Learning Strategy
Ask The Expert

Audio Transcript

Session Details

  • November 17, 2023
  • 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

During our Ask The Expert session on November 17, 2023, we engaged with a renowned Learning Strategist, Jerry Gschwind, a multi-award-winning consultant. Jerry has served as a consulting manager with Accenture and has assisted large corporations across various industries with complex learning challenges.

Throughout this 60-minute Q&A session, participants asked questions, shared experiences, and queried our expert on all facets of Learning Strategy.

Below is the auditor transcript for this session

John Laverdure: Hi everyone. Good morning. We’ll just give everyone a minute or two to join. And while we’re waiting, if you can put where you’re from in the chat. That’s always interesting, to see where everybody’s joining from.

Charlotte, North Carolina, is not far from where Jerry is running the show today. Abraham is Corry, Pennsylvania. Is that northern or southern? Central? I used to be in western Maryland, so I spent quite a bit of time in southwestern Pennsylvania.

All right. Well, let’s go ahead and get started. So my name’s John Laverdure. I’m the director of Learning Solutions at TTA. Been with the organization for, geez, a little over 15 years now. Lots of different hats. But we’re really excited. We’ve wanted for quite some time now to put together a program where we’re able to share knowledge, no strings attached, with our network of prospects and peers in the learning industry. And this is our first iteration of doing so, and we’re looking to do this on a pretty regular basis. We’ve got some holidays coming up, so we’ll probably skip December, but come January, or February, we’ll certainly ramp back up.

And we’re absolutely shaping this around what the learning community is looking for as far as experts across a variety of learning domains. So we’re kicking it off with learning strategy. It’s certainly a broad topic, but one that we, when speaking with clients, think about, but they’re not always certain how to execute. And it’s often overlooked altogether. There’s such a desire to execute and get the tactical items done that there isn’t necessarily enough time spent in the planning phase to make sure everybody’s running in the right direction and getting the most out of what they’re doing. So very hopefully you’ll find this to be a useful, worthwhile event.

We can go ahead and move on to the slide about Jerry.

Jerry, I’ve had the pleasure of working with for a little over a decade now. Jointly with TTA, we’ve won several Brandon Hall Learning Excellence Awards, and he’s truly been an asset to a variety of companies with a variety of learning strategy requirements. And that’s really covered the entire gamut. It’s been helping them come up with a roadmap for their L&D organization, assess their technology, put together learning experiences for high-stakes initiatives, and put together resource plans. It’s really quite all-encompassing. So I’m very excited to have him be the center of this and provide some of his knowledge to the community. Thank you, Jerry. Appreciate it.

Jerry Gschwind: Thanks, John.

John Laverdure: Yeah, I’m going to hand it off to Chris. So Chris will be the session producer and a bit of a host, helping manage the details and the questions that are coming in, but I’ll go ahead and let him get started with some initial items. Go ahead, Chris.

Chris Brim: Yeah, sure thing. Yeah. Hey everyone. My name is Chris. As you said, I’m going to be the event producer, so you’ll see me a lot on these sessions just helping everything run smoothly. As you see on the screen here, if you do have a question that you’d like to submit for our session, there is a Q and A icon across your Zoom toolbar. So we do encourage you to click that icon. It’ll open up your Q and A window, and this is where you can submit your questions that you would like to have answered throughout the session. There is a way for, if you see a question that you like, you can hit the little thumbs up beside it. It’ll do what we call voted up, and we’re going to ask those questions based on that priority. So again, if you’ll look for that Q and A icon if you’ll go ahead and click on it, open it up. If you do have any questions that you’d like to submit, this is the place to do it.

You also have access to a chat icon. This is more of responding to maybe our questions, or if you have a comment as we go throughout the session. So you’ll have the chat. You’ll also have the Q and A.

And then also another important feature is that you can turn on closed captioning. You will have to do this individually. So if you require that service, if you look across your Zoom toolbar, you’ll see the option to turn it on. It will just be for you. If you do have any questions about it, you can go to the chat, let us know that you’re having some trouble getting that turned on, and then I can send you some messages to make sure that we get that set up for you.

So again, if anyone’s having any trouble locating any of these icons, any of these buttons, feel free to go to the chat, let us know, and then we’re going to start asking those questions and then getting those answers rolling, and then go from there.

John Laverdure: Excellent. Chris, share with them how we’re managing audio for this event.

Chris Brim: Oh yeah, sure thing. And I’m going to stop the share because it’ll make it a lot easier for them to find some of those toolbars if I’m not sharing my screen while it’s happening. So if you do have a question that comes in through the Q and A, we will probably go to you and ask you to come off mute and ask that question verbally. We want to hear your voice, we want to see your face. We want to make sure that we answer that question properly.

You do not have the ability to unmute yourself. So what we’ll probably do is just come to you. I’ll hit a button that’ll ask you to unmute, and that’ll allow you to come off mute and just ask that question verbally. And we always welcome you to come on camera. We always love to see your smiling face as we go through these sessions. Hey, there we go.

