Executive Roundtable – Learning Systems Execs Q/A

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The First Time.

Something new for my blog, something new for my readers – long-time and first time. A roundtable like no other. Featuring top executives from a variety of learning systems. Systems that focus on Large Enterprise and Enterprise. Systems focusing on Small Business and mid-market. Systems whose target audience are employees (first and foremost), a combo (employees and customer ed) and customer education only.

Companies that are on the London Stock Exchange and NASDAQ.

The Format

Each executive received the same questions. Because of the number of executives on the Roundtable not every response will be published for every question. Responses were edited only for brevity and clarity.

You will see first the question – in Italics – and green bold – followed by the executive(s) response(s). For the first two questions, you will see their first and last name. Thereafter, their first names will be listed prior to their response. Example: Phil:

The Learning System Executives Roundtable

  • Phil Saunders, CEO, Cornerstone On Demand
  • Barry Kelly, CEO and Founder, Thought Industries
  • Jonathan Satchell, CEO, Learning Technologies Group
  • Karl Mehta, CEO and Founder, EdCast
  • Dan Levin, CEO, Degreed
  • Juliette Denny, Managing Director, Growth Engineering
  • Lefteris Ntouanoglou, CEO and Co-Founder, Schoox
  • John Baker, CEO and Founder, D2L
  • Linda Steedman, CEO, eCom Learning Solutions
  • Dean Pichee, CEO and Founder, Biz Library

Q: When we talk about upskilling, systems are starting to provide more capabilities around it. However, when we reference built-in simulation tools, the only ones that appear (if at all) are for technical skills.

Is it the vendor’s responsibility to add a built-in sim for business skills that are non-technical so that a learner, regardless of if they are an employee or customer, can learn in a real-life scenario environment? Or is it the responsibility of the client to buy a 3rd party solution/tool to integrate into a learning system?

Phil Saunders: In general, the early uses of VR learning have centered on technical skill training scenarios. During these early stages, we’ve come to realize that VR generates an incredible amount of data and has the potential to enable a wider set of functionalities and benefits to training. Plus, as the market continues to iterate on new hardware, use cases for other types of training will take shape.

In terms of whether it’s the responsibility of the learning vendor to provide VR tools, the answer is it depends. Technical skills span a wide variety of commonness and types in the market. Some, frankly, can orbit very closely to proprietary technologies that content providers likely won’t support. But there is a broadening set of specialty skills that do make sense for some providers to offer, which is where organizations will be able to scale VR. Given the current costs to create VR training, don’t expect VR to support cutting-edge skills that morph rapidly. VR will be two or three steps behind sharpening up skill sets that have become truly competitive in the market.

Karl Mehta: It is important to draw a distinction here between simulations and other forms of digital learning. Our definition of a simulation is a software application that is designed to replicate a real-world experience in either 2D or 3D form by enabling the learner to interact with the environment in a way that replicates real-world interactions.

These interactions may involve 2D software applications or 3D objects, vehicles, places and other users (real or system generated). By exclusion this definition does not include passive ‘listen, watch or read’ content where the only interaction is with content navigation (start, next page, play, pause, exit).

LXPs and LMSs tend not to include built-in simulation tools that are capable of creating simulations as defined above. Creation of simulations, no matter the content, is done with dedicated tooling that exists outside the LXP/LMS, but may sometimes be an optional module of an application (especially so for ERP apps). Simulations that replicate 3D environments are almost always built using specialist tooling such at VRtuso.io and the resultant simulation hosted in a Trusted Source of content such as an LMS which may be connected to an LXP. As such, an LXP neither creates or hosts the content, but rather makes it easy to discover and access.

Training Hard skills using simulations has been the focus up until now not because they were more important, but rather, because they were easier to deliver and measure using the LMS format (especially when packaged as self-paced SCORM objects).

These simulations are based on processes that have more clearly defined positive and negative outcomes that align with the “pass fail” structures of SCORM content. In particular simulations have been widely used for application based training where new or changed processes need to be mastered by users and demonstrate their competence in correctly following a sequence of process steps.

Linda Steedman: Before discussing built-in sims, I think it’s important to mention the changes taking place in the training and education sectors. For example, skills are often considered an interchangeable term for skills and behaviors, and so called “soft skills” are now being thought of in the form of competencies relating to behaviors, attitudes and knowledge. With the tide changing in terms of seeing e-Learning courses being solely used for skills training and with an increasing focus on observational assessment and micro-credentials, organizations are becoming more creative in their training methods.

In particular, they’re looking wider than the traditional LMS vendors and content producers to seek ways of observing, recording, and managing competencies. Virtual Reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) are adding an additional dimension to the methods of assessing behaviors in simulated and real-life experiences, allowing observers to record, track and manage training requirements. 

I think the changes in the mindset that are occurring due to the pandemic, especially in view of massive changes within “hybrid” working environments, are driving the demand for these “sim” services faster than suppliers are prepared for.

Dan Levin: We see LXPs as a multi-functional tool, like a Swiss army knife, so you can build a full-stack around learning. They can offer some entry-level functionality and we’re constantly exploring ways to give our clients simpler solutions. But there are times when a Swiss army knife isn’t what you need — sometimes you need a chef’s knife or a butter knife. So right now, more advanced features really require a simulation integration to achieve more mature goals. Ultimately it does come down to the maturity of your learning function and how specific you need to be. Simulations, as a whole, can be difficult and expensive to build and maintain.

John Baker: I wouldn’t want to minimize the importance of simulation tools for technical skills. In a post-COVID world I think we’re going to see more of an emphasis on technical skills. There are, of course, a lot of learners, right now, who rightly see a career in science or health care as highly marketable and desirable. I think we also need to see an investment in skills that are even more lasting — skills like leadership, collaboration and communication, that are usually described as “soft” skills that are actually “durable” skills. In a post-pandemic world, the skills that are uniquely human — creativity, empathy, flexibility, critical thinking, entrepreneurship — will be in the highest demand.

