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!

Master level, unlocked

I am so excited to share that after 4 years, I have completed my Masters of Science in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning  (OPWL) from Boise State University!

Over the past weekend, I was fortunate enough to give myself the graduation gift of traveling to Boise to mark the milestone. The trip allowed me to meet some of my professors and classmates in person after working with them for the past 4 years. 

While winding down my time in the program, I took some time to reflect on my journey in learning over the past 10 years (yes you read that right, 10 YEARS!).

 

A Look Back

When I was growing up, my father always told me how much he regretted not going to college. He always said that his greatest wish for me and my sister was for us to follow through on our potential and continue our education. In his eyes, education equals opportunity and it is something that no one could ever take away from you.  I always remember how much I enjoyed our conversations how they’ve stayed with me through the years.

Looking back, I never was a good student in school. I struggled through math along with a ton of other subjects. Throughout my K-12 education, I actually failed classes along the way  (math and spanish). Studying for me was so hard! I always thought something was wrong with me that made learning more difficult for me than others. I often had to lock myself away in my room growing up. I would sit in complete silence with flash cards, repeating things out loud in order to get the information in my head. It wasn’t until my first year of college that I learned that I was undiagnosed with ADHD throughout my entire childhood. The diagnosis was a huge sigh of relief as it made me realize that all of the techniques I’ve been teaching myself over the years to get myself to focus had actually helped me without me even realizing it.

 

Finding her passion

If i’m being honest, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life when I arrived at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) for undergrad. I just knew that I wanted to give it all that I could. During my second year, Wendy Gilmore gave me a life changing opportunity when she hired me as Supplemental Instruction (SI) Leader for freshman photography students during my sophomore year. The experience allowed me to share some of the study techniques that I’ve been teaching myself over the years to a group of students. During that same time, I was spending my time working as a student employee at RIT’s Disability Services Office, in addition to being a Resident Advisor (RA) to freshman students.

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The  Supplemental Instruction (SI) Advisory Board at RIT in 2010

These experiences, allowed me to see first hand how education and technology can have such a tremendous impact on peoples lives. At that time (now 9.5 years ago), a switch went off in my brain, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to making education more accessible to others.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, I started in the industry as an Instructional Design Production Assistant where I designed print training materials for instructor led training classes. At the time, it was a good fit for me because of my undergraduate degree in publishing and print media, but in the back of my head, I knew that I wanted to do more. With some major encouragement from my second mom and manager at the time, Dottie LaMark, I decided to apply for my masters and certificate program at Boise State University.

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Showing off training materials with Karen for The Predictive Index’s Instructor Led Training Classes (2016)

It took me 4 years to complete my masters program along with my graduate certificate. I worked full time throughout the length of the program, taking only one class per semester. Over my time in the program, I’ve missed countless nights with friends and family, I spent weekends and evenings doing homework and on calls with classmates. During my most difficult time in the program, I juggled school on top of starting a new job at Pluralsight and recovering from a fractured ankle.  This sometimes meant spending 12 hours a day in front of a computer doing work (At that time, I felt like my soul was going directly into the computer screen). Despite all of the difficulties along the way, I kept pushing through because I believed in the higher mission of making education more accessible.

 

Master Level, Unlocked

To say that i’m most proud of this degree is an understatement. I am now the first person in my family to receive my masters degree. To top it off, I have no additional student debt because of how I took one class per semester and work at such amazing companies.

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Pure joy on graduation day

Overall, my time spent in the program was invaluable. I found something that I never expected to gain, my voice. I’ve come such a long way over the past 4 years. I went from designing print based training materials to now owning a product line at a learning company. I started my blog, spoken at countless conferences and web events, won a 30 under 30 award in learning, and even mentor others in the industry.

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2019 Spring OPWL Graduates with our professors

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My teammate Sabrina & I at graduation (I’ve spent countless hours with her working on projects over the years)

To this day, the words of my father this still echo in my head, that education equals opportunity. To my very core, I believe that education is a fundamental human right and that every person should have access to education and learning opportunities. You should not be bound by mental or physical ability, income level, social status or anything else.

Moving forward, I hope to continue my mission in my current role at Pluralsight. I also hope to spend some much needed down time with friends and family! I’ve made learning my life’s mission and I truly cannot wait to see where I go from here.

 

Authors Note: I owe all of this to my parents, Andrea and Robert Dombrowski who snagged me off the mean streets of Bogota during ’91. My grandparents, Andy, Linda, Marjorie, and Robert. My sister Nicole and my life partner, Scott Edwards.

