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

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!

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.

IMG_9234.jpg

 

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.

Image from iOS.jpg
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.

IMG_9556
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!