Lefteris Ntouanoglou: It is widely accepted that upskilling has become a new trend in the L&D community. This new trend has posed new requirements to the learning vendors to support that process. However, until recently skills and learning were most of the time completely disconnected. Skills were usually closer to the HRIS system and tied to jobs. Integrations were built between various platforms that offered a pool of jobs, mapped to suggested skills and their required level of proficiency, and the HRIS systems. However, rarely did we see those integrations be successful, not from a technical perspective … integrating two applications technologically is always feasible one way or the other … but from a business perspective, since it was not really clear how to leverage the huge data set of skills and jobs that caused more confusion than value.

The connection between skills and learning was almost never part of the discussion, until recently where the need for upskilling employees became a strong necessity especially because of the pandemic and its consequences in the market. Suddenly, everyone realized that in order to upskill a learner we had to first of all connect training to skills (e.g., what skills will a learner improve when they complete a certain course?), then being able to identify the learner’s skills gaps and finally decide which training is needed to improve their skills.

This brought skills closer to learning and as a result created many new challenges. An employee for example does not learn only by attending an online course. They learn also by collaborating with others, by curating content, through on the job training and many more activities. Suddenly, many more integration points between skills and all of those learning activities became important to support the upskilling process and simulations are one of those. 

Of course, when we talk about simulations it is important to understand that those can be conducted in many different ways. Some types of simulations are completely automated and software driven. Software development skills, as part of the wider technology skills, is a typical example. Several startup companies have created amazing simulation tools to help new developers improve their coding skills without any user interaction. Some other types of simulations depend more on user interactions and real-life experiences.

Q: Learning Systems, as a whole, focus heavily on a white-collar workforce. With many companies going with a hybrid work model and plenty staying with a remote workforce, what as a vendor can you provide or should provide to those in the blue-collar work segment?  How should you message this for those clients, whereas ILT (face to face) and even OJT are necessities for this group?   Is there anything that can be done in the industry to change the “professional workforce” only?

Juliette Denny: Whilst organizations increasingly use online learning to train their blue-collar workers, the industry is still heavily dominated by white collar-focused corporate training. However, we expect this to change in the coming years. Even if blue-collar workers are skilled in their specific trade, it’s still essential that they develop soft skills on top of their on-the-job skills.

While these two groups may differ, a job role doesn’t define how driven or hungry-to-learn an individual is. As such, online learning platforms should cater for both white- and blue-collar employees. Learning technology should offer clear learning pathways so that content is relevant to each type of learner regardless of their position or profession.

Similarly, training should be provided to give them the skills they need to do their jobs. We believe that safety and compliance training will likely remain as the main focus of training provided for the blue-collar work segment. These skills can be easily taught online, and there is a way to make them more fun and engaging using gamification.

However, it’s extremely important to move away from assuming that this kind of training is all blue-collar workers need and can get through online learning interventions.

Instead, organizations and LMS providers, we included, need to work harder together to provide blue-collar workers with access to training covering topics such as leadership development, problem-solving, collaboration and emotional intelligence. 

The increase of mobile devices makes training even more flexible and accessible than before. In fact, the thought of blue-collar workers being less computer literate has started to seem like an outdated assumption when our lives get more mobile and digitalized every single day. As such, with an online learning approach, blue-collar workers can spend less time off the proverbial ‘shop floor’. Instead, they can learn on the go and reinforce their knowledge when needed. 

Barry Kelly: The pandemic accelerated a trend that was already in place. Across the spectrum, from white-collar to blue-collar, workers need better options for professional training. Thought Industries serves a wide variety of customers and use cases, including manufacturing, where hands-on skills are critical to safe and efficient operations. And creating effective training across a variety of user cases requires flexibility and choice. Like any consumer, workers want options on how to learn, so they can make the most efficient use of their time.

Providing that choice and flexibility, is the job of the training platform. And Thought Industries offers a full range of blended learning options to give its customers the technology they need to make that a reality. Whereas Instructor-Led Technology (ILT) may have been the primary mode of learning delivery for many businesses, the move to Virtual Instructor Led Training (VILT) has gained momentum.

Providing the right mix of native functionality, such as pre and post-learning, reporting on learner activity, and community elements so learners can interact with their peers, along with video technology such as Video Assessment and webinar integrations, makes the move to online learning possible. For the manufacturing space in particular, going one step further and offering offline access to training materials, which can be synced with the main curriculum when back online, offers tremendous promise. Embracing the needs of the learner, and understanding that providing flexible training provides a competitive advantage, will be key to increased adoption across industries.

Dean Pichee: We should be providing content for all types of employees in a format that is consumable on a phone or any device that individuals have with them, whether in an office environment or on a warehouse floor.  Individualized skill development is key and providing content that covers not only soft skills but technical and hard skills is extremely important to a well-rounded program. 

We saw this as a need within our own solution as there was a time when our library was lacking industry-specific content. As an example, with the recent addition of our manufacturing libraries, we have been able to expand the reach of our solution within manufacturing organizations by offering content that is relevant to their production employees as opposed to only their office employees.

Jonathan Satchell: If I’m interpreting “blue-collar” correctly, these are people who won’t be working remotely in the future. My definition is someone who is doing physical work or work that needs to be done in the presence of machines and the like. It’s tempting to focus on “people like me” in all contexts, and we’re all working at screens and many of us remotely. It requires intent to continue to focus on work unlike ours.

For us, that means continuing to acknowledge compliance and safety training are good and powerful uses of our software. The VR simulations we’ve created on behalf of Anglo American are a perfect example of this. Mining is high consequence, and their environments are specific to the task. This fits my working definition of blue collar, and we’re really excited to be supporting the people working in those challenging environments.