I also have to thank the countless mentors who have helped me over the past 10 years. They took time out of busy schedules to have mentoring and coaching sessions that have impacted me to my very core. Specifically, Wendy Gilmore, Dottie LaMark, Matt Poepsel, Brian Madge, Maribel Olvera, Lisa Giacumo, Cheryl Lockett Zubak, Krishna Kannan, Sarah Bedrick Neverly, and Michael Riordan.

2018 Year in Review

Believe it or not, December is in full swing. I feel like I just finished writing my 2017 Year in Review post and here we are once again. I say it all the time, but where has the time gone?

Every year, I set personal and professional goals for myself. It’s the perfect exercise for me to pause and reflect on where I’ve been and figure out where I’d like to go moving forward. I do some check in’s throughout the year to see how things are going but now that it’s December it only seems right to take a peek at how the year really went down. I’m still in awe of everything that I accomplished (personally and professionally). I have a ton of wins but here are some highlights for the year:

 

I got my level 2 reiki certification

This past February, I took the next step in my journey with reiki and got Level 2 Certified in the Usui System. Reiki has transformed my life and my love has only grown over the past year. I ended up offering my services during my lunch break to my coworkers at the office in order to get more practice. During the summer, I also ended up doing a mentorship with my reiki instructor.

 

I presented at my first conference

During 2017, I submitted a proposal to present at The eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions conference in Orlando, FL. Much to my surprise it was approved! The event took place this past March. It was my first ever conference presentation and I remember being absolutely terrified! During my session, Adopting the Performance Support Mindset, I shared my journey implementing performance support at The Predictive Index. It was such a great opportunity to connect with others looking to implement performance support solutions. The audience was so receptive – it made me wonder why I was even nervous in the first place. I have a feeling it won’t be the last time I present at a conference.

 

I made my side consulting gig more official

During 2017, I took on my first consulting gig by partnering with my friend Steve Seinberg from Arrow in Flight. This year, I wanted to take it to the next level. I ended up reaching out directly to a potential client and getting the gig! I love providing product, learning, and UX services to companies related to health, wellness, and technology. I also got some great feedback along the way. I hope to continue to grow my consulting services over the next few years.

 

I learned how to say goodbye

The most difficult decision of the year was deciding to step away from my post at The Predictive Index after 3.5 years. I felt so strongly about taking the next step in my professional life that I decided to give 2 months notice to my boss without even having a job lined up. Talk about a risk! My family definitely wasn’t happy with the decision but I told them that something good would be on the horizon soon. Little did I know, just what was in store next!

 

I won a 30 under 30 award!

A week after I gave notice to my boss, I found out that I was being recognized in the 30 under 30 group at Elliot Masie’s Learning 2018 event. It was just what I needed to feel more confident about the unknown path ahead. This past November, I attended the event in Orlando, FL. It was such a great opportunity! I got to meet with 29 other learning leaders and we even received an entire day of leadership development with the program.

 

I completed my graduate certificate at Boise State

In January 2016, I embarked on the path to complete my Masters in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (OPWL) with Boise State. At the same time, I also decided to sign up to complete a Graduate Certificate in Workplace E-Learning and Performance Support as an add-on with the program. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been tirelessly chugging along with my studies, completing one course per semester while working at the same time.

This past summer, I finished the final course in the graduate certificate program! Receiving my certificate in the mail gave me some much needed encouragement to finish out the last 2 semesters of my masters program strong.

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I became a Product Manager at Pluralsight

A month after I gave notice at my job, I accepted a position as Role IQ Product Manager at Pluralsight. Transitioning over to Product Management was a decision that came after countless months of research and self reflection. And once again, I have no idea why it took me so long to make the leap. But things always happen when they’re meant to.

I just finished up my first 2 months at Pluralsight and in that time, I’ve seen myself grow in ways I never imagined. I’m so excited to see where the next few months take me in my role.

 

I learned an important lesson about work-life balance

A week before starting my new role at Pluralsight, I ended up falling down the stairs on the way to meet my new team members in the office. I fractured my ankle and tore 2 ligaments. I had to have surgery and was unable to put any weight on my ankle for 2 entire months. The experience gave me no other choice but to rest (a blessing in disguise). For the past two years, I was juggling working full time and grad classes and essentially making no time for rest.

The time was just what I needed to reflect, reset, and let my body heal. I am nowhere near out of the clear. I will likely need to have an additional surgery to remove screws from my ankle and months of PT until I can engage in my usual activities again. As of 3 weeks ago, I started walking again for the first time and I have a renewed sense for gratitude for things that everyone take for granted such as walking.

 

Looking ahead

To say this year was a journey is quite an understatement. I am so proud of where this year has taken me. I’m already thinking ahead to what 2019 will bring, but before then I’m looking forward to enjoying the holidays with my friends and family. See you on the other side of the new year!

