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An equal partnership: learning providers and L&D professionals ~ LinkedIn Interview ~

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This October, Andrew was interviewed by Catalyst Media. He discussed his recent experience at the Degreed LENS conference and shared some insights on the future landscape for training vendors.

Here is part two of the interview. If you missed part one, you can find it here.

Catalyst: What kind of obstacles are learners experiencing right now?
Andrew: “There are a few. Some of them revolve around the fact that traditional training is very hard to find, so people go to YouTube because it’s accessible and it’s searchable. So being able to make training like that is something vendors and L&D departments are tasked with. Having accessible and searchable learning is critical. Another big one is that training is not engaging enough, which is close to my company’s heart because that’s what we try to focus on. So that was good to hear and have the challenge laid out to be more creative and find ways to make it more engaging.
“And the biggest one of those obstacles is time. People don’t have enough time to complete training. I think that’s partly due to the way training is delivered. When I was working previously at KPMG, a 50 min training was thought of as bite-sized. So think about if you’re sitting at your desk, watching a 40-50 min video, even if it’s a slightly engaging video, that’s a long time. So making things even more bite-sized and curated is definitely the way of the future to again, make training more accessible and searchable.”

How can learning vendors help L&D departments overcome these obstacles? And how do you do so yourself at Curious Lion?
“To answer your question, I’ll draw on that last panel [with heads of learning for Airbnb, Caterpillar, and Mastercard]. They started off the panel by saying, ‘We just want to make it clear here, we do not like training vendors.’ And as a training vendor sitting in the audience, I started to squirm in my seat a little bit. But their point was that it’s someone trying to sell them something that they don’t like. What they’re looking for are training partners. And that really resonated with me. It really made me realize why we started Curious Lion in the first place. It’s because I enjoy working through training problems, and that was what they were saying. They’re looking for vendors to come in and build long term relationships with them to help think through solutions. I think just seeing those accomplished people up there on stage, it reminded me that there are some real rockstars in L&D who have got some really cool ideas and are challenging the way learning is delivered. What they’re looking for is like-minded training vendors to help them in the process.
“Being a training vendor and seeing yourself as a partner to help someone realize their goals, to potentially bring your ideas into it and collaborate on a common goal—that’s what those companies are looking for. So to answer your question, at Curious Lion, we try to be selective with the clients that we pick. We want clients that are ambitious in their training goals. Ambitious in terms of how they want to tackle the same old problems that we’ve always had in terms of training, learning, and development. Explore different ways to do that and step out from the crowd.”

You spoke earlier about employees’ expectation for training. I find it ironic that another huge barrier to actually delivering that training is that people think it’s not engaging enough or that they don’t have enough time to participate. L&D departments are being asked to proactively provide these materials, but they also have to provide them in such a way that their audience of learners will want to pay attention. What’s the approach to this?
“It’s a very interesting catch-22. From my own perspective of training from previous jobs, you want the opportunity to take it, but you don’t necessarily want to be told to do it in a certain time. That’s why design and development decisions are so important. Instead of pushing content, you’re trying to create content that ‘pulls’ so they can do it on their terms. It needs to be engaging and maintain interest for a long time. We spend a lot of time here thinking about attention. If you really boil it down, that’s the most important thing in designing training. You need to know how to capture attention and how to retain attention. And you also need to know how to deal with the inevitable fact that attention will drop off. You need to know that’s a reality, the limited attention span, and also how to draw people back in, how to use reinforcement, that kind of thing. And all of these are design decisions. That’s going to become more of a focus from both the vendor and corporate side—paying more attention to the learner and designing training around the learner. It’s a huge challenge, but making things even more bite-sized and curated to make it more accessible is a good first step.”

So how do you “pull” learners in yourself, through your own business?
“The way to summarize all of this is to be unique. As a learner, we’re conditioned to expect templates. In a lot of learning you see the, you know, ‘In this lesson, you will learn, this, this, and this.’ That’s an immediate attention-loss. And if you lose someone right at the beginning, you’ve got very little chance of drawing them in during the training. So we try to draw any learner in. We try to build in a narrative into everything we do, we try to use storytelling. We deliver our content from the point of view of the learner, so it’s learner-sensitive in terms of how it’s designed. Sometimes this is a challenge for the clients because they’re traditional subject matter experts, and they think content-first rather than learner-first. So being learner-first and thinking about what will be worth the learner’s time, is the key thing.”

How is the corporate buying process changing from your perspective?
“I think there’s a shift in terms of big companies being open to new ideas and new training vendors. They’re creating partnerships with new companies as a way of kind of branching out from the old. That’s quite exciting to see. I think part of the reason for that is because there’s this need or want to be unique and stand out. Airbnb was the representative startup on that panel I mentioned, but the guys from Mastercard and Caterpillar—which you’d probably think are the most traditional companies—are also doing some really cool stuff with technology. They’re using Degreed to meet the needs of their workforce. What all three of them showed is that they’re working with 8-10 different vendors for different reasons. So there’s this willingness to explore new opportunities and new ideas in niche ways. Some people do gamified content, some do video, some do social learning. That was quite promising to see. Again, they’re responding to what their learners are telling them, and that’s the big shift.”

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