Dan Levin: The Great Resignation is proving (again) that the hourly (or blue-collar) workforce can no longer be neglected. They want upskilling and many aren’t waiting; they use technology in their day-to-day like tablets and smartphones and there are almost infinite resources for them. That’s where a lot of learning will happen in the future and that’s exactly where Degreed is powerful — bringing on-demand learning into the work environment, and then putting it into action.

Those organizations that rely on their blue-collar workforce (like Brazilian mining company, Vale) are bringing on-demand learning to their people, regardless of if they’re on a ship, underground in a mine, or in a truck. They understand the challenges that their people face and are tailoring their learning opportunities, technology, and experiences to meet those needs. Meeting the hourly workforce where they are, whether that’s using their own devices to access learning, communicating through the channels they regularly use, or delivering learning at a time and place that suits them.

Karl Mehta: We believe adult learners essentially need a “What’s in it for me?” or “So what?” training. For this training to be successful, it needs to work on 3 levels:

  • Relevance (getting their attention and motivating them to engage)
  • Engagement (keeping their attention throughout the learning journey)
  • Outcomes (the training met a need)

Up until recently, there has often been no clear beneficial outcome for blue-collar workers because training has not been connected to career growth or mobility because blue-collar roles have been perceived as jobs and not careers with mobility options.

Training has often been seen as an interruption to performance of the job, hence only provided when absolutely necessary and viewed as an activity distinct and apart from performing the employee’s role.

In general, the learning and HR community has not done a good job of blending urgency and training into our blue-collar upskilling because we don’t create opportunities to solve new problems or provide opportunities to advance careers, rather we try to enforce desirable behavior through learning programmes that find their origins in corporate risk mitigation (Health & Safety, Diversity & Inclusion, Regulatory & Compliance) which do not develop skills.

Professionals tend to have limited our expectations of what blue-collar workers are capable of, and have created a learning chasm between knowledge workers and others. An example of this is seen in the unthinking requirement for job applicants to have a degree – often irrespective of subject, grade, relevance to the job or the industry

We have not embraced the gig-style work that gives them the opportunity to shine in new more complex roles. Instead we have asked them to do the same menial role, but better somehow (more efficient, safer, fewer defects, less absenteeism).

As we start integrating talent marketplaces and remove the barriers to progression within an organization this will change. The war for talent has, up until recently, meant that organizations try to recruit the best talent, but now we’re seeing that we can no longer expect to recruit the best talent, there isn’t sufficient supply in the market, especially in developing economies, and aging populations will provide no prospect of an influx of younger talent – we have to upskill AND reskill the workforce.

Q: The most significant trend to hit the market in the next two years will be managed services. Managed services are where the vendor handles everything for the client, from offering an administrator or multiple for them to identifying and addressing integrations – 3rd party that the client will need or may need – but is unsure how to get the connection/API, to developing materials/videos and so forth to provide to the client’s learners (regardless if they are employees, members, customers, partners).   Vendors are starting to offer this service (for an additional fee, different from professional services).  Are you exploring this? Do you plan to offer managed services? If not, why?  If yes, will this be available to any client size or only those that are Large Enterprises? 

Jonathan: Absolutely. From day one, LTG has sought to provide an elegant combination of services and products, because we fundamentally believe that organizations need both tools and support to be successful.

You can see our further commitment to this in the acquisition of GP Strategies as well. They are the leader in managed services, and we can’t wait to get started in integrating that capability with our broader offering.

Barry: Managed Services has an important role to play for certain Thought Industries clients. For some of our customers, their learning business is not core to their mission, and they are looking for a partner to build and administer their Thought Industries instance.

These tend to be larger enterprise clients, but we’re seeing an increased demand from a variety of clients who may be entering the online learning space for the first time. Our Professional Services team has a variety of services options for our customers and the scale and options have expanded with our recent partnership with ServiceRocket. From migrations to instructional design, integrations to full program management we have invested heavily in a critical facet of our business that gets our customers the most value. 

Juliette: Organisations are busier than ever. It doesn’t come as a surprise that many learning and development teams are too busy to effectively manage their learning platforms. They often under or overestimate the time it takes to adequately administer a learning solution. Underestimating leads to poor learning outcomes. Overestimating leads to a fear of getting started.

We have seen this first hand. We understand that some of our clients may not have the time or resources to effectively manage their LMS platform. This can directly affect learner productivity and efficiency. To ensure this is not an issue, Growth Engineering offer managed services to all customers. And we find it to be very effective. 

Lefteris: Schoox is always open to exploring the things that our customer base tells us are important to them.  We have offered a variety of services to our customers to help them be successful.  We plan to explore managed services as an offering over time, and will be open to offering these services to customers of any size. 

Dean: We’re always exploring managed service solution offerings, both for our small, mid-sized and larger enterprise clients. That said, we currently put a lot of our focus into offering a very robust client success model that is designed to act as an “extra set of hands” and extension of our client teams to help them achieve their most important learning objectives. Each team has unique responsibilities that help our customers with their individual business challenges. 

John: Our managed services have evolved significantly over the last few years as we help plan learning design strategies, build content, interactive assessments and with the launch of our Learning Administration Management service earlier this year. We handle the end-to-end management of the learning system to ensure it’s done right and organizations get the business value from their tech investments.

For the next two questions, you will hear from all the executives.

Q: Some systems in the past would publish information around the reduction of their carbon footprint.  Other companies have taken initiatives to go solar, provide ongoing donations to environmental causes or similar ilk.  Do you believe that a vendor has a responsibility to help save the environment and, if yes, what are you doing today to lead by example?