The Introvert’s Guide to Creating Learning Products: The First 60 days

I say it all the time, but I cannot believe how fast time flies! I started my new role as Product Manager of Pluralsight’s newest product, Role IQ, over 60 days ago!

The move to product management was a very meticulous decision on my part. It took over 6 months of research, networking, interviewing, and a lot of introspection before finally deciding to take the leap to an official PM role. Now with 60 days in the bag, I’m so happy that I decided to make the move. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner, but then I remember that things always happen in the time they’re meant to.

 

Off to a rough start

The transition to Product Manager didn’t happen as smoothly as I would’ve liked. A week before my start date, I was scheduled to head into the office to meet some of my new team members. On the way out of the house, I ended up falling down 6 stairs. After falling, I lifted up my leg and noticed my ankle facing the opposite direction. OUCH! A trip to the ER and a dozen X-rays later, I found out my prognosis: a fractured ankle and  3 torn ligaments.

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Left: Immediately after the fall, Right: 2 weeks post-op cast removal

 

The first 60 days in a new role would be a challenge for almost anyone. But throw a broken ankle into the mix and things get taken to a whole other level. To say that I’ve grown personally and professionally while working and recovering over the past 60 days is an understatement. I wanted to take some time to share some lessons I’ve learned while starting my journey creating learning products:

 

Get your hands on the product!

One of the things I did within my first week, was complete a product teardown for Role IQ. A product teardown is when you investigate and reverse engineer the thinking and experience behind a product. This activity gave me a first hand look into the existing functionality of my product before I got too familiar with it’s ins and outs. It also allowed me to open up a more productive dialogue about the product with my team from the very beginning.

 

Start building relationships with all of your stakeholders

I am the absolute epitome of an introvert, so I knew going into my new role that I would have to make an extra effort to meet everyone. Over the first month, I ended up have 30+ virtual 1:1 sessions. I did them based on order of priority starting with my immediate team including developers and UX designer. I then starting meeting with other key stakeholders including other PMs, product marketing, support, and customer success. Once all the initial meet and greets we’re done, I made sure to put reoccurring meetings with stakeholders on my calendar so I’d never have to think twice about who to talk to and when. Due to the size of Pluralsight, I’m still discovering people that would be great connect with about my product. Thats why forming relationships early with folks is so important; whoever you meet with will likely refer you to others.

 

Get aquatinted with your OKRs and performance metrics

My second week on the job was the first week of Q4 and I was lucky enough to have perfectly crafted OKRs (objectives and key results) all ready to go. After reviewing the OKRs with my manager and getting my mind wrapped around them, I set up some time with my team. I held a deep dive session with the Role IQ team to discuss what we planned on accomplishing for the quarter and brainstorm some possible approaches to problems. The time spent discussing the OKRs was invaluable. It made each of us aware of how the product would be measured and what success would look like.

 

Talk to the customer ASAP

Almost all companies these days tout about the importance of “voice of the customer”, but not all practice it. At the end of the day product management is all about solving problems for your customers. How can anyone solve their customer’s problems if they’re not talking to them? Thats why I made it a point to kick off customer calls as soon as possible. Since my product encompasses B2B and B2C markets, that meant hopping on calls with learning and tech leaders inside of enterprise organizations, as well as connecting with the learners themselves.

I followed Pluralsight’s Directed Discovery process which included doing voice of the customer (VOC) exploration calls. I also did some customer confirmation testing (CCT) which included looking at qualitative and quantitative feedback from customers who were already interacting with the product.

In addition to conducting my own research, I listened to customer recordings that took place before I inherited the product. I also sat in on client calls that others we’re conducting. I can honestly say, there really is nothing like hearing feedback directly from the customer. Some of the best insights I’ve heard, have come straight from these sessions and they’ve immediately impacted the future of the product.

 

Have your first win

I knew going into my new role that I wanted to have my first win as soon as possible to prove that I was bringing value to the team. One of my favorite moments was leading my product into an Open Beta where managers and admins could opt into our experience via a banner in the UI. It took a ton of wrangling for it to go live – including our team  finishing up some amazing work on analytics features, working collaboratively with another product team, and leading demos for our product marketing, sales, and presales team. It was the moment that really proved to me that I could be a Product Manager, I was doing it, remotely, and with a broken ankle to-boot!

 

Ask Questions

One of the most powerful things a product manager can do is ask questions. If you hear someone talking about a process or procedure that you’ve never heard of – ask a question. If someone says why they built or do something a certain way – ask a question. You will learn so much about whats going on, how things work, and how someone thinks the way they do about something. Ask anyone and everything – it’s important to soak up as much knowledge as possible.