John Laverdure: All right, excellent. So maybe we’ll kick it off. We’ll give Jerry the floor, and let him get himself introduced. Feel free to get started with questions. We also do have a handful of questions that have come in in advance through the initial survey that we had sent out, and we can certainly leverage those as you’re thinking up your questions as well. All right, go ahead. Take it away, Jerry.

Jerry Gschwind: Sure. Thanks, John. And John, thanks for your introduction. I’ll just add to it. As a learning strategist, and doing this as long as I’ve done it, really the way I look at it is I help clients think through the way they’re going to solve problems before they jump in and solve them. When I’m talking to my clients about learning strategy they ask me, “Why do you do it? Why should I do it? Why should I work with you?” Basically, it’s often if you’re working on something that’s complex or strategic, it’s often good to take a pause. It doesn’t have to be a long one. And really think through why you’re doing what you’re doing, how you’re going to approach it. It helps you avoid pitfalls, it helps you be more efficient. It helps you generally at the end of your initiative, get more value out of it and just to help you have a better chance to success.

So that’s kind of the space that I play in and why I really enjoy doing what I do. It’s helping people step back and think, which in our busy world is sometimes a challenge. But that’s generally as a strategist, what I do. And I work with lots of different organizations, so I don’t specialize in manufacturing or pharmaceuticals or startups or government or universities. I work with all of those organizations.

And so I think that’s something, the reason I do that is I enjoy that. I enjoy that about the job, the variety, but I also feel like it provides value to my clients, because I’ll be working with a Fortune 500 company and they have an issue, but I’ve seen that issue solved in a university in an interesting way, and I can bring that experience cross-sector to that client, and I feel like that just helps breed more innovation. But anyway, that’s just a little bit about me. I’ll shut up and answer some questions because I think that’s what we’re here to do.

Chris Brim: All right, Jerry. So the first question we have here is, how can I accelerate L&D adoption in a large and very diverse firm that has had success despite a lack of L&D in the past?

Jerry Gschwind: The firm has had success. Okay, yeah, so that’s interesting. So there’s not a burning platform for change yet. What you’re trying to do is advance change in an organization that generally feels like they’re successful. And that’s kind of common. A lot of big, diverse companies, spend a lot of time talking about how successful they are, especially the senior leaders. So they don’t usually sit around and spend a lot of time talking about how unsuccessful they are, right? They’re not cooking up that message very often.

So this is a pretty common challenge. You’re trying to get things done in an organization that may not feel like they need it. And L&D definitely, among some other functions that get picked on, I think, is in that category.

When you’re in that situation, I view what you’re doing as like any other organizational change. And so you want to put your change management hat on in that case. If you’re not already familiar, become familiar with standard change management practices. Some of the important things that you would think about initially and start thinking about would be, who are your resistors, your passive resistors, and your active resistors? Who are your champions? Who are some of your allies that are going to help you through this change? What went wrong in the past? Part of this is, what wasn’t successful in the past, and that could take a little bit more analysis than you might initially think. You might want to dig into that and try to really identify the root causes of those failures so you don’t repeat those, but also more importantly, so you can learn from those failures and come up with an innovative solution to some of those failures.

So just adopting that change management mindset. And then key there too is positioning and communication. So you’ll want to, once you’ve identified those key stakeholders and what categories they fit in, thinking through how you’re going to communicate, what pace you’re going to communicate, what formal and informal channels. Any, I think change management expert will tell you that the informal communication can be just as important as the formal communication to help really move your initiative forward.

Some other things. I’ve noticed when people are trying to accelerate or get their L&D initiatives adopted are one, and I find this is a common pitfall is… Or doing it is important, but not doing it is the common pitfall is, spend some time thinking like a marketing person, right? As L&D professionals, we often think of ourselves as really focused on learning and training and benefiting people, but you have to sell what you do sometimes. You can’t just make every program mandatory and expect people are going to lockstep and go through it. So put on your marketing hat, think about what your brand is going to be as an L&D organization. Who are your customers? What value proposition do you have? So just put on that hat, and I think you get some interesting and innovative thoughts that come out of it.

Another is, I always ask people to be very mindful of the total cost of L&D. It’s not just your investment in learning management systems and content and consultants and contracts. It’s also the time you’re demanding of people to participate in the programs. That is probably in most cases, the largest investment, and it’s usually not tracked. And it’s what is a huge source of lack of adoption. When you roll out a big 40-hour program and everybody wonders why no one’s signing up for it, it’s because 40 hours. So you want to be very mindful of the economy of time.

And then something that I don’t usually have to advise my clients to do, they usually come up with this idea on their own. But it’s something that’s really important when, if you’re in the beginning process of trying to accelerate that adoption, is look for quick wins. So don’t start with the biggest, most difficult initiative. Start with something that you can get out there quickly that solves, hopefully a very strategic need. Hopefully, through your change management efforts, you’ve really identified some of the pain points that are actually out there, and you’ve alleviated the pain point despite the fact that people might not think they have it. Once you alleviate it, they’ll probably realize they had that pain point. So look for those quick wins and get some momentum behind you by doing that. But just some initial thoughts there.