Karl: Yes, I believe companies do bear social responsibility for a number of key societal goals and initiatives — that extend beyond just company goals — and EdCast takes very seriously its commitment to environmental initiatives. Two examples of EdCast’s commitment to the environment include:

(1) EdCast’s role in sponsoring and hosting (at no cost to organizers or users) a learning and knowledge-sharing initiative focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (which include Goal #6: Clean Water and Sanitation, Goal #7: Affordable and Clean Energy, Goal #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, Goal #12: Responsible Consumption and Production, and Goal #13 Climate Action.

(2) EdCast’s April 2021 Earth Day-focused webinar entitled “Earth Day 2021: How Business Can Turn One Thing Green” hosted in conjunction with the Earth Day Initiative.

Dan: Every organization has a responsibility to ensure its operations and business model are as sustainable as possible. Degreed helps its clients achieve this by helping people build more sustainable careers through programs that focus on power skills like resilience and well-being, as well as hard skills. Our Career Mobility solution also makes growth opportunities more transparent across the organization.

Beyond this, as a fully remote organization (pre-COVID), our carbon footprint is considerably smaller than it would be for most companies of our size. As part of our quarterly Good Deeds days (when the entire company spends the day working on community initiatives) our people have also dedicated themselves to picking up litter, cleaning beaches, animal rescue, and sustainable food initiatives.

Dean: More than ever, we believe businesses have a responsibility to be environmentally friendly and reduce their carbon footprint wherever possible. BizLibrary has always provided reusable dinnerware plates, bowls, and flatware in the office in place of disposables. We also provide a full kitchen where employees can prepare meals rather than order out. This cuts down on food packaging, bags, and fuel used for delivery to office. 

Our digital solutions, courses, digital quizzes and digital tracking in our platform significantly cuts down on paper and materials for training employees and eliminates the need for paper files for tracking the compliance and development of 125 employees. 

Like many organizations over the past 18 months, going to a nearly 100% remote workforce has led to a huge reduction in carbon emissions that were previously created from our employees’ commute to the office, and we’ve also greatly decreased our need to print paper or use other paper and plastic products. By supporting and encouraging a largely remote workforce, we continue to see a significant decrease in overall carbon output.

Additionally, by taking our 300 attendee, in-person customer conference remote in both 2020 and 2021, we’re greatly limiting the amount of harmful emissions put into the environment that are natural outputs of traveling on planes and other wasteful consumption that occurs while on-site at in-person events. Our belief is that by moving towards a hybrid work environment moving forward, we’ll continue to see positive trends in these areas.

Linda: eCom is a responsible employer as well as working to a Net Zero policy for our clients.  Environmental policy is a very much at the forefront of our work.  Many of our customers are governmental departments, including the SEPA and, as part of their supply chain, we’re required to supply our policies and ensure we’re meeting these at all times.  As a Microsoft Azure partner, we’ve taken many steps to ensure our code and hosting uses the least amount of electricity possible, while still ensuring reliability.  Our headquarters, in Scotland, uses power which is fully renewable.  We’re also committed to using recycled or upcycled goods as well as environmentally safe cleaning products.  In summary, our policy is to minimize our carbon footprint rather than to offset it.

Barry: This is a great question. From day one, Thought Industries was designed to grow as a distributed workforce. This has kept office costs extremely low and reduced the need for daily commuting for our team.  That impact over an eight year period, we hope, has contributed positively to the reduction in our carbon footprint. Fun fact, we also had a ‘no print’ policy at the company since day one.  After four years we finally gave in and purchased one printer that was in the CFO’s office and only used when necessary for wet signatures.

We also believe our technology has had an indirect positive effect on carbon footprint reduction.  Our deep integrations with virtual training technologies has helped our customers transform their businesses and significantly reduced the amount of in-person training needed. The reduction in flights, highway time and travel associated with  in-person training has helped reduce harmful emissions.  As an organization we are always looking for ways to be better citizens of the world. 

John: The environment — and specifically climate change — is a passion of mine. So, my unequivocal response to that is that we absolutely have a duty to be leaders.

I know that just using an LMS allows organizations to reduce their carbon footprint — and that has been a selling point for some of our clients. But having a learning tool that is flexible like

Brightspace also allows for all kinds of engaging and rewarding learning about climate change to take place.

And finally, I think leaders have an obligation to speak to climate change in their leadership platform. I think I’ve spoken about the climate crisis at every one of our Fusion conferences over the last few years — because I think we have a collective responsibility to respond and engage.

Phil: Yes, organizations of all sizes and industries should prioritize the world we live in, and corporate learning vendors are in a unique position to leverage their resources and offerings to help other organizations do so. At Cornerstone, we are committed to fostering a sustainable business and we strive to provide knowledge to our users and to engage our employees to minimize our impact on the environment.

We also aim to minimize the environmental impact of our operations and the delivery of our services. Three of our facilities are Leadership in Engineering & Environmental Design (LEED) certified, including our global headquarters in Santa Monica, California that is a Gold-certified building. Through offices that are more efficient, we can help reduce our energy and water use, and our impact on the planet.

Looking beyond the direct impact of our operations, we do a number of things to encourage our employees to take steps in their daily lives to reduce their own carbon footprint. This includes offering vouchers to take public transportation rather than drive at certain offices. We provide filtered water fountains to fill reusable water bottles and stock our kitchens with dishes and silverware instead of paper products and plasticware. We also provide a limited number of printers and copy machines throughout our offices to discourage unnecessary paper waste.

Lefteris: Yes. We all share this planet and as part of that global community, we each share the responsibility to protect and preserve this planet. We believe that a vendor has many responsibilities to make the world a cleaner, safer and better place. We focus our efforts currently on charitable contributions that align with our customer and employee values and needs – which have historically been geared toward humanitarian and education/awareness-focused organizations such as the Center for Racial Justice in Education, whose mission is to train and empower educators to dismantle patterns of racism and injustice in schools and communities. 