 

Be patient and take care of yourself

One of the most important things I’ve learned since getting injured is the power of patience. For the past few years, I’ve ran as fast as humanly possible to every goal that I set out for myself. I’ve had mentors and friends tell me to slow down, have more fun, and make time for myself but I never listened. The injury forced me to slow down and be patient with myself and my body. I’ve learned to listen to the signs that I need rest and not feel guilty about sitting on the couch and sleeping on the weekends. At the end of the day, it’s completely impacted my working style and made me a well rounded product manager.

 

 

 

Lessons Learned from Learning 2018

This week, I attended Elliott Masie’s Learning 2018 in Orlando, FL. It was my first time attending the event and to top it off I was apart of the 30 under 30 group. Overall, it was a great experience. For those that haven’t attended Elliott Masie’s Learning conference before, it is 2.5 days long and jammed packed with all things learning. I was definitely nervous to travel over 1,200 miles with my knee scooter (I’m still recovering from my fractured ankle!). Looking back, i’m so happy I decided to get over my fear and make the trek to Florida. It was a great opportunity to connect with others in the industry and hear about some of their experiences. Below are some highlights from the trip:

30 under 30 

The day before the official start to the conference was an entire day dedicated to professional development for the 30 under 30 group. We heard insights from some industry greats including: Elliott Masie, Bob Mosher, Richard Culatta, Bruce Wilkinson, Nigel Eyre, and Jayzen Patria. We even had a CLO panel including Tara Deakin (TD Bank), Rob Lauber (McDonalds), and Martha Soehren (Comcast).

Two things really resonated with me during these sessions, focused on career transitions and continuous learning. At one point Elliott actually said, “Really good people leave Learning and Development for sales or other departments because they’re so good at what they do”. Meanwhile, during the CLO Panel, each learning executive mentioned the importance of continuously challenging yourself when you meet your goals. It is not enough to set a goal and then settle, you much keep stretching yourself outside the box to see how far you can push yourself. Each of them also detailed a major change they made in their career by jumping either industries, roles, or locations.

These are EXACTLY the things that have been ruminating over in my mind when deciding to make the leap to Product Management. Hearing about the importance of challenge and career transitions really made me more confident and happy about all of the changes I’ve been making over the past few months.

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Learning 2018 – 30 under 30 

Industry Trends

I was able to attend over 8 sessions during the conference and noticed some trends occurring in the industry:

Frustration about being order takers

This is definitely nothing new but a common theme I noticed was the frustration among L+D Practitioners had about being order takers from stakeholders within their businesses. Many described hearing things such as “We need a 5 day course in X”, “We need 3 e-learning modules in Y”. I think this really emphasizes the importance of needs assessment by practitioners. It is our duty to partner not only with our stakeholders but learners and really dig down and identify the problems that are taking place so that we can create the best solutions possible to truly impact performance. We need to educate our partners and let them know that training is only one piece of the puzzle and there are many different tools at our disposal. At the end of the day, as learning practitioners we are responsible for helping our learners and ensuring that they’re performing.

 

Analytics aren’t whats coming soon – they’re already here

I attended 2 sessions on learning analytics, metrics, and measurement. I found these sessions particularly interesting because I just released a beta feature for my product which included an analytics dashboard for companies to track metrics on their employees skills assessments. It seemed that many at the conference had no idea where to start with data or were completely overwhelmed with the amount of data they had to shift through.

It really emphasized the importance of being thoughtful about the type of data that we’re collecting to improve performance improvement. Through identifying the KPIs and metrics from the outset of a project, we can make ensure that were continuously tracking progress and determining whether were meeting the goals of our learners and organization. I mean, how else are we going to be able to prove we’re having an impact? I really encourage all practitioners to add metrics as another tool in their toolbox.

 

The Importance of Adopting a Business Mindset

What truly terrified me was the lack of alignment among practitioners whether they consider their learning solutions to be an actual product. I might be biased because of my recent move to product management. However, during the CLO panel I actually posed the question to the executives if they considered the solutions their organizations are creating as being learning products. Each one of them, one by one said no. I couldn’t believe it!  Just sessions earlier, Elliott Masie mentioned the importance of adopting a business mindset within the learning industry.

A product can be considered something that helps a user fulfill a need. As Practitioners, we’re creating learning products whether it’s in the form of elearning, instructor led training, performance support, or something else. We’re trying to help our learners perform better or have some type of performance improvement outcome. I truly cannot stress enough the importance of adopting this mindset. As practitioners, if we consider ourselves as delivering products I think we will think more holistically about the solutions we’re providing. It will also change the way that were creating solutions at a very foundational level.

Overall, Learning 2018 was such a wonderful experience. As always the best part was being able to connect with like minds in the industry. I am so grateful for the connections and conversations that I made over the past few days and I look forward for continuing them for years to come!