Chris Brim: All right, thank you, Jerry. All right, the next question is, how do you address and overcome resistance to learning in an organization?

Jerry Gschwind: Okay, well, I think I just touched on one way, which is to really focus on the economy of time within the programs that you roll out. Because people, again, anyone you try to involve in a learning initiative, they’re going to be pressed for time. Whether that be the participants, the consumers of your learning or the people who help you put it together, they’re often the most pressed for time, your business experts. So you have to be extremely mindful of and implement strategies for minimizing the impact of time on those folks.

The other thing too, and this gets into a larger issue of… What I see organizations often do, and I have a particular bias here, is this idea of whether you are trying to get people through learning that’s good for them. You’re like the cafeteria in elementary school, like line up and here you go and this is what you’re eating, or whether you are offering learning to people who may or may not participate in this, right?

And there are certain things in a learning ecosystem that people have to do. They have to do compliance training, they have to do things that relate to regulatory or legal requirements. But almost everything else could really be optional. And I find that a lot of organizations kind of go overboard in making things mandatory. And when you have more of a mindset of, “Well, I’m going to offer things to people, I’m going to be a service provider. I’m going to treat my learners as customers that have decision-making autonomy, despite what their managers may tell them to do, or not tell them to do.”

It also forces you to really focus on two key things, I think. What makes my learning program relevant to these people, and what makes it interesting and attention-getting? And that’s, I did that in the wrong order. How can I get their attention to get them interested in participating in this thing? And then once they’re in it, they recognize immediately how valuable and relevant it is.

So I think you combine, you’re putting things out that are a reasonable size, easy to consume, fit into the flow of work, fit into how people are actually working within your organization. You get their attention and then what you deliver to them is something that’s really relevant. It’s really going to improve their skills or solve a problem that they have. I think those are some key ways of really breaking down that resistance. And then culturally, as that gets out there, people will expect like, “Oh yeah, when we get a program from our L&D organization, it’s going to have these characteristics. I’m going to pay attention, I’m going to get involved.”

Chris Brim: All right, our next question is, what is the role of leadership in driving learning initiatives, and how can leaders be more effective in this area?

Jerry Gschwind: So leaders have a huge role in driving learning effectiveness in an organization, and research will tell you this. So there’s some very good research out there that will tell you that when you are involved… Just take the basics. You have a manager involved in a learner’s training program somehow. That learner is going to get a lot more out of this program.

There’s a program that I work on with one of my manufacturing clients. It’s a leadership development program, and we heavily involve the managers, understanding of course, that there’s this research out there and that this is helpful. But also given that it’s a leadership development program, we recognize how important it is for that leader to act as a coach for the manager who’s going through the program.

And what we find is when there is… We’ve done our best to facilitate this. I’ll admit it doesn’t always work out. We have a situation, to be specific, where we have the CFO is the senior leader and there are participants going through the program. And as one might imagine, that CFO is pretty strapped for time, so that coaching relationship isn’t as effective, and we’re looking for ways to sort of add coaching support to that participant.

But the people who have this active relationship with their manager in the context of learning, those people get so much more out of the program. And we measure, in this situation, we measure it. We measure people’s skill increases, both the manager’s perception and the learner’s perception. We see that those folks that have that connection do a lot better. We’ve seen leaders, who’ll actively even do their own little role-play exercises in their one-on-ones to practice skills. I mean it’s really, when that’s super effective, it’s amazing to see.

So again, that’s a tremendous role that they can play. And it’s often difficult, though, to achieve. One of the things that you can do to increase adoption of that behavior is to work on your senior leaders, or whatever level you’re trying to get to participate, on their coaching skills because that’s the key skill that people need to have. And they need to have an interest in it, and they need to have some time to do it as well. But it’s coaching because that’s the role that those folks play in the learning process. But it’s one of the biggest things you can do, and it’s one of the best supported by research.

Chris Brim: All right. Our next question is, how do you balance digital and in-person learning experiences in a blended learning environment? Or blended learning approach, sorry.

Jerry Gschwind: Yeah. So there are dozens of factors to consider when trying to set up a blended learning experience that includes digital and face-to-face. I think, just to step back a little bit, I think the pandemic actually really helped us all as professionals tune in to this, because there are many of us who’ve been advocating for years to put blended learning experiences together in certain situations, and then have found that there’s resistance to that because people just like classroom training. There are many good reasons to like classroom training, so putting that kind of program together was difficult. But the pandemic put everybody in kind of a virtual situation and forced people to change and think differently. And I think a lot of organizations learned that they could be very effective doing certain things virtually and online. So with that backdrop, I think we’ve been able to experiment with blended learning programs a lot more frequently and in a more accelerated fashion.

And what I’ve seen to be really effective is, to think about what the media, or what is the modality affords you, from the perspective of the learning objective that you’re trying to achieve in the experience. So if you, let’s say are trying to promote, you’re doing let’s say a customer service course, and you are trying to develop empathetic listening skills between your customer service representatives and your customers. That is a very difficult thing to mediate through a one-on-one, like computer-to-person interaction. Whereas to be able to see somebody do that effectively, you need to observe them, right?

