Doing Remote Work Better

It’s officially 2020 and remote work is on the rise now more than ever. Often times when people envision remote work, they often think of an ideal oasis where the employee is traveling the world, working from some amazing locations while also being super productive.

While some remote employees are fortunate enough to travel and get work done, oftentimes when someone makes the transition into being fully remote, they’re usually don’t start off being immediately productive and happy. Making remote work, work for you; takes time, practice and the development of new habits.

A less than ideal look at remote work

In reality, remote work can be quite the opposite of an idyllic picture. This picture was taken on my first day on the job at my current company, Pluralsight. A week before starting I actually fell down the stairs and broke my ankle. 

The injury forced me to work completely remote for the first 2 months in my new role. As you can see, it was not the best scenario, I had a cat on my lap, leg cast, and pillow fortress keeping my laptop afloat.

I often felt overworked, alone, and isolated. And some days I was even in front of my computer for 12 hours+ more because I was juggling my fully remote masters program at the same time.

Your environment matters

The point i’m trying to make is that your environment matters. It matters when you’re physically in the office but it matters even more so, when you’re doing remote work. Your environment can mean the difference between having a fully productive day or laying in bed all day feeling bad for your broken ankle and cuddling with your cat.

Thats why I put together some tips and tricks to help you feel empowered to set healthy remote habits moving forward.

Tips for Doing Remote Work Better

Set up your workspace

One of the first things I recommend to employees working inside of remote organizations is to carve out a space for their work. This might mean turning a spare room into an office.

With a dedicated space you can add materials like a desk or table and external monitors. I know I found getting an external monitor incredibly helpful after I started to get aching neck pain from constantly looking down at my laptop while working remote.

One great benefit of having a dedicated work space is that it allows you to close the door and physically walk away after a long day of work. This enables you to create physical boundaries between your work and home life and prevents your work from spilling over into other locations of your house.

If you’re unable to work from home, you can also investigate co-working spaces in your area. When I had some electric work done at my house, I took the opportunity to try out different spaces in the Providence area.

Set daily and weekly intentions

Often times with remote work, it’s easier to get distracted than it might be in a physical office location. That’s why I started the habit of setting daily and weekly intentions while working remotely.

This means on Fridays or Mondays, I’ll often take 5-10 minutes to look at the calendar and ask myself questions such as:

  • What did I accomplish this week?
  • What will I need to accomplish for the week ahead?
  • What would I do differently next time?

At the beginning of each work day, I’ll do a similar exercise where I’ll heat up a cup of tea and sit down to set daily intentions for the workday ahead. I have it blocked on my calendar to ensure it doesn’t get booked over with meetings.

Setting these rituals provided me with the opportunity to reflect upon my daily and weekly accomplishments and refocus on the bigger picture of my work.

Schedule self care

Often times, remote workers can be so heads down getting work done that they forget to take time for themselves throughout the day. That’s why self care can be so important and it can come in many forms.

For example, you can mess around with your schedule and adjust it to what works for you. This can mean going outside for a walk throughout the day, heading out to a yoga or gym class, making coffee or tea, or even having a virtual coffee session with colleagues to chat about life outside of work.

These can all be great activities to help you boost your energy levels throughout the work day.

Do you have any tips for others on how to be productive while working remotely? Be sure to post them in the comments below.

Learning Leaps Part 5: Incorporating learning strategy while building products

Welcome to another edition of Learning Leaps, where I’ll be sharing lessons learned from my first 16 months as a product manager at Pluralsight. 

Since transitioning into Product Management, one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn was about the difference between learning strategy and product strategy. Thats why for this final edition of Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look into the need for learning strategy to be incorporated in technology products.

Whats in a strategy anyway?

Many organizations, especially those in the technology space, focus on the importance of product strategies to help drive their decision making. For those unfamiliar, a product strategy can be defined as a set of decisions and priorities that a company focuses on in order to achieve a shared vision that wins with the users of its products (thanks to my good friend Jess Kadar for this concise definition!).

During my time in the industry, I’ve sat through my fair share of product strategy sessions. These meetings would usually include some sort of discussion about the company mission and vision, OKRs, and even product roadmaps. These sessions were great exercises for the company to illustrate why they were focusing on specific areas of investment. The outcome of the meetings would often empower product teams to drive the specific areas that they oversaw. Despite this, the more I sat in on these discussions, the more I noticed learning strategy not being considered during the creation of technology products (even when creating learning products).

For those unfamiliar, learning strategy can be defined as a set of decisions, techniques, procedures, and processes that learning creators can use to promote desired learning outcomes. As a learning strategist, I’m often thinking about the learning outcomes I’m looking to drive and the best way to deliver them. In other words, I consider things like learner goals and objectives so that I can determine the types of content or activities to help influence a learners knowledge, skills, and behavior.

Learning and product strategy are different yet intertwined

Over the years, the general theme I noticed in the industry is that product strategy and design are often driven by market and customer needs while learning strategy is driven by theory and research (Note: this is an oversimplification and I’m happy to dive deeper with anyone who may be discussing more of the intricacies).