We evaluate the global condition and make decisions each quarter on where to focus our efforts, to ensure that we are meeting the needs in real-time, similar to our approach in developing our products and services for agility and adaptability.

Jonathan: We believe that as a technology business, the biggest impact we can have on the environment is by helping our customers around the world to deliver their digital learning programmes remotely and thereby avoid unnecessary travel.

LTG has moved to a hybrid model for office and home working, expecting a permanent reduction in emissions resulting from business travel. As a company, we have an ESG committee, chaired by the Group CFO and we seek to follow ‘best practice’ in relation to guidance from the SECR, TCFD, SASB for the Software & IT Services sector and we work to the Ten Principles of the UNGC. LTG makes recycling facilities available in all office locations and has ambition to continue the reduction of our carbon footprint to reach Net Zero.

Juliette: Sustainability is becoming more important for all companies and industries, just like it should. Here at Growth Engineering, sustainability and saving our planet is very close to our hearts. In fact, we believe that all companies have a responsibility to help protect the environment, including us. 

As an online learning solution provider, we are helping to cut emissions compared to traditional face-to-face training providers. After all, eLearning is known to be a more sustainable training option. Selecting online learning helps organizations to lower environmental impact by saving energy, reducing deforestation and preventing pollution. But that alone is not enough!

We are currently working to become a B Corp Certified organization. Certified B Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on the environment. In addition, we are forming a variety of partnerships that help us support our commitments.

This includes a partnership with Ecologi. Ecologi works to solve the climate crisis by reducing their customers’ carbon footprint. As a result, we have been a climate positive workforce for the last eight months. Every member of the team has their entire carbon footprint offset. This includes emissions from their home, business and personal travel, food and more. And to date, we have offset nearly 188 tonnes of CO2e and planted over 3,400 trees.

Q: Let’s talk leadership.  As the leader of your company, what do you see as the three key (most essential skills) someone needs to learn or know to attain a leadership role at your company?  Does your company enable or allow everyone to learn those skills, or is it limited?  If yes, do you provide them online learning courses and content around it, or is it some other manner/approach?

John: Actually, at D2L, I focus on two key skills — the ability to identify big problems, and the willingness to solve them.

Back when D2L was still being run out of my dorm room at the University of Waterloo 22 years ago, I only had two questions for people who wanted to work for us. The first was “what are the barriers to a quality education today?” People had no trouble answering that one — and cited everything from class sizes to attainment to reaching people globally.

The second question was harder: “How do we solve these problems?”

I asked those two questions because I wanted more than just skilled people — I wanted people who could identify the big issues of paramount importance, and who would also have the courage to go out and tackle those problems creatively.

D2L obviously wants people to have the technical skills to do the job at hand — but what we are really looking for are the durable skills to help build the company.

That’s how we find people who are intelligent, committed to education and who can think through the challenges that are going to lie ahead.

Barry: The three skills we value most for leadership roles at Thought Industries are:

  1. Ownership
  2. Humility
  3. Curiosity

Ownership and Humility are two of our five key cultural pillars and they are critical for anyone in a leadership role at the company.  Curiosity is, in my mind, what keeps leaders thinking about the future. 

Ownership is such a critical skill of a successful leader. The ability to cohesively plan, build and manage a team, communicate needs and progress, and meet goals is what we really look for. It’s like running your own business inside a business.  You have to create a strategy, get buy-in, get funding, build or expand a team, manage and communicate milestones and meet deadlines and goals.  In terms of training we look for these traits in leaders as we promote and hire the next leaders of the company.  We have training options for these leaders and continue to expand these as we grow. 

Humility is key for every successful leader. This self-awareness and the ability to truly listen is critical to being a successful and empathetic manager. This is a soft skill that is hard to train. I think it can be learned over time.  We talk about what it means and how in practice we can ensure that humility is part of how we show up.

Curiosity fuels innovation and the constant pursuit of why, and can we do better?   This is another skill that is stronger in some individuals than others, and that is okay.  We want our managers constantly asking, can it be better, can it be improved and what’s the dream state?

Phil: The job of a leader here is to create a culture through the skillful use of influence to enable our core values to thrive. Once a person becomes a people manager here at Cornerstone, they are put into a management track, which includes both leadership learning courses as well as in-person or virtual sessions, that teaches them vital skills to drive goals, develop the strengths of their teams, coach, check in, and how to give and receive feedback.

Those competencies include learning to model empathy, lead through change, build inclusive teams, drive accountability, and develop talent. Each of these skills address our core company values that ultimately contribute to how we champion customer success, innovate, achieve together, get stuff done, and bring our best to work.

Juliette: Leaders have an important role in leading your people and company in the right direction. As such, you want your leaders to reflect your brand and its values as well as possible. Here at Growth Engineering, our core values are Be Kind, Be Bold and Be Responsible. 

These values are extremely important to us, and they reflect how we operate as an organisation. As such, all members of staff need to live and breathe these values to succeed. And those who do it best are most likely to ascend to leadership positions.

We also place a high value on curiosity. And perhaps unsurprisingly, we value individuals who love to learn and get excited by new and novel things. These individuals push themselves and move forward like a shark. They are always looking for ways to grow, not only in their role, but also as a person. And essentially, they are the spark that keep Growth Engineering burning brightly and help us to drive innovation and deeper levels of learner engagement through our solutions.

While hunger to learn is essential, we also consider communication skills, people management skills and strategic thinking as the three critical skills of someone who wishes to attain a leadership position here at Growth Engineering. We are a fast-paced and forward-thinking organisation where things move quickly. This change needs to be properly structured, managed and communicated. And these skills help our leaders do exactly that.