Maybe someday as AI advances we’ll have better technology to do that, but to do that either in a classroom or a virtual classroom environment is going to really be one of the most effective ways to teach that skill. Whereas understanding, let’s say you have some product knowledge that you need to understand and be able to recall. If you’re a sales rep who needs to be able to recall on the fly, very complex product knowledge, a lot of that education can be done online. So just really thinking through the appropriateness of the media.

And when it comes to the classroom too, recognize the social value of the classroom experience. So as learners, as learning professionals, we’re often laser-focused on our objectives and learning effectiveness and whatnot, but there really is this very valuable social component, and there’s even research to suggest that people learn differently in a social context. So when they are learning in a social context, they can remember things a little bit more effectively. Different neurons in the brain are activated when you’re working around other people. It has to do with peer pressure and some anthropological things I’m not an expert in, but it is very interesting research.

And so when you’re designing those classroom experiences, I say stay away from lectures as much as you can, right? Limit it. When you create a classroom experience, make it interactive, put people in groups, get them interacting together, and create a social experience for them. You’ll find that that’s effective.

So again, that balance I think really starts with looking at your learning objectives, lining them up with the most appropriate modality for them, and then you’ll find that those experiences are really effective and really enjoyable too.

Chris Brim: All right, and we did have a response in the chat, I believe to the question you were just answering from Brian. And Brian, if you want to come off mute and add a little bit more context to it, maybe put something in the chat or you can use the reaction to raise your hand. I’ll just read the message for now. It says the pandemic helped my leadership embrace new L&D practices, taking us from in-person classroom training to virtual or fully autonomous online training. Let me see here.

Brian: Oh, there we go. I’m now able to come off mute. Sorry for not being this morning. Yeah, I’m happy to speak to that. I work for a large financial services institution that had more of an antiquated philosophy towards L&D prior to the pandemic. Coincidentally, I was hired to modernize our philosophy and practices as well as our tooling and programs. We were met with much less resistance because managers and leaders didn’t have the option to do things the traditional route, which was in person or via the classroom. So we not only launched an internal university, we launched a multi-regional, really intercontinental leadership development program. We were able to achieve many of our global L&D objectives faster than initially anticipated because of the in-person outage. So it was a bit of a blessing in disguise in that setting, but I’m curious if anybody else experienced that.

Jerry Gschwind: Brian, I have a question for you. Has this stuck with the organization, right? Now that the pandemic’s over and now that you could do a lot more in person, is this idea that, “No, we can be effective in these other modalities,” still there? Or is the resistance creeping back in for your organization?

Brian: That’s a very timely question. It has stuck to a degree. We’ve definitely regressed a little bit in terms of leadership mindsets. I think there is an embrace of seeing people talking to people and interacting with people, and that’s damaged the viewpoint of some of the online tooling and technological tooling that I’m trying to implement. So it was a very steep curve at first. It has flattened a little bit. I would say the trajectory is still looking up and the attitude is still positive towards this, but it’s definitely slowed down a bit.

Jerry Gschwind: Got it. Okay.

Brian: Thanks for letting me speak.

John Laverdure: Just a quick note for everyone. I know we only have so much time for this and we don’t want to leave any stragglers, so don’t worry if we have kind of a backlog of questions and we’re not getting to them, we’re going to take the time to respond to those offline and make sure we get you answers to your questions. All right. Sorry, go ahead Chris.

Chris Brim: Oh yeah, no problem. Okay, so our next question is, how do you adapt learning strategies to cater to a global and culturally diverse workforce?

Jerry Gschwind: Right. So I would say maybe the question I’d like to answer is not adaptive strategy, but how your strategy accommodates that. So when you’re looking at a global and culturally diverse workforce, what are some of the things you need to make sure that they’re incorporated into your learning strategy? And we’ve experienced this firsthand with one of the clients that I’m working with that has distributed workforce across North America, Europe, and Asia. And what we found is involving that, the folks that are in these other constituencies outside I would say maybe where your headquarters is, involving them early in the process.

And what we’ve done is created pilot experiences that would allow those folks to provide, to go through programs on a very slower pace and then be able to provide a lot of feedback and then influence the design of those programs. So we put up, basically, a continuous feedback and improvement loop with our initial rollout to the global community of this company. And then they’re seeing the changes that we’re making as we go, and are extremely appreciative, and that’s creating buy-in. So I think just being mindful that that’s going to be a challenge, depending on which region of the globe you’re coming from, and involving key stakeholders from those regions early in your design and your development, not just in the rollout process.

Chris Brim: All right, thank you so much. So the next question is, what are the latest trends and innovations in corporate learning and development that you find most exciting or promising?

Jerry Gschwind: Yeah, I think, I already touched on this. I think one of them is what’s happened with the pandemic and this trend that’s pushed a lot of organizations to really think about blended learning experiences. We’ve been talking about that for so long. But again, we’ve met this resistance, and that’s really helped break a lot of resistance down, and I think organizations are finding that, wow, there’s all these effective ways to deliver training.