Theres a few problems with this approach. First, as Clark Quinn mentions in Where is the Learning Science in Technology Products?, there is a documented disconnect between what learners think is good for their learning and what actually works. This is the same way that customers will ask for things that they think they want but it still may not get to the root cause of what they actually need.

Second, this approach leads me to think about the ancient qualitative vs. quantitative research debate that happens in product and UX communities. It should not be one or the other but rather a blending of the two or a mixed-methods approach.

What i’m recommending is that learning strategy should be considered an equally as important apart of a business as product strategy. If you look into the market, the best learning and educational products have a solid foundation of learning strategy. To put it succinctly, if you’re building a product to help people learn, you have to know how they learn.

Balancing customer needs with learning science

So whats the best way to balance your customer needs with learning strategy? Heres a few tips to get you started:

Connect with people who have learning expertise

If you don’t have a background in learning, thats okay! You can connect with folks who already have some inside of your organization. These individuals might be sitting on your learning and development, UX, or even product teams. They’ll be familiar with learning theories and models that could help to influence the success of your learning product. Use them!

Incorporate learning research while making product decisions

As a PM with a background in learning, I often lead and conduct my own learning research alongside the product discovery process. This often means leading mixed method research which include surveys, conducting user interviews, or prototype testing. At the same time if I have a specific research question in mind, I’ll look at existing learning research to see what it was says. I’ll incorporate this research into any synthesis and consider it when making any product decisions with my team.

Build out a center of learning research

Depending upon the size of your learning product and organization, it might be worth investing in a center of learning research. Many of the larger learning companies in the industry such as Pearson, edX, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have done just this. These centers often focus on staying up to date with the latest learning research and techniques in addition to conducting efficacy studies among customers to prove that learning outcomes are indeed happening.

Do you have any tips on how technology platforms can incorporate more learning science into the experiences they’re building? Post them in the comments below!

Learning Leaps Part 4: Using empathy to uncover the needs of your learners

Welcome to another edition of Learning Leaps, where I’ll be sharing lessons learned from my first 16 months as a product manager at Pluralsight.

While transitioning into a Product Manager role, one of the biggest responsibilities of my role became leading my team through a human-centered design process in order to deliver meaningful learning experiences to our customers.

That’s why for this weeks Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look into how learning practitioners can use empathy to help uncover the needs of their learners.

A human-centered approach to learning

After spending the past 9 years designing and delivering learning experiences, I was no stranger to the need to connect to learners in order identify their needs. Historically, I spent a lot of time using the ADDIE framework (analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate) to create the learning that I was creating. This all came to a head during 2016, when I transitioned to the user experience team at the company I was working for.

My time on the team exposed me to using a human-centered approach to solving problems. For those unfamiliar, human-centered design is an approach that focuses on building a deep empathy with the people you’re creating for, using brainstorming and ideation to identify possible solutions, sharing your ideas with your audience to get their feedback, and then eventually pushing your solution out into the world.

By incorporating this approach into the way that I was already working, I was able to iterate quicker and truly connect to the needs of the learners I was serving. Since moving into Product Management at Pluralsight, I’ve seen the true power of human-centered design in action. Part of my daily role is leading a team through the human-centered design process in order to deliver impactful experiences to our learners. I’ve become such a huge advocate for this framework that I wanted to share some tips and tricks for how other practitioners can incorporate this framework into how they design and deliver learning experiences.

Tips to use empathy while creating learning experiences

Identify your purpose for connecting with learners

As I shared during the last Learning Leaps article, learning interventions are proposed solutions to help solve performance problems inside of an organization. Thats why before you jump into meeting directly with learners, you’ll want to first take a step back to determine the outcomes you’re hoping for.

Some questions you may want to ask yourself are:

  • What is the current performance taking place? What is the ideal performance the organization is looking for?
  • What are my learners backgrounds?
  • What am I looking to find out by connecting with learners?
  • What decisions am I looking to make with the information that I find out?
  • How many learners do I need to connect with in order to get an accurate picture of what is happening?

Determine the best way to connect with your learners

Once you have your intentions nailed down, you can start to identify questions that you’d like to ask learners and determine the best way to connect with them.

Where I am in the discovery process, will usually impact the type of method I might use to gain empathy with my learners. For example, if i’m trying to identify the problems I’m looking to solve for customers, I’ll usually use some type of qualitative research method like sending out surveys, conducting interviews, or focus groups. If i’m trying to gain a better idea of how a learning solution is already performing, I might use some type of quantitative measure.

Below are some things I keep in mind when choosing the best way to connect with learners:

SurveysSurveys can sometimes get a bad rap because of overuse and poorly written questions.

They’re a great tool if you’re looking to collect data from a large group of people or identify trends over time.

I’ll often send out a survey to identify general themes from my audience and help narrow down participants that I may want to interview in person.
InterviewsInterviews are a great way to meet directly with learners and ask them about their needs, motivations, and preferences.

