Digital dexterity a must for organisations of the future: Tara O’ Sullivan

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As the chief Marketing officer for Skillsoft, Tara O’ Sullivan has extensive experience in using product marketing, branding, driving strategic growth, and overseeing the content production business and corporate marketing. During a recent visit here, she shared how the learning paradigm is changing and how technology is making it more user-focused.

How do you see the edutech sector evolving in the next few years, especially when AI, machine learning and digitisation are changing the rules of the game?

With a large number of companies already existing, and smaller ones starting up at a rapid pace, the sector will see a massive shakeout in terms of smaller companies being acquired or integrated with the more established players. However, what will not change is the fact that user experience remains at the centre. Content should be designed and delivered from the perspective of user experience. It’s the same as any other HR process where it’s the end-user experience or the people that matters more than the process itself.

Of late, the annual performance review has been replaced by the ‘monthly 30 by 30’ initiative. Under this, every 30 days, there is a 30-minute discussion with employees about their job, growth path and so on, because employees cannot wait for a full year’s review about their performance and then decide what to do next. This feedback is more immediate and comes with a level of intimacy. For example, if an employee does a fantastic job or is an inspiration, the company can send a digital postcard where the persona is recorded on the internal directory. It’s all about enabling and empowering people through technology. The process is eased out by technology resulting in a culture of appreciation and learning, which ultimately means celebration of an individual.

What role do you see Skillsoft playing in the new eco-system? How has brand Skillsoft grown over the years?

Talking of some of the focus areas for Skillsoft, one of the things that we are trying to do is get people to learn faster, with greater recall and learning retention. Digital transformation is key to operationalisation and innovation in how learning is received.

Leadership is another aspect that has drastically changed over the years. Earlier, leadership- development efforts revolved around a bunch of people taking a three-day sabbatical, once a year, to take up some lessons from a mentor. Now things are different. It is not possible in the current times as no one knows when they will need to lead.

Companies now need to ensure that their employees are trained to lead a cross-functional team and take on leadership roles. It’s about enabling people such that even in times of skill shortage, there are managers who are ready and equipped to take up larger roles.

It’s extremely important for L&D or learning and development professionals to see how content can help the business grow. Unlike a few years ago, L&D is also seen as a significant contributor to the business- growth agenda and is responsible for the same. It is equally important to have the right people in the team. Ultimately, it is about getting everyone to understand the same language, with digital dexterity in every element of the organisation, and this has to flow from the top.

Of late, the annual performance review has been replaced by the ‘monthly 30 by 30’ initiative. Under this, every 30 days, there is a 30-minute discussion with employees about their job, growth path and so on, because employees cannot wait for a full year’s review about their performance and then decide what to do next. This feedback is more immediate and comes with a level of intimacy.

With other players in the B2B learning segment offering similar kind of services, how and where do you place Skillsoft? Which attributes of the brand differentiate it from the herd?

We’ve been around for over 20 years now, and over the years, we have been able to build and analyse unique data about how people learn and what they like to learn. Additionally, it is the multi-modal approach that gives us an edge. We have worked extensively on concepts such as micro-learning and now on ‘nano-learning’. As part of this, we have crisp 20 -second content.

On the other hand, we also have long-form content and a mix of resources according to the learning course one wishes to take up. For instance, one cannot learn Java coding only through micro-learning. One may need a mix of podcasts, manual learning, books, demo- labs and so on. It depends on what the person really wants. Contrary to the general belief, millennials love books and that proves how critical the depth of content really is.

What this means is that people learn differently and we understand that and offer scenario-based learning. This is a unique approach that brings in the essence of classroom or instructor-based learning in a virtual format. We have script writers, who create scenarios that explain concepts in a different way so that the learning gets embedded. For instance, there are actors who help us create relevant and easily-relatable content involving transgender employees or employees with disability, and the respective compelling scenarios, which people deal with at the workplace. There is a lot of animation as well, but everything largely depends on the topics being addressed.

Having trained over 450 million people already, we develop content which is right for the learner and keeps them engaged.

With aggregation, integration and personalisation of content and services ruling the roost, how do you think learning delivery is changing?

Aggregation only delivers content and does not guarantee learning. Content alone isn’t enough to ensure that people really pick the best or whether it addresses their specific needs. More content does not equal to more learning. In fact, it will at times lead to confusion.

Keeping that in mind, Percipio, Skillsoft’s online learning platform, looks at 20 years of data along with subject matter experts, to chart out 500 learning paths for various topics/courses through curated content. While aggregation of content is commonplace, most lack curation.

More than execution, the problem with digitisation is still the slow pace of adoption. How do you think organisations should drive a change in learning culture, to be able to optimally utilise the new-age learning solutions?

Adoption is certainly a tricky game, considering that people are busy most of the time and require easy access, along with a meaningful and comprehensive interface to be able to make the best use of a learning solution. It’s all about how convenient you make it for the user. That said, the Percipio Elsa app allows users learn in the flow of work – to access learning anywhere, anytime, permitting them to do multiple things at a time, as they do in general. This can help drive adoption at the workplace as well, enabling friction-less learning.

It’s extremely important for L&D or learning and development professionals to see how content can help the business grow. Unlike a few years ago, L&D is also seen as a significant contributor to the business- growth agenda and is responsible for the same.

Skillsoft has grown and transformed over the last two decades and so has the talent development and talent management space. How do you see it further transforming the way organisations look at talent?

We need to keep pushing the requirement for innovation. We want to make the development and practice for L&D professionals easier, and micro learning is important in that context.

It’s critical to consider that with new technologies disrupting the work environment and how businesses are being run, new jobs will emerge in the coming times. More responsiveness to these fast-approaching changes in job descriptions is required, for which, we need to predict and recommend learning that’s proactively futuristic and relevant.

Workplaces and how we work have seen a tremendous shift in the last few years and it is being feared that automation will further change the nature of jobs, or may be even take away a few. How do you think reskilling or upskilling will help, and what should organisations be doing now to prevent their talent from becoming redundant?

Studies have pointed that millions of jobs will become redundant and more jobs will be created at the same time. It is the employers’ responsibility to educate employees and help update their skills.

Recently, the World Economic Forum pointed out that women may be more impacted by AI and machine learning, as a majority of women function in roles that will be displaced by technology, such as in the retail shop-floors. They need to figure out new roles for employees based on their personality type and suitability for the job. Employers will have to be the prime educators for readying the workforce for the future, preventing any redundancies.

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