I think also the idea, and some of this I think is technology-driven and isn’t actually great, but the general idea is that learners can be drivers of their own learning. When I say it’s technology-driven, I think there are a lot of learning technology providers out there that would love to sell you this AI-driven, everybody just goes to the platform and picks and chooses what they want to do, and they get exactly the perfect learning curriculum for their individual needs.

And I think most of us in the profession realize that some of that’s really good, but the organization does sometimes have to do things in a prescriptive fashion. People aren’t always going to know exactly what they need to learn to do their jobs effectively. And that’s what we can do as learning professionals, is be that bridge between the business and the learner to make sure that they are getting what they need.

But still, that idea that to keep as a profession, keep us tuned into that, these are people that have choices and interests and are autonomous decision-makers, that we need to sell what we’re doing. We need to make it appealing, we need to make sure it’s relevant, that it fits within their workday. I think that that trend is a positive one.

And then there’s always a lot of talk about AI, what does AI mean for learning? And I’m excited about AI, I think for our profession. There are a lot of things that happen in the L&D profession that are really tedious that I think AI can help us with. We do a lot of writing, and if we can speed that writing up, boy, we can deliver a lot more, right? We can get through projects a lot faster.

I think there are also tremendous opportunities for AI to be built into our learning authoring software. So part of what I do as a learning consultant is when companies have bought into a strategy and they want to execute it, I oversee projects that build e-learning and instructor-led training and whatnot. So I have lots of conversations with the developers on my team that work with these authoring tools, and when I hear some of their struggles and some of the tedium involved, right? And we’ve had some conversations about AI can just kind of eliminate a lot of that and make things go a lot faster.

The other, I think huge opportunity there would be in quality assurance. I think AI can do a lot to help us quality assurance our learning deliverables and move that along faster. So I think, again, I think AI is going to help us get a lot more done. It’s going to raise the bar unfortunately, for what we’re tasked to do, but when it progresses a little bit more than where it is now, I think it’s going to be a very valuable tool, and it’s an interesting trend to keep an eye on.

Chris Brim: And remember, if you have a response to something that Jerry said, feel free to put that in the chat and we can try to get you off mute so we can have more of that conversation. And in our Q and A, we have a question here. It is from an anonymous participant. But it says, what are your key strategies for enhancing learner engagement in a digital learning environment?

Jerry Gschwind: Yeah, so there are a lot. First, I think you have to think very carefully about the duration and pacing of the experience. One of my clients was a pharmaceutical company, and we put together online, asynchronous, cohort-based leadership programs for this client. And I worked on the strategy and the learning experience with the leadership development team. When we first started out, the idea was, “We have all this stuff people need to learn, it’s going to take a while, and that’s okay.”

So we had a 12-month program, and each month had a different focus, and lo and behold, after three or four months people started not, participating in a lower frequency. We would measure engagement, we’d see the activity levels go down, and people would even drop out. And so we reached that conclusion, “Hey, as much as we want to teach all of this stuff, we’re going to have to meet people where they are.”

And we broke it up into what we call focus tracks, which I thought was a really good move. And I encourage, whenever I hear somebody wants to do a one-year experience, I usually say, “Are you sure?” Those focus tracks were, I want to say three or four weeks or four to six weeks maximum, and they really zeroed in on a particular skill, and then you could come back to the program later and there was more choice involved in terms of that curriculum. That helped a lot, right? Culturally that really worked for that organization. So I think engagement often is a function of time and pace and quantity of what you’re asking people to do.

I also think that in an online program, the facilitation function is often overlooked and underestimated in terms of the work effort. When you have an online program, especially one that’s cohort-based, or maybe even if it’s not cohort-based, a facilitator can play a tremendous role in reminding people that things are upcoming and checking in with people. When people are falling behind, just checking in.

We have a program, it’s the same program as before, this manufacturing company. And when people fall behind, we have coaching sessions with them. We actually get in a meeting and coach them and try to figure out what’s going on. We don’t just rap them on the wrist and say, “You’re behind and we’re going to kick you out.” We try to work with them on strategies to help them catch up.

And then speaking of that, being upfront and identifying, “Okay, here are tips for success for you as a learner as you go through this,” can also be helpful. Even little things like, “Book time on your calendar for doing this,” can be helpful. In fact, in one experience for an accounting firm I worked on that I thought was very interesting, we had a hundred percent engagement. Part of that I think is the accounting profession. I think the accounting profession is very obedient, I guess. Very follow the rules. And that kind of makes sense. Auditors, they’re all about helping other people follow rules so they follow rules themselves.

But more importantly, what was unique about this, this was an online experience, but the way it was structured was, that we’d do it over four days, right? We’d have a kickoff meeting in the morning. Then it was online, you work with asynchronously with your team. So there were online resources, online discussion, and maybe a few small group meetings that you would do just kind of ad hoc. And then you come together at the end of the day for another live session where you’d sort of debrief and present what you come up with if there was an exercise, or you just do a debrief discussion. And what we found is people did everything, and they did everything on time. And the organization provided them the time to do this, too.