It can take some time to recruit, conduct, and synthesize information from interviews so be sure you schedule enough time in your process.
Focus GroupsFocus groups can be a helpful tool if you’re looking to facilitate a group discussion around the area you’re exploring.

As learning practitioners, we often conduct focus groups without even realizing it. It could be in the form of a group discussion or debrief at the end of a course or training session.

In any case, they’re a helpful way of getting feedback from multiple learners at the same time. Just watch out for any bias that this may cause!

Regardless of the method you choose, connecting with your learners doesn’t have to be a labor-intensive process. Connecting with only 5-7 learners can help you to notice themes and trends that may be occurring.

Practice mindful communication

Once you’re able to connect directly with learners, remember to practice mindful communication. This might include being mindful of asking non-leading questions, asking open ended questions, embracing silence, and keeping your reactions neutral when learners are responding to you.

Synthesis always takes longer than you think it will

Finally, once you’re done speaking with your learners, you’ll want to synthesize your findings into a way that is manageable for you and your team. I find that incorporating stakeholders in your synthesis process is a great way to get buy-in from them when you’re designing solutions later on.

One general rule of thumb when conducting synthesis is that it always takes longer than you think it’s going to. I’ll usually try to schedule a block of time on my teams calendar for the session.

Some questions you may want during the session might include:

  • What were our expectations going into this?
  • Are we surprised by what learners told us?
  • How does what we learned impact decisions related to our experience?
  • Whats the best way to communicate what we learned to others?

Do you have any tips for others on how to use empathy to meet the needs of their learners? Post them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out the final edition of Learning Leaps where we’ll be diving the need for learning science in technology products offered today.

Learning Leaps Part 3: Using data to make informed training decisions

Welcome to another edition of Learning Leaps, where I’ll be sharing lessons learned from my first 16 months as a product manager at Pluralsight. Since transitioning into Product Management, one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn was about how to use data to make decisions related to learning products. Thats why for this week’s Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look into how data can be used to make informed training decisions.

Data in learning (a curious past)

After spending the past 9 years designing and delivering learning experiences, I was no stranger to using data to improve learning. When I first started out in the industry, this data came in the form of “smile sheets” or feedback forms that was presented to learners at the end of a training program. This form would asks learners about their perception and reaction to the learning program that they just attended.

In general, these sheets are a great way to let learners know that we respected their opinions and wanted to know about their overall satisfaction with the learning experience. As my time in the industry went on, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with these forms because satisfaction with learning does not equal learning.

Over time, some of the companies I worked for moved beyond the simple collection of satisfaction scores and measured things like assessment scores or behavioral change. But overall, this was few and far between.

At the same time, there was an increased growth in technology platforms entering the learning industry. These platforms housed digital learning experiences and began to provide practitioners with more insights into how audiences were interacting with their experiences. It was an exciting time to be in learning!

My relationship with learning data underwent another change when I moved into learning experience design, and more recently my PM role at Pluralsight. So I decided to put together a few tips that I’ve learned over the past year that I hope will inspire others while they’re thinking about how data can help inform their learning interventions.

Tips on how to use data to make informed training decisions

Learning interventions are experiments

First and foremost, at their very core, learning interventions are experiments.

Whether it’s instructor led training, elearning, or another solution; a learning intervention is a proposed solution to help solve a performance problem inside of an organization. Ideally, it’s been proposed because there is some type of current behavior taking place that is not aligning with the desired behavior of the organization. After some type of analysis, a practitioner has determined that learning might be a potential solution to help encourage the outcomes the organization is looking for.

As learning practitioners, this means we cannot guarantee that learning will indeed be successful to deliver those outcomes. However, if we take an experimental approach to designing learning experiences we may be able to increase the likelihood that it might succeed. Taking an experimental approach means taking the time to identify the outcomes you’re hoping to implement, clarifying our hypothesis and assumptions, and determining how you’ll measure success. If you don’t determine these things from the outset, you will never be able to identify whether you’ve been successful or not.

Measure enough data to make a decision

Once you have a better idea of the outcomes you’re looking to drive, you’ll then be able to use data to help guide any decisions related to your interventions.

You can use data while you’re in discovery or identifying the problems you’re looking to solve for customers. Typically this type of data might include qualitative research like conducting surveys or observations.

You can also collect evaluative data after your solution has been released into the wild to help you assess how well it’s solving the audiences problem. Based on your overall goals, these could mean measuring things like drop-off rate, learning impact, retention rates, and more.

Whatever your reasons for measurement are, it’s important to remember that the goal of measurement in learning is to gather enough data to make a decision. It is not to collect ALL of the data you possibly can to be absolutely certain of something. If you’ve gathered enough data to make a decision and you keep collecting data, then you’ve gone too far.

Storytelling with data is a skill

Once you’ve collected some type of data is where the fun part comes in. Storytelling! Take the time to think about the story you’re looking to tell to your stakeholders. Ask yourself things like:

  • What were my expectations going into this?
  • Am I surprised by what the data is telling me?
  • What do my stakeholders care about?
  • What decisions am I trying to influence?
  • Whats the best way to convey this to others?

