture of self-learning here.

3. Transformative learning will close the skills gap more sustainably than micro learning.

Micro learning is a growing trend in the world of L&D, principally intended as an approach to learning to combat the minimal amount of time we have as employees to invest in our own development and ever shortening attention spans. Micro learning is usually associated with foundation content that supports the current operation skills of the organisation. Employees needing a reminder or refresher on a topic relevant to their current role may well access micro learning content on how to build a pivot table or tips for presenting skills (or more likely simply search for relevant content on YouTube).

However, such learning is not going to close the skills gap where what is required is entirely new skills or a significant change to the existing skill set of employees. You can’t teach someone how to be a data scientist by watching a 10-minute video. It requires a significant investment of time — multiple hours of learning, assessments, application of learning through peer reviews and practical application. This is the domain of transformational learning. While at face value it seems a more daunting challenge, many companies are not just embracing transformational learning, they are succeeding in driving a transformational learning culture where employees see learning as part of work, not separate to it. When this is done well, engagement levels can be very high, because the value to the employee of transformational learning is commensurately higher than simply supporting the role they do today. By definition, if learning is not transformative, then neither the individual nor the business is adapting to technological change and the risk of failure increases exponentially over time.

Find out more on identifying and investing in your skills gap with the Global Skills Index, here.

4. Hit pause.

As eloquently articulated by Thomas Friedman, “When we hit pause on a computer, it shuts down.” When we hit pause on a human being, that person starts. Navigating today’s business and personal landscape requires businesses, not just individuals, to reflect, reimagine and re-engineer our skills, and connect with a higher purpose. When we’re engaged with our day-to-day activities at work, there is little opportunity to do this. It’s only by creating space for ourselves within our working time that we establish an opportunity to reflect, to invest in our development, to consider the changing world around us and how we should respond to it. For many organisations this requires a shift in culture and mindset, but building capabilities around adaptability, critical thinking, and application of evolving technology is critical to our survival, both as an individual looking forward to the future of work, and for organisations facing ever increasing global competition and disruptive new entrants to the market.

Build your team’s capability with our AI for Everyone course.

5. The journey is greater than ourselves.

Many business executives I spoke with at Conference expressed a shared sense of mission and purpose with the attending universities. I received feedback that spending time with the education and tech partners of Coursera was inspiring and helped them step back as business leaders, and realize that beyond trying to improve individual companies, we are all on a much greater journey together to transform lives and build a future model for workforce development.

For me, it was inspiring to see how many of our partners share our vision of providing universal access to the world’s best education. At Coursera, we seek to provide life transforming learning to anyone, wherever they are in the world, and are in a unique and privileged position to work with so many leading educational providers and provide access to their incredible training content to consumers, governments, companies and organisations around the world. It is the connection between education partners, learners and customers that drives the greatest change, as each empowers the other.

It’s an incredibly exciting period to be engaged in the world of learning and there has never been a better time to be involved in L&D. Skills development combined with digital transformation are the key drivers for success within the fourth industrial revolution. By focusing on creating a self-learning culture within our organisations, we are also contributing to a global focus on education and lifelong learning which quite simply has the power to make the world a better place.

About the author
Leah Belsky is the Vice President of Enterprise at Coursera, where she runs the company’s business solution team.  She has served on President Obama’s Technology Policy Committee and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She also sits on the Boards of Engine Advocacy and Public Knowledge, leading technology and startup policy organizations that promote freedom of expression, innovation, and access to knowledge. Leah is a graduate of Yale Law School and received her undergraduate degree from Brown University. She loves building, identifying, and scaling amazing teams and products and has served as a GM and leader of teams in sales/BD/revenue, operations, new product development, GTM, engineering, professional services, and international. Leah is based in Mountain View, California.

Leah Belsky is the Vice President of Enterprise at Coursera and runs the company’s business solutions team globally. She is based in Mountain View, California.

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