It was like, you were considered during these four days, it was run a lot more like a classroom experience. So you were provided with these four days of learning. You would go get a few things done, but the primary thing was learning. And I think we throw a lot of online solutions at people without accounting for when the hell are they going to get them done. We just figure I hear all these phrases, “On their own time,” or, “They’ll fit it in,” or… Aren’t they busy? They’re not just sitting around, or is the job of the L&D profession just to mop up all that extra unproductive time? Hopefully not. Hopefully not.

So organizations are happy to make time for classroom training because that’s a physical movement of a person into space. But oftentimes with digital learning experiences, we just think that it’s just going to somehow get absorbed into the workday, and we’re shocked when people fall behind or don’t have time to do it. I think it’s important to try to have those conversations early on with leadership, with your key stakeholders or sponsors around. “Okay, so where’s the time going to come from to do this,” right? And when there’s time your chances of success are [inaudible 00:39:44], as I saw at this accounting firm. Everybody did everything.

Chris Brim: Okay, excellent. And I see that the person who submitted this question is here, Steve. So Steve, if you want to add a little bit to this, let me know and I’ll take you off mute. The question is, what skills do you think will be most critical for professionals in the next decade, and how can organizations prepare for those emerging skill needs?

Jerry Gschwind: I’ll take it broadly as skills throughout organizations, I guess. I’m not sure if they meant learning and development or if they meant people in general, and I don’t know that I have the expertise to actually answer that. That’s a pretty broad question. If I have the expertise to answer that fully. But what I can say I think is, because you’re probably gathering, I do a lot of work in the leadership development space, is that I think for leaders, it’s been a focus for a while, but I’m seeing it really heat up, I think is two things. I think emotional intelligence and something we’ve talked about before, which is coaching. That’s been an emphasis for a while, and I think it’s going to continue to be an emphasis, the simple challenge of getting a leader or a manager to stop doing work and start managing people.

And one of the top skills that they need to usually learn, they don’t always have this skill, where they can have the most impact immediately, is coaching, seems to me. And then again, emotional intelligence goes hand in hand with almost everything that a leader does. And so that’s not something you teach in a day. That’s something you teach through good habits over a lifetime. But promoting that and then providing practical ways of practicing to improve your emotional intelligence is, I think, really, really critical. I see those two skills… Again, it’s not my personal crystal ball, this is what I’m seeing clients really starting to and continuing to focus on, and I think will be sustained down the road in the leadership development space.

John Laverdure: Actually, Chris, I think I’m going to jump in with a quick question because it actually came up yesterday with a client. The client situation was that they’re kind of the product of a lot of acquisitions between… And really the desire from the top is for them to function cohesively and to have some shared services and all of that, but in practicality, they never really got melded effectively, and they’re very, very siloed as a result. Just wondering if you have any thoughts around strategy or approach to start driving that cohesion.

Jerry Gschwind: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s important, I think if you’re working on a learning strategy in that situation, to recognize that a large part of that problem is really just with senior leadership. There may be limits to what you can accomplish. So if you have, one of your silo leaders has been running, I’m thinking of a specific client, has been running the largest plant that employs the most people and they’ve been in the company 30 years and they’re resistant to change, well, you’re not going to put them through some learning experience, or some learning strategy isn’t going to fix that problem. The CEO is going to have to deal with that person. That’s going to be something that’s between the two of them, okay? So there are certain issues that create those silos that you may not be able to tackle.

But I do think where you can be effective and make a difference is the way that learning can have… I think it’s interesting that learning can have a really large impact on culture. And learning, I wouldn’t say, learning and development can’t necessarily create your culture, but it can operationalize a culture that the organization is heading toward. And I think a way to start is to look at the company’s values. You ask yourself, are the values defined? A lot of times they are, but a lot of times they’re just on a website somewhere and no one really thinks about them.

But as long as they’re defined, and then you have consensus from your senior leaders that, “Yeah, these are values we want to practice.” And then as long as also those values are sufficiently differentiated and relevant to your organization, they’re not just… You know, like integrity. I mean integrity is an important value, don’t get me wrong, but every company should have integrity. Is there something unique about your values, something interesting about them that really does relate to the business that you do?

If you’ve got all that, then learning and development can do a lot to operationalize the values. I always recommend that, in learning programs, you tie back to the values wherever you can. And you can do it. It’s very simple, in some cases. You can say, “Hey, this program’s all about X,” doing some skill or achieving some learning objective, “but we want you to know that when you’re done with this thing, it’s going to help you. It’s going to help you live this value.”. Just reminding people that the thing that you’re about to learn relates to one of the values and that simple act of doing that reminds, it says, “Oh yeah, that’s right. We’ve got the participants [inaudible 00:45:35].” “Oh yeah, we have these values. Oh, I’m helping get… Okay, I got it.” It shows employees that the values matter and that the company’s paying attention in trying to operationalize them.

Working hand in hand with your broader talent organization and then making sure that you’re building values into the performance evaluation process, and that when values aren’t being demonstrated, that you have ways of helping people learn how to demonstrate those values too, can help. Now all of that I think helps you build culture, but you got to start with knowing what that culture is, having buy-in around that culture and having some things defined. And that’s going to be a conversation between senior L&D and some senior leaders. So again, once you have that, pursuing it that way can make a big difference.