Have this information feed into the way that you craft your story and any decisions you make based off of the data you’ve collected. Remember that anyone can collect metrics and simply report them but it takes skills to turn that data into a story that truly resonates with others.

Do you have any tips for others on how to use data to make informed training decisions? Post them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out next week’s Learning Leaps where I’ll be diving into how to use empathy to uncover the needs of your learners.

Learning Leaps Part 2: What collaboration looks like when creating learning products

Welcome to another edition of Learning Leaps, where I’ll be sharing lessons learned from my first 16 months as a product manager at Pluralsight. While transitioning into a Product Manager role, one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn was about facilitating effective collaboration while creating learning experiences. That’s why for this weeks Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look to identify what collaboration looks like and provide some tips to help get you started!

Moving from IC to Product Manager

After spending the past 8 years designing and delivering learning experiences, I was no stranger to collaboration on the job. In all of my previous roles, I was always an individual contributor on a cross-functional team. I had enjoyed this type of role and had done well with my approach to collaboration.

Soon after transitioning into my PM role at Pluralsight, I had a huge wakeup call that my existing approach to collaboration needed to change and FAST!

Product Management is collaboration. As a Product Manager, you are driving the product you’re responsible for. This means that you’re frequently coordinating and collaborating with all of the stakeholders who touch your product. So rather than being an individual contributor on a cross-functional team, you’re the one driving the initiatives and overall decision making related to your product line.

This type of collaboration is a skill that is learned and perfected by many Product Managers over time. So I decided to put together a few tricks that I’ve learned over the past year that I hope will help others while they’re collaborating on learning experiences.

Tips for effective collaboration when creating learning experiences and products

Identify and build trust with your stakeholders

A week before joining the team at Pluralsight, I fell down the stairs and broke my ankle. This put a huge damper on the onboarding plan I had created for myself. Since I am the absolute epitome of an introvert, I knew I was going to have to make an extra effort to meet everyone who I would be working with.

Over my first month on the job, I ended up having 30+ virtual 1:1 sessions. I did them in order of priority; starting with my immediate team including developers and UX designer. I put together questions that would help me learn more about their experiences inside of the company and in their roles. By taking the time to learn more about my team and stakeholders, I was able to gain empathy about the challenges they had to overcome on a daily basis. This gave me insight on things I could do to help make their lives easier in our work together.

After the official meet and greets were done, I made sure to put reoccurring meetings with stakeholders on the calendar so I’d never have to think twice about who to talk to and when. To this day, I’m still discovering people that would be great to connect with or touch the products and initiatives i’m working on.

Define the outcomes you’re looking to drive

Once you have a better idea of who you’ll be working with, you’ll want to identify the outcomes you’re looking to drive in your work together. Whenever I kick off a new project or initiative, I’ll usually schedule a meeting for everyone to come together and chat about the outcomes we’re hoping for and why. This alignment meeting makes sure that everyone starts out with the same context and helps us to be more effective in our work together.

Define roles for everyone on the team

When working on a cross functional team, it’s important to remember that everyone brings unique strengths and perspectives to the table. It is through your work together you’re able to deliver better outcomes than one person would be able to individually. Collaboration works best if everyone has an idea of what is being expected of them. Whoever the project leader is (in my case since I was the PM, it was me), will want to make sure everyones roles are clear from the very beginning so there is no confusion as you deliver on your mission.

Communicate early and often

Once you have your stakeholder group figured out, you’ll want to figure out the best way to work together. Since Pluralsight has multiple offices around the world, much of our work is done asynchronously. Depending upon the size of the project I’m working on, i’ll often spin up a slack channel for everyone to communicate and share insights with one another.

I’ll try to limit scheduled meetings for major project milestones like brainstorming, sharing user research synthesis, or discussing priorities for a coming year or quarter. As a Product Manager, I’m usually deep in the weeds of the problems I’m involved with, while others on the team may jump in and out as their schedule allows. Because of this, i’ll also try to over-communicate as much as possible to ensure others can follow along with things as they’re unfolding.

Show your work!

Prior to joining Pluralsight, I had always worked inside companies that were smaller in size. For context, when I joined The Predictive Index, the company had around 30 employees and when I left it had reached 100. Pluralsight on the other hand, is around 1400+ people currently. It goes without being said, collaborating inside of a 100 person company is drastically different than collaborating inside of a 1400 person company.

At a smaller size company, collaboration meant coordinating with maybe 8-10 stakeholders. During a recent project I was working on I had over 30+ stakeholders I had to coordinate with.

While chatting with my teammate Patrick, he noted how important showing your work was inside of larger organizations. He compared it to showing your work during math class. I vividly remember my math teacher trying to drill into my head the need to document my work as I progressed through problems (as a child I hated this activity).