To ensure everyone has the same opportunity to learn these skills, we are building out our internal training library on a monthly basis. We do this by providing training material via content partnerships and through our own internal Training Content department. And, of course, we use our innovative solutions, oozing with gamification, personalisation and social learning, to ensure our staff gets the same top-class training as our customers do. 

Jonathan: Absolutely. We’ve long supported the internal development of people around these topics through informal methods, but have formalized it substantially this year. We’re running a leadership training program, starting with a pilot of senior leaders across the Group, to expand across a further 50 employees later on this year. We have spent several years crafting the approach and we use a range of internal and external resources throughout the programme. We are pleased to be able to use our own software and expertise to craft and deliver content. The framework also includes a range of ‘on-the-job’ mentoring, sourced from our internal experts which is supplemented by external coaches.

For LTG, a fast-paced business, it’s important that we train our people for today and the future. A key part of this approach is working with prospective future leaders ahead of time. This enables us to prepare our emerging leaders for a potential role change, equipping them with important skills to make that transition as smooth as possible. 

For us, three of the most important topics are:

  • Fiscal and commercial acumen
  • Core values including creativity and accountability
  • Performance management… encouraging healthy, constructive feedback on our high expectations, candor is important for this

Karl: At EdCast, the three most essential skills for earning and attaining key leadership roles are:

  1. Emotional Intelligence (also known as emotional quotient or EQ) is the most critical skill, which allows executives to effectively understand and empathize with employees as humans first and also have empathy and understanding for customers and their respective needs. Self-awareness is one of the key EQ qualities, which is often underrated, but is a critical skill for our leaders.
  2. A strong data-driven approach to decision making and problem solving is also a critical aspect of EdCast leaders. We emphasize effective analytical skills (along with an analytical mindset) to utilize data and facts as key levers to decision-making and problem-solving. These qualities allow EdCast leaders to effectively clear roadblocks for employees, teams and customers.
  3. Maintaining a strong growth-oriented mindset in conjunction with enhanced learnability and agility are the other key skills we look for in EdCast leaders. These qualities allow leaders to inspire teams to meet their team and personal career growth goals. Increasing learnability and agility is critical to meeting rapidly-changing customer needs worldwide and continuing to lead with updated technology solutions.

At EdCast, we use our own LXP/TXP platform for the continuous learning and training of our managers and leaders. Learning and upskilling at our company comes in various forms, including learning from experts, learning from peers, learning by doing and other types of learning.

Lefteris: I think there are many skills needed for being an honorable and effective leader, but if I had to choose only three… (1) the ability to earn trust through mutual respect and ensuring the safety, security, and fair treatment of everyone, (2) the ability to effectively communicate; to show the value you hold of others and their views by deeply listening, especially when their views differ or oppose your own, and (3) the ability to accept responsibility and hold yourself accountable to the decisions made, the actions taken, and to the obligations created from the consequences of those decisions and actions, not only made by you but made by those you lead. 

Leadership is a core component of our culture at all levels.  It is important for each of us to understand and accept the responsibility for the fact that we are all leaders. Maybe we lead in different ways and to different groups, but we affect those around us and influence others’ lives. We have a leadership competency model defined, to serve as a guidepost for our employees. 

However, we believe that each individual can bring a unique set of skills and perspectives to the table which can offer tremendous value.  For this reason, it’s not as simple as stating the three most essential skills someone needs to learn or now to attain a leadership position at Schoox. 

We do provide a wide range of learning opportunities and champion the personal growth of all employees to continue their development toward leadership competencies, toward their own career journey, and for their personal interests.

To grow as leaders and as people, we (at Schoox) do not just enable or allow everyone to learn, we champion learning as a continuous process for personal growth.

Dan: A great leader at any level needs to have good business acumen and strategic thinking skills, to be able to build strong teams, and to drive excellent execution.  At Degreed, we not only allow, but strongly encourage, every one of our colleagues to learn and develop these skills.  We do this through a combination of learning approaches, including online assets, instructor-led training, and experiential learning opportunities. All, of course, tracked through each individual’s Degreed profile so they can see what leadership skills they have developed, what needs to be built, and to inform career conversations with their managers.

Linda: eCom uses its own talent and competency management applications company-wide. Everyone at eCom has the option to follow a number of career paths. We encourage collaboration and we have an innovation focus, so the key aspects we’re looking for are creativity, critical thinking, and responsibility.  Staff have a wide range of content available to them, both online and offline. We encourage them to take part in events, and to develop themselves as responsible adults. 

We recognize that everyone is an individual and we celebrate everyone’s achievements with our own micro-credentialing platform.  We encourage staff to set up monthly objectives in discussion with their team leads.  We have an open, flat organizational structure. This means that, often, directors and mangers will become involved in operational activities with mixed-ability teams. 

New hires can find this strange at first – having the CEO as part of an innovation sprint, for example. However, our onboarding program provides an opportunity for understanding our culture and ethos – which is that we are all here to provide a service for our clients and colleagues, no matter what individual role we play. 

Dean: I consistently see three big skills present in the high potentials that I’ve managed and seen move quickly through our organization over the years. Those are communication, emotional intelligence and time management. These are also three skills, among many other softer, essential business skills, that we feature content around in our LMS and encourage our employees to become masters in. From a recruitment and cultural perspective, we actively seek people with four characteristics – smart, driven, caring and curious. These aren’t just words to us, they are cultural pillars.

You’ll see them featured around our office and are a key component of our recruiting efforts. We first look for these characteristics above anything else, and when we have a candidate that exhibits these personality traits, it’s a huge indicator of their success within our organization.