John Laverdure: Awesome. Thanks, Jerry.

Chris Brim: All right. So we’ll look to our next question. What strategies do you recommend for fostering a culture of continuous learning within an organization?

Jerry Gschwind: Okay. Yeah. A lot of clients I work with, especially if they feel like they have a burning learning pain point, think about learning almost like a vaccine. “I have salespeople who just don’t pay attention to their tracking and their administrative duties and working within salesforce.com, and we’ve got to get them trained up so they know what they’re doing, and then that’s it. Okay, then we’re done. Then I’ve vaccinated my sales force, then they will all go home at the end of the day and make sure they fill out their call reports and everything will be perfect. Then I’ll know what they’re doing.”

And we all know that doesn’t work, because training isn’t a vaccine. Another way to think about it is, that we shouldn’t think of training or learning in general as event-based. And that’s another pitfall that people fall into. They’ll, “Well, if I have a course or I have a class, we put it out there, people take it, they’re done. They fill out an evaluation, they’re trained. They’ll remember every single thing in there, and they’ll go off and they’ll be perfect.”

Learning is a continuous process. When I talk to my clients, I talk about learning happening in a cycle, in three steps. And when you’re designing programs and learning strategies, I think it’s important to keep all three of these things in mind because it does help you design a little differently, right? The first phase is the phase where we often spend the most time, where people are the most comfortable and where people focus the most, is the phase when people are novices when they’ve never done something before or they’re really bad at it and they really need to learn fundamental things, usually through formal training.

The second phase though is the phase I call proficiency. That’s when people are trying to gain proficiency. Rarely are people perfect and expert like after a training class. They need to take some time to do things on the job and then gain a certain level of proficiency where people say, “Yeah.” Usually, the measure is, that this person can do these, two standards independently, without assistance. That’s one typical way to define proficiency.

But then I think there’s a third stage when you are better than proficient. When you’re an expert, you can teach others how to do this thing. And more importantly, when you can come up with better ways of doing it, when you can come up with innovative solutions.

The second phase we sometimes spend time on, we providing performance support. We provide follow-on training, we provide reinforcement training, we provide coaching. But that third step we often forget about. But what we should be doing in that third step is harnessing the knowledge of those experts and feeding them back into those initial programs that we have that are formal learning.

One of the ways that we do this, again in the leadership development realm, is we take the graduates of our leadership development programs and try to have them come back and act as coaches or guest speakers, or record videos of their experience applying skills. And that becomes just part of the program. So when you think about it as a continuous cycle just around a particular set of skills or around a program, then your program will continuously improve on its own.

Chris Brim: And we had a few comments coming in. “Yeah, Brian, I think we agree.” He said, “Med school model, see one, do one, teach one.”

Jerry Gschwind: Yep. It’s tried and true.

Chris Brim: And Dawn, I see your smiling face and your question. It was, how do you approach the personalization of learning experiences in a diverse workforce? Did you want to come off mute and add any more to that?

Dawn:  There we go. Sorry about that. Trying to unmute. Yeah, I know it’s a real challenge for organizations to figure out how to teach their learners when everybody brings such a different experience into the learning environment. So kind of wondering what your thoughts are around how you approach all the different backgrounds that people will have, and that they’ll view learning in a different way very often because of those backgrounds.

Jerry Gschwind: Yeah, it’s such a big question. Yeah. Are you looking at something specifically on this, or is it more your general interest in how to do this? I’m just curious if you have a specific problem you’re trying to solve that I can speak to as well. Just general? I can’t hear you. Sorry.

Dawn: There. Sorry, I wasn’t able to unmute. Okay, there. No, not a specific issue that I’m dealing with. It’s more just on a general level.

Jerry Gschwind: Yeah. So I think part of this issue can be addressed early when you’re doing broad organizational needs analysis or specific needs analysis around a program. Just trying to make sure that you’re representative of your audience when you’re putting together either surveys or focus groups or however you’re assessing those needs. So the problem I think often starts if that’s skipped and people do a shortcut toward determining what those objectives are or what those needs are, without involving learners. Which you sometimes have to do, I’ll admit. You don’t do a full-blown needs analysis for every single thing that you put together. But if it’s a complex, high impact, broadly impactful program that’s going to go out to a lot of people that are really diverse, getting learners involved early is a good way to identify what those specific needs and [inaudible 00:53:05] source. Then you at least come to the design process with an understanding.

You can also maintain, if you can maintain a group of stakeholders that can act as reviewers along the way too, that are representative of your different segments, that’s important.

I think technology can help quite a bit with this too, if it’s part of your program or all of it, is a digital experience. Thankfully today you can use learning management systems and other learning platforms to create personalized learning paths, and even allow learners to configure them themselves to a degree or completely. So I think that’s a huge benefit that we have now that we didn’t have, let’s say 20 years ago.