I use a similar approach today for my projects inside of Pluralsight. I use project documents to highlight the outcomes were looking to drive, hypothesis we have, links to designs, experiment ideas, and decisions about future product strategy. This approach allows others to follow along with decisions and how they were made. As much as I despise forcing myself to slow down and document my work in this way, I’ve found that it’s made me more strategic about what i’m communicating and why. It’s also made it easier for me to get buy-in, influence, and manage others.

Seek context with intention

One of the core values that Pluralsight encourages amongst all of it’s employees is to seek context with intention. I’m a huge believer that as children we were driven by our curiosity and as we entered adulthood it was beaten out of us little by little. Thats why this value is my absolute favorite and I utilize it all of the time when working with others.

When working teams, it is not uncommon for everyone to have different viewpoints because of the vantage point they have in their role. I’ll frequently question why someone has a particular opinion, ask why they did something a certain way, what their thought process were and why. By asking questions, i’m able to learn more about the constraints and possibilities of a project.

Do you have any tips for others on how to collaborate more effectively? Post them in the comments below!

The next Learning Leaps will resume in 2020, where we’ll be dialing in on how to use data to make informed training decisions.

Learning Leaps Part 1: Tips for creating a culture of learning in the workplace

16 months ago, I made the decision to make a huge leap in my learning career and move into Product Management. With the transition, I’ve discovered that one of my favorite parts of the role is speaking directly with technology and learning leaders, in addition to learners themselves.

I’ve conducted hundreds of research interviews over the past year and one of the major themes I’ve heard from tech and learning leaders is about their desire to create a culture of learning inside of their organization. This should come as no surprise to many practitioners in the field as the phrase culture of learning has become synonymous with increased employee retention and engagement inside of today’s organizations.

That’s why for this weeks Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look to identify what exactly a culture of learning is and provide some tips you can take to get started creating one inside of your organization.

A Culture of Learning: Defined

It’s no secret that technology has had a major impact on today’s workforce. It has changed everything from the way we work, how we work, and where we work; inevitability impacting how we learn and perform on the job. Gone are the days that learning takes place in the form of a single training event. The paradigm has shifted to supporting employees during the flow of work. Thats why it’s more important than ever that organizations support a culture of learning for their employees. A culture of learning is one where employees continuously seek, share, and apply new knowledge and skills to improve their individual and organizational performance. Ideally, an organization should have values, practices, and processes that supports this for their employees.

A culture of learning can look different depending upon the type of organization. Despite this, I’ve noticed some reoccurring trends that have come up in my conversations with customers during my time at Pluralsight. Below are a few tips to help get you started creating a culture of learning inside of your organization.

Tips for Creating a Culture of Learning

Build a foundation of trust

The foundation to any great culture depends on the basis of trust. If you don’t have trust, all other efforts are fruitless. That’s why if you’re building a culture of learning inside of your organization, the first step is to ensure that it’s safe for all your employees (regardless of rank) to make mistakes.

One of the main company values at The Predictive Index, is errors of action are better than errors of inaction. During my 3.5 years there, hearing this phrase empowered employees like myself to dive steadfast into challenges no matter how large the size. If mistakes we’re made along the way, we celebrated them and shared lessons learned with others. I frequently witnessed executive level employees get in front of the entire company and share stories about how projects went awry and how they might approach things differently moving forward. This cultural value of trust and vulnerability is one key element to building a culture of learning and should be embodied at every level of the organization.

Empower learners to take control of their professional development journey.

I’m a big advocate of the belief that career ladders are becoming somewhat obsolete. Employees are no longer staying in traditional career paths for 20-30 years. Rather, it’s more common to see employees do career pivots. Take me for example, after 8 years as a learning experience designer, I decided to take a leap and move into a Product Management role. I was able to bring skills from my previous role and apply them to my new position. I also had many skills I’ve had to pick up along the way.

During my time at Pluralsight, I’ve spoken to many learners looking to expand their technology skills in hope of transitioning into a new career. Thats why it’s important for organizations to empower their employees to take control of their personal learning paths. The employees themselves are the ones who know what skills they’re looking to expand and grow. As learning practitioners and managers, we can learn these by simply speaking directly with learners, either through 1:1 conversations or surveys.

Arm managers with coaching skills

Managers are often on the front lines helping their employees learn the skills they need in order to perform on the job. In organizations where there is a culture of learning, managers have the opportunity to adopt a coaching approach to managing. A coaching approach means enabling employees to identify problems, brainstorming solutions, and empowering them to success. This means that as learning practitioners, we need to equip managers with techniques on how to provide feedback. This could be in the form of discussion guides or reflective questions to help guide their conversations with employees.

Encourage expertise and mentorship

One of the biggest challenges organizations experience related to learning experiences is creating actual content and materials. One of the biggest untapped resources are subject matter experts (SMEs). SMEs are often passionate about a skill or topic area and enjoy sharing their experiences with others. Pull these individuals into your initiatives and empower them to share their knowledge with others. At Pluralsight, we actually rely on our network of Authors to create content for learners looking to expand their technology skills. I’ve also talked to many organizations that have even created mentorship programs where experts are paired with beginners as they begin developing skills in a particular subject area.