Something I’m very proud of for new hires that has become even more important during the pandemic with employees having to be onboarded remotely is the Virtual Bootcamp that every new hire goes through. It’s an intensive, week-long virtual crash course where they get seriously immersed in the company culture, our beliefs and values, and product offerings as they experience the company for the first time with a close-knit group of other new hires. On Friday afternoon, each new class “graduates” into the BizLibrary culture on a Zoom call with the rest of the organization as they’re introduced and applauded as new members of the team.

Bonus Question (Optional, those who responded are below)

Q: I often hear how the industry lacks innovation and is in a “rut.”  LXPs are becoming ubiquitous to an LMS. TXP (Talent Experience Platforms – combination of LXP and Talent Development) are pitching themselves unique, but feature sets aren’t necessarily there.

What steps can a vendor take in the current learning and training environment to add capabilities that empower the learner (regardless of whether they are an employee, customer, student, member, partner) to engage more and experience new learning and training initiatives within the system? How can a system prove to their clients, including future ones, that they are innovative without coming off as a marketing message spin only?

John: I understand the cynicism — there’s a lot of noise and jockeying in the marketplace right now. And while it feels like we’re still a startup, in many ways D2L at 22 years of age is a bit of a veteran player in the space now. There have been a lot of new companies entering the space as they sniff out opportunity. Some of those companies offer real value to learners and educators — others less so.

It really boils down to “are you serving a current need?”

We spend a lot of time at D2L not only developing product, but also looking at the whole context in which learning takes place. We sit on leadership tables around economic issues, or learning issues generally, trying to both learn more about where learning is headed, but also to help anticipate what the learning platform that best responds to tomorrow’s needs looks like.

Hence my involvement as a member of the Business Council of Canada and the Business Higher Education Roundtable, and Jeremy Auger’s work as a member of the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Council, where he advised on a national strategy on the future of skills, work, and learning.

In other words, it’s not just about the features you add to a platform — though those are important. Rather, it’s about having a leadership mindset that looks at the whole context of learning. The innovation in a platform flows from that — or it should, at least.

Dean: This is a great question that calls to mind the quote – Necessity is the mother of invention – meaning the primary driver for most inventions is a need. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on lasting changes to the way we work, behave, consume information & live our lives. We’ve rethought what is important to us and how we want to spend our time. This has major implications for what we expect from our employers, how we want to engage with them and our co-workers, and ultimately how we view our professional careers, future career paths, and life overall. The pandemic has also brought on new strategies for learning, communication, and engagement.

It’s a really interesting time to be in the e-learning business, and I see product innovation and client value being derived primarily from two places – customer feedback and environmental factors.

Customer feedback: A big part of our product roadmap – both content and our platform – is driven by client feedback. We have a track record of listening to our customers and delivering on those requests. In fact, over 50% of our content roadmap items come directly from client requests. I also believe that transparency with your roadmap can lead to greater collaboration amongst your client base that can ultimately lead to new and exciting products. It also allows our clients to hold us accountable on execution of those items.  

Environmental factors: As I mentioned earlier, the pandemic has and will continue to change the way we learn, communicate and engage moving forward. We’ve seen a number of interesting trends come out of the pandemic as it relates to learning:

  1. The further emergence and prevalence of creator platforms and the ability of learning platforms to build community and co-creation opportunities amongst learners to create a feeling of connectedness to each other and their organization. This one also has major implications and impact on employee retention and loyalty.
  2. The importance of personalizing skill development to retain top employees and making it easy for administrators to map job-specific skills and content to the roles in their organization. We’ve created a new platform, BizSkills, that we’ll be launching in October that takes the guesswork and grunt work out of skills development, effectively making what was a very tenuous and manual upskilling process an effortless one for our clients. We’re excited to see how this platform will enable our clients to not only upskill their employees but also show a clearer career path for those high potentials they don’t want to lose.

Linda: The focus on what’s important has changed over the many years we’ve been in this business (and, in 2021, we celebrate 25 years in existence). I’ve found that it doesn’t matter what vendors call their applications.  What’s most important is “what it does” to meet the buyer’s needs.  My biggest hope is that we’re moving away from the naive buyer, because this has brought a lot of pain to the sector over the years – with failed projects relying on the promise of a label to solve all their issues, and the results making other buyers postpone their online journey for fear of failure.  Vendors should be working hard to ensure their customers really understand their own needs. 

Moreover, they should have a strategy and vision of what they’re trying to solve over the next three to five years, before engaging with any application.  Working with clients in particular sectors is the only way to truly understand the specifics.  

As clients’ usage has become more sophisticated for enterprise level systems, many vendors have found niche sectors and tend to stick to them.  This is because it’s amazing how different, from one sector to another, processes and procedures can be – with many of them not being comparable or interchangeable.  So “one size” doesn’t fit all. 

Our Enterprise work in eCom is within regulated Industries and Education sectors, where onboarding, evidence, reporting and scores really count.  We have a different offering for our Professional Services. Government and 3rd Sector clients, where high levels of accessibility in learning management, content creation, assessment and micro-credentials are required.  It’s always been our aim to bring “ease of use” to all our users, making learning less complex, administration straightforward and compliance as simple as possible.  Training systems shouldn’t be a chore, whatever the application being used.  

Barry: We talk a lot at Thought Industries about ‘Experiences & Outcomes” and we feel like the experience of learning that is created (the learning product) is so critical to the success of any company in this business. Great learning products produce great outcomes and higher engagement.  If you don’t have that to start with it is an uphill battle.  In this process of learning product ideation and creation, you have to consider the learner, their needs and the context. 

Once you have done this, there are many ways you can meet the learner at the moment of need, helping either simply unblock them on a key need or on the other extreme, preparing them for career transformation. 

We have lots of features that keep them engaged, from peer and social learning to learning progress automation and beyond.  We believe it is our job to offer the very best tools and platform so our customers can build these learning products of the future, measure progress, engagement and outcomes and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible.  It is a very exciting time!