And I think also within an experience, giving people the opportunity to share what they know. It’s something that we sometimes forget about. We have so much we want to explain in a learning program, so much we want to tell. So many things we want people to practice and get right, we forget that… Going back to, for those of you who are familiar with constructivist theory, people always bring their experience into any learning experience, and they generally have to take whatever you tell them or whatever they practice or whatever they discuss and connect it to what they already know.

And when you allow people to express what they already know and get that out there, then you’re allowing that diversity to flow throughout the group. And you may end up with some innovative thinking out of that too, that you didn’t plan for. But I think that’s when you get down to the micro level, creating that ability to have dialogue about what you’re bringing, what your perspective is for each individual, I think is helpful too.

Chris Brim: All right. Now, Jerry, this next question comes with a warning because we have about five minutes remaining. It says, could you share a case study or example where your learning strategy significantly impacted an organization’s performance?

Jerry Gschwind: Yeah. I’ve brought it up quite a few times. It’s top of mind for me because I work with this client every week and we’ve also, won a Brandon Hall award and we’re going to be doing a workshop down at the Brandon Hall Awards conference in February.

This is a manufacturing client. In a nutshell, we very deliberately created a learning experience and a strategy around their leadership program that was zeroed in on skills that they knew they were sort of vulnerable with. We also were very tuned into their values and their culture. So we also made sure that that experience fit the values in the culture and addressed things in a way that melded with that culture and reinforced the culture. So the thing I said earlier about connecting to the values, we did that within that program.

And we also very… I’ll give a lot of credit to the client for this. She had a huge appetite for it, very intensely measured. So every couple of weeks there’s some kind of pulse survey, and we are very rigorous about going through every single piece of feedback we get and either deciding that we need to address it or not address it, and address every single thing that we decide to address. And then also we come back and inform all the participants about what we’ve done.

So the results we’ve seen have been really striking. We’ve seen specific skill increases. We measure the participant’s perception, but also the manager’s perception. We compare those. We look at performance within simulations and compare before simulation one to simulation two, and we’re seeing all those differences, and we’re seeing pretty much across the board upskilling impact, to the point where it’s come to the attention of the CEO who’s been very, very complimentary of the program because the impact is being felt, not just measured. So that was, I think, a case of just being very intentional and taking your time at the beginning and then as a result, having a big impact.

Chris Brim: Awesome. Brian, I see you put a comment in the chat. Did you want to come off mute? I can just read it for you.

Brian: Yeah, sure. And what I mean by my comment is, I try to establish standardized elements within the infrastructure of programs, but allow for cultural and regional variations. So we have an Asia Pacific group that’s much more social than our North America and EMEA group. So we build in more time for conversations, and we make it a little more discussion-based, whereas our North America and EMEA colleagues like things a little more hardened and definitive. So we do more case studies, activities, role plays and the like, but everything else about the infrastructure of the programs remains the same: philosophies, timing, cadence, and most of the content.

Chris Brim: All right, thank you, Brian. Let’s see here. We may have time for this question. What are the latest trends and innovations in corporate learning and development that you find most exciting or promising?

Jerry Gschwind: Yeah, similar to a previous question I mentioned before. I think AI obviously is interesting and exciting. It’s going to be, I think a big time saver and accelerator for us. One trend that I think I didn’t mention, it’s a trend that’s been, I think accelerating but moving briskly recently, is this trend toward doing things shorter and smaller. People will say microlearning or nano learning, and people always make the comment of, “Well, I want something like YouTube and everything needs to be two minutes.” So some of this is great, I think because spoke quite a bit about trying to make things smaller and shorter and taking into account that people are investing their time. But I also think it’s really important to recognize, that not everything can be learned in two minutes. And I also think it’s important for our profession to continuously debunk that people can’t spend more than two minutes looking at something.

I just said to a client the other day, “Have you ever watched a movie? Okay, you sat there for two and a half hours. It was pretty gripping, right? If it was a good movie.” So people can spend two and a half hours or longer paying attention to something if they’re interested in it if it’s relevant, if it helps them solve a problem, it helps them achieve a goal. So I think there’s a place for that trend, and I think it’s really positive, but it belongs in a place and it’s not everything on that. Some of my clients come at it like, “Well, everything now needs to be two minutes on a video.” And that’s not the case.

Chris Brim: All right. John, what do you think? Do we have time for another question?

John Laverdure: I don’t know. I think we should probably wrap it up.

Chris Brim: All right.

John Laverdure: So just want to thank everyone for joining, for listening in, for contributing. This is great. I think we got a lot of good information. We’re very, very excited about this whole series.

We’re going to send out a survey, and we’d love to get your ideas on future sessions. We are thinking through a couple of different topics. We’re thinking of something around instructional design. We’re also thinking about honing in on AI in learning. We also have a lot of clients who are going through system implementations and trying to think through learning specifically for those. So those are just a few areas, but we’re very open to any topics that you might be interested in.

So thank you so much. We’ll go ahead and put the link also for them, so you can sign up for the future Ask the Expert sessions. But I really, really appreciate everybody attending our first iteration of it. Enjoy the holidays, and we’ll hopefully see you in the new year.

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