Set aside time to learn

One of the biggest struggles I’ve heard from many of Pluralsight’s customers is their inability to find time to learn. With an increase on their demand for time and growing responsibilities on the job, who can really blame them? If you’re a part of an organization, developing a learning culture, you must be an advocate for learning time. Your employees should feel empowered and encouraged to take time out of their day to brush up on their skills. My team at Pluralsight blocks off 4 hours of learning time at the same time each week to do just this. This ensures that everyone knows they have the time they need to continue skilling up in areas that matter to them.

Make learning accessible

Modern workplace learning means recognizing that learning is a continuous process that happens in the flow of work. As learning practitioners, this means that we need to make learning content as accessible as possible to meet learners where they are, rather than making them to come to us. This might mean adopting an on-demand learning platform that allows employees to engage in learning experiences when they want to.

If you have a learning technology platform, it might mean choosing a solution that optimizes the learner experience like mobile access and single sign on. This could also mean supporting informal learning methods like learners sharing articles or chatting about new topics or skills. Overall, the learning experience should be intuitive, not arduous.

Support social learning

By our very nature, humans are social creatures. We naturally love to chat about our ideas, share resources, and hear other perspectives. As learning practitioners, we should nurture these qualities inside of our organizations. One of my favorite examples of social learning is being carried out by my favorite supermarket chain, Wegmans. During Pluralsight Live 2019, Scott Root shared insights about how Wegmans hosts monthly challenges, hackathons, and coffee hours with employees who engage in their Developer Fitness program. These social learning experiences led to increased employee satisfaction and skills acquisition across those involved in the program.

Encourage stretch opportunities for employees

One great practice that organizations with a culture of learning often do is provide stretch opportunities for employees. This means providing employees with a safe environment to fail or test out their new skills. In many of the organizations I’ve worked at, I’ve often been placed on a tiger team where I’m able to attack a large business problem for the organization. These projects have always provided me the opportunity to stretch myself and become more confident in my new found skills. This approach could also be formalized in the form of supporting career transitions and allowing internal mobility for employees inside of your organization.

Do you have any tips for others on how to encourage a culture of learning inside of their organization? Post them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out next week’s Learning Leaps where we’ll be diving into what collaboration looks like when creating learning products.

Introducing Learning Leaps: Lessons learned while creating learning products

A little over a year ago, I decided to take a huge leap in my career. After spending nearly 7 years in the learning industry, I decided to make the transition into a formal Product Management role.

The decision to move into Product Management was strategic on my part. I had spent the past 8 years designing and delivering learning experiences that were offered as a product or service for the audiences I serving. As time went on, I found myself adopting an iterative approach to learning that was rooted in learning experience design and research. I identified the overlap between the instructional design and product development processes and how they were both focused on identifying and solving problems. Over time, I desired more and found myself inching towards the world of user experience and product management.

So during August 2018, I decided to finally take the leap and switch roles. With the transition, I knew I wanted to focus on gaining the skills and expertise that wouldn’t have been afforded to me in a traditional learning role. These included:

  • deeper knowledge and experience with the inner workings of the business
  • setting the vision and strategic direction of a learning product
  • making data-informed decisions including conducting discovery research and creating hypothesis tests for experimentation
  • and inspiring and leading others

I’ve been in Product Management for 16 months now and I can say that it’s been one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of my life. I’ve learned a ton personally and professionally and my overall approach to learning has changed.

With the transition, I’ve discovered that one of my favorite parts of the role is speaking directly with technology and learning leaders, in addition to learners themselves. I’ve conducted hundreds of research interviews and have heard stories from organizations about their desire to create a culture of learning, how they’re preparing employees for their roles, and promoting ongoing skill development. I’ve also heard learners talk about their motivations for continuous life long learning including their need to provide for their families and their desires to move up in their careers.

All in all, these conversations have reinvigorated my passion for learning. They have also exposed to me the opportunities we have as practitioners, learning providers, and the industry as a whole.

So I’ve decided to take the leap once again and bundle some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past 16 months into a series called Learning Leaps. Each week, I’ll be sharing about a topic I’ve encountered during my transition. My goal is to give back to the community that has given me this opportunity in the first place. Thank you for coming along this journey with me and I hope you find the lessons shared both inspiring and helpful.

With gratitude,

Roberta

5 tips for getting started with online meditation

This week marked my final week of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course that I’ve been taking through Brown University. As I look back and reflect on the past 8 weeks, I’m so grateful for the tools, resources, and relationships that the program has brought into my life.

For those unfamiliar with MBSR, it is an 8 week evidence-based secular mindfulness training program that focuses on helping people with stress, anxiety, depression, and pain. MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help students explore patterns of behavior, thinking, feeling, and action. The program was originally developed in the 1970s at UMass Medical Center by Jon Kabatt-Zin. Since then, it has continued to grow all over the world and many attribute the MBSR program as a major reason for mindfulness being in the mainstream today.