Phil: Over the past decade, the world of HR Tech has exploded. The number of tools available to HR leaders is seemingly endless. There is literally a tool for every problem. Yet organizations are still struggling – to scale the value of ongoing learning to all employees, to align their people to growth and transformation, and to adapt effectively to new and evolving ways of working.

These challenges will continue to get worse. It’s expected that 85 million jobs will be destroyed in the next five years and 97 million will be created. That’s an enormous amount of change for businesses to cope with and to have the skills to drive growth. At those numbers, people will need to spend 10% of their work time upskilling effectively to keep up with this pace of change.

Organizations have the opportunity to re-build work in a way that works for everyone. The current model of driving development from the top down can only solve part of this looming problem. To meet the changing nature of work and skills, organizations will need to put a stronger emphasis on empowering their employees with tools to set meaningful goals and develop along meaningful growth pathways. The good news is, people are demonstrating their desire to develop.

Half of adults use YouTube for some sort of learning and several consumer learning platforms report 53 million users. This is all meaningful energy expended, but because this learning is unstructured, where this learning could take someone is unclear.

Our industry needs to look beyond developing just another point solution. The focus should be on an entirely new system of work that embraces the unique needs and goals of every individual and uses a shared language of growth and success across the entire organization.

This type of system would empower people to take control of their learning. It would serve up the right learning content at the right time. Managers and teams would deeply understand employees’ skills and areas of development. Career paths and opportunities would be crystal clear across the organization. These are all areas the industry should be focused on, and as providers bring truly innovative offerings to market, organizations will quickly see value and will be better positioned to pivot and grow well into the future.

Dan: Ultimately it’s about deeply understanding an individual’s entire journey from hire to retire. There are critical moments within that experience that are extremely important, such as upskilling at times of extreme change or organization-wide transformation.

We believe that skills are the connective tissue that brings all of these different moments together for the worker — and connects them to business strategies and priorities. So we are innovating beyond just the actual learning “event”, first with our new Career Mobility offering and next with our Skill Analytics offering, which is launching later this year.

As for proving your innovation, we’d argue that true innovation extends beyond just technology or features. Of course, those things matter but ultimately technology is just a tool. It’s only really innovative if it’s solving high-value problems for real people and if it’s implemented well (so support and service really matter here). Change takes work and it takes people to do that.

Jonathan: “All creativity builds upon something that existed before and every work of art is essentially a derivative work.” This is a quote from MARIA POPOVA in talking about Nina Paley’s work Sita Sings the Blues. It is unsurprising that some of the work in our industry feels familiar.

Importantly, though, software is useful when it is real and when it is used. Software buyers should require vendors to demonstrate the use of the things they market. Nearly every platform has spent the last few years talking about artificial intelligence. Few of them can even define it well. Ask for compelling, real-world demonstrations of the things they are marketing and be discerning. There is no better tell about the integrity of a software vendor.

With regard to new features, ask similar questions. How many customers are using this capability? Do they continue to use it a month after it was introduced? These questions can help you discern if the features being added are marketing features or product features.

Lefteris: Vendors can become more of a strategic partner with their customers instead of continuing to perpetuate the ‘vendor’ stereotype.  Many vendors stay firmly in their lane, limiting their engagement and discussion only to the features within their own product.  We believe there is great value in serving as a strategic partner for our customers, offering a wide variety of insights which can help customers navigate their path to goal attainment.  We believe it’s worth our time and effort to invest in getting to know the businesses of our customers. 

We look for ways to connect the business more deeply through the technology we offer (e.g. content distribution, direct messaging, important announcements, collaboration, etc).  When we take ourselves out of the traditional focus on Training, and instead focus on understanding the customer’s business needs and strategy, we can find interesting and innovative ways to spark creativity, enhance the learning experience and advance the customer’s strategic business priorities and initiatives.

We can acknowledge that vendors, if they want to be taken seriously in the space, have to appease the traditional assumptions people have on the benefits and application of learning — i.e., take classes/lectures, pass course tests, obtain certifications, and base the value of that education on its links (or lack thereof) to monetary gains.

We know that the goal of learning should be to engage with the subject matter, promote enthusiasm for learning and curiosity, reward enrichment for its own sake, and drive innovative thinking and the broadening of people’s perspectives.

Research shows us evidence for this: that if we can do that, then we not only impact the lives of individuals, we enrich the global society in which we live. We create a population of critical thinking and engagement to that curiosity to learn. But, because of how people see learning in career development as a means to an end — and this is incentivized by companies and modern culture, it has created the very rut we see –  it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

If we want to change that culture in the industry of how to provide a better learning experience, we have to move from a straight train-to-earn sales pitch for learning and promote learning and knowledge as an enrichment of our very lives.

While I believe Schoox does this, if we all — as an industry — promote this thinking, the entire industry will create an innovative adaptable experience for learners that speaks to the inner, curious learner in all of us. 

It is a shame that in modern times learning is often seen as valuable only as long as it can be directly linked to earnings for companies. We at Schoox want to champion learning and the growth of people, their knowledge, and the rewards of enriching your mind, life, and creating a broadened perspective of the world. 

Juliette: Here at Growth Engineering, we see ourselves as learner engagement experts. We believe that a combination of gamification, social learning and Epic Meaning is the perfect way to produce meaningful results. This includes deep customisation and narrative to make sure our learning platforms ooze with a sense of purpose. After all, learners won’t engage with their platform unless it resonates with them.

Ultimately, innovation transcends spin only when it produces results. New features and developments need to be clearly linked to learning outputs and business impact to effectively highlight innovation. The better we get at tracking, recording and publishing training ROI, the more innovative our industry will start to look.   

Bottom Line

What’s left to be said?

Except, thank you to all our Learning System Executives.

E-Learning 24/7

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