Personally, I have been practicing mindfulness meditation on and off for the past ten years and have a long-term dream of being a meditation teacher. I decided to sign up for the formal MBSR program to help me solidify my daily practice and take the first step towards my teacher certification.

When looking at the program at Brown, I noticed that they offered an online virtual version and couldn’t help but be intrigued. With my background in virtual learning and education, I wanted to see what the experience was like and whether they could be able to replicate the feeling of a meditation class in an online environment.

After signing up, I discovered the course took place on Tuesday evenings from 6 – 8:30pm over zoom. Yes, you read that right, the class would be 2.5 hours long and take place all virtually. I immediately started swinging between extreme excitement and pangs of anxiety about whether I would be able to make it through the full 8 weeks.

[Full disclosure: I am not only your average tech worker who constantly shifts between 10 tabs in my web browser at all times, but I also have ADHD which makes it next to impossible to sit in a place for multiple hours at a time].

Despite my inner voice, telling me there was no chance I’d be able to make it through such an extended period of time meditating, albeit, virtually. I am happy to share that I made it to the other side! Online meditation is a great option for people who are unable to physically get to a meditation studio or class but want to form a community with others.

Below are some tips for anyone interested in getting started with virtual meditation classes:

Carve out a space for yourself: One of my favorite things about attending an in-person meditation class is entering into a peaceful environment with little to no distractions.

An example meditation space at The Shambala Center in Toronto

When you’re taking an online meditation class you physically don’t have to go anywhere, thats why it’s important to create a peaceful environment to practice in. I found it really helpful to carve out a tiny space in my home office that I used during the live online sessions and my personal practices. I tried to eliminate distractions as much as possible by putting my cellphone in another room and making my Zoom window as big as possible to help dial down the urge to surf the internet during class. At one point I also had to end up locking my cats in another room because our kitten decided to do a dive bomb on top of my keyboard during our live class. While it’s unlikely you’ll have to deal with flying cats during your online meditations, I definitely cannot recommend enough eliminating distractions in your personal space as much as possible while taking an online meditation class.

Dress comfortably: Whether it’s a 2.5-hour long meditation class or a quick 10-minute sitting practice, the right clothes can have a huge impact on your ability to get comfortable and relax. I found myself gravitating towards my comfy jogger pants, shirt, and sweatshirt since my body temperature oscillates between freezing and warm when I meditate. Find out what you are most comfortable in during your sessions and rock it!

Connect with your peers: To my surprise, despite the MBSR course taking place virtually there were many opportunities to connect with others in the course. During each class we were introduced to a different type of practice. After the lesson, we had time to apply it together as a group, had group discussions, and smaller break out sessions. The discussions gave us time to reflect on our experiences and share stories on what thoughts, feelings, and sensations arose for us during the practice. At first it felt a little odd talking to a group of 20 other people I’ve never met before about how I was feeling, but that quickly faded away. Everyone in the class quickly formed connections and shared stories about their experiences. I cannot emphasize enough how much I learned from my fellow students, I miss them already.

My fellow classmates from the MBSR course!

Listen to your body, it’s okay to take a break: At the beginning of our 8-week course, our meditation teacher told us that the format of the course didn’t incorporate breaks, however if we found ourselves needing to step away for a few minutes throughout our time together we were okay to do so. I definitely took this to heart, especially during the first few weeks of the course. I would get up at least 2-3 times per session to get water or just stretch. After coming back, I found myself refreshed and better able to participate in the practices and discussions.

Be kind to yourself: Whether it’s your first time practicing or you’re a long time practitioner, it’s important to be kind to yourself throughout your meditation experience. At it’s very core, meditation, is the act of noticing. If you ever find your mind drifting off during your practice, gently notice, and bring your attention back to your anchor. The very act of noticing this happening is your practice.

Looking back over the past 8 weeks, I am so grateful for my time in the online class. I was able to become more structured in my personal meditation practice, learn new techniques, and connect with others from all around the world. Do you have any meditation tips for beginners getting started in online meditation? Post them in the comments below!

Lessons Learned from DevLearn 2019

Last week I attended The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn conference in Las Vegas, NV. It was my second time attending the event (my previous visit was in 2016). For those who haven’t attended a DevLearn conference before, it is a 3 day event where practitioners in the industry gather to discuss industry trends, best practices, and tips and tricks. On top of all of that, the guild also offers 2 days of pre-conference workshops for those looking to expand their skills even more.

Overall, I’m a big fan of the guild events. They’re actually my favorite in the industry to attend. It’s a great opportunity to connect with others, see what their working on, and share stories. I always come back with key nuggets that I cant wait to share with my team. This trip was no exception, below are a few highlights from the trip:

I LOVE my learning network!

First and foremost it must be said. I love my learning network! At this years DevLearn, I was able to meet some amazing people that I’ve been chatting with online for years now (like Tim Slade, Cara North, and Nick Floro).

Spending time with Matthew Pierce & Cara North at Demo Fest

I spent time with some of my former teammates at The Predictive Index. I also met others who are creating learning experiences for industries completely different than mine, such as emergency response and law. It is an amazing experience when you’re connect with others who share the same passion as you. You’re able to learn from their each others experiences, discuss differences, and challenges. It just goes to show how much of a common thread learning and education truly is.

Industry Trends

Overall, I attended about 15+ sessions over a span of 3 days and noticed some trends occurring in the industry:

AI is coming and as learning professionals we need to adapt.

There was a-lot of talk about whether AI is going to take over the future of work or not. This was definitely highlighted by the fact that one of the main keynoters was Sophia, the Robot. The key takeaway from these discussions is that AI will absolutely transform the way we do our work. It has the potential to automate many of the manual processes we do in our work , like capturing screenshots, creating step by step instructions for job-aids, helping write assessment questions, and curating learning content. As practitioners, this will leave us with time to do more of the creative work we love – YAY!

The rise of Learning Data is here!

With the rise of xAPI over the past few years, many in the industry are beginning to think more critically of their learning data. In total, there were over 13 sessions focused solely on data and measurement! I actually attended a pre-conference workshop with Sam Rogers of SnapSynapse about How to Make Better Training Decisions with Your Learning Data.

One of the major takeaways I got from Sam’s session is that in order to truly track the impact of our learning interventions, we need to take time from the outset to identify the outcomes and behaviors were looking to change. If we don’t know this, how will we know if were successful?

Additionally, one major area is the collection of data but what happens next? This is where the beauty of storytelling comes in. As practitioners, we need to think about the what our stakeholders care about, what decisions are we trying to influence with our data, and what is the best way to convey this to them?

There is a difference between learning strategy and product strategy

By far, the biggest takeaway for me came during Frank Nguyen’s guided panel discussion on Transforming from Learning Professional to Learning Leader. Frank and the panel highlighted the importance that as learning leaders we need to force others to think about the instructional strategy rather than immediately jumping to solutioning. This means identifying the true performance problems taking place, advocating for the learners and their needs, and determining an instructional strategy and experiences that support that. Learning is not simply defined by one up learning events but rather an entire ecosystem and all of their parts working together.

Overall, DevLearn was such a great experience. I’m so grateful to meet many of my friends in person. I can also say, i’m really happy to be home in my introvert cave with my cats. I look forward to seeing everyone at Learning Solutions in March 2020!

Introducing Learn Mindfully

We are witnessing a workplace revolution

It’s no secret that technology has had an impact on today’s workforce. It has changed everything from the way we work, how we work, and where we work; inevitability impacting how we learn and perform on the job.

For years, companies have tried to keep up with the pace of change by spending significantly on workplace learning with little evidence on its impact on employee performance.

In the Learning In The Flow of Work 2018 report, Josh Bersin estimated that the corporate learning market is over $200 billion around the world. As recently as July, Amazon announced it was planning to spend $700 million to retrain 1/3 of its entire workforce to do more high-tech tasks. The writing is on the wall; the trend of workplace learning isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.

Organizations must focus on workplace experiences

Gone are the days that learning takes place in the form of a single training event. The paradigm has shifted to supporting employees during the flow of work. Employees want the most relevant, engaging, and personalized content delivered right at their moment of need. With an increase in their demand for time and growing responsibilities on the job who can blame them?

With so much change happening, our traditional approach to learning is no longer going to cut it. The question now is, what are we going to do about it?

For organizations to be effective, we must focus on providing employees with holistic experiences at their moment of need.

Vision for the future

I believe that learning is the basis for growth and change. By approaching every experience with fresh eyes, we can transform and grow. “Failure” is not seen as something negative but rather an opportunity for improvement.

I believe in a world where employees are at the forefront of everything we do. If we truly understand employees motivations, experiences, and challenges, we can design solutions that meet their needs.

I believe that learning is continuous and can happen anywhere; at home, while working, on the go, or in person. In a world that’s moving faster than ever before this means balancing the demand for employees time with delivering them relevant content at their moment of need.

Introducing Learn Mindfully

Something needs to change with the way that we’re designing and delivering workplace experiences. Learn Mindfully is my attempt to do just that.

Learn Mindfully is a consulting firm dedicated to designing products and experiences for the way people learn and work.

Learn Mindfully helps companies’ take a holistic approach to their workplace performance problems so that they can deliver solutions that meet the needs of today’s workforce.

Learn Mindfully provides three core services:

  • Consulting: Need advice on your learning strategy or project? I’ll collaborate with you to improve your company’s experiences by identifying workplace performance challenges, determining opportunity areas, and making recommendations for improvement.
  • Custom learning design and development: Already have a learning experience in mind and need help to bring it to life? I’ll work with you to create solutions that balance the needs of your employees and organization. 
  • Workshops and Coaching: Need help to upskill your team on a learning experience topic or competency? I offer coaching sessions, workshops, and webinars to help individuals and organizations upskill on learning experience topics and skills.

Let’s work together to design solutions that reach your audience at their moment of need!