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How to design digital learning for skills

In this episode of Mind the Skills Gap, I'm joined by Georgie Cooke, to discus practical insights to help you design digital learning to build skills.

How to design digital learning for skills
February 23, 2023
How to design digital learning for skills

Can digital learning help build skills? Up to a point! Georgie Cooke joined me to dig into this topic on Mind the Skills Gap. From how to simulate real-life environments to practice skills - to the realities of fluctuating confidence levels as you learn, we covered a lot of ground!

Digital Learning for Skills

What’s the secret to helping people learn new skills, adopt new habits and see new perspectives? I dug into the subject with Georgie Cooke, Head of Learning Experience at digital agency Lima Delta. Listen to the full episode or have a skim of 8 tips to takeaway from the conversation.

Listen to the episode in your favourite player

8 tips for designing learning experiences for skills development:

1. Build skills, not just knowledge

There’s an assumption that if you help people build their knowledge, the skills will just come. Not so, Georgie and I agreed.  

Knowledge acquisition is the process of absorbing facts and information. An employee can gain knowledge, but not actually apply it.  

Skill, on the other hand, comes from applying that knowledge and developing proficiency.  

2. Choose the right design process

For skills training to be effective, it needs to simulate authentic work environments and create realistic opportunities for practise and feedback. At Stellar Labs, our design process starts with the question: what do you want your people to be able to do?

Georgie takes a similar tack, as she recalls a recent project for a bank. “We were asked to train staff who look after high net worth customers. We focused on five core skills needed to do the job, and the differences between executing those skills at an average level versus an exceptional level.”

Georgie approached the design process from two angles. First, she simulated their real-world environments and captured the challenges the bank workers faced. Then she focused on the self-directed elements of training – “things like continued practise and reflection, and taking on board feedback and choosing to implement it”.  

3. Support self-directed learning

Georgie admits that supporting people to do the self-directed parts can be a challenge. “A lot of our conversations were around: how can we give them structured feedback to improve? At what point do they need to take responsibility for furthering their own skills in their own way?”

It’s a conundrum many L&D professionals face (and one which we’re tackling with our learning transfer platform).  

4. Extend the skills journey into the workplace

Evidence shows that employees need nudges, prompts, support and practical guidance to transfer skills into the workplace. It takes time. Unfortunately, there’s no cheat-code to skip to the end, but there are tools that facilitate skills transfer and allow businesses to support it at scale.  

5. Support people, from novice to skill master

Georgie agrees that time is an important factor. “It’s a long road to mastery of skills. It doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen by itself. It is a journey, from novice all the way up to master.”  

6. Recognise that confidence fluctuates  

We believe confidence plays a key role on the skills development journey. But confidence can fluctuate along the way. That’s why ongoing support is vital to encouraging the belief you can – and will – improve over time, despite setbacks.  

“It’s about realising a setback doesn’t mean: I will never be able to do this. It means: I’ve learnt, I’ve got some data on what not to do, what to try differently next time, and I can still improve,” says Georgie.

7. Create safe, yet realistic opportunities to practice new skills

Work environments are complex. Most people find they are never executing just one skill – they are doing multiple things at the same time. And all those skills interlink.  

Georgie frames it in the context of sport. “Top-flight footballers are incredibly skilled, but they still miss penalties or fluff a shot every now and then. And that’s interesting. It shows skills never exist in isolation.  

“Those footballers could train in a calm environment but when the pressure is on, when a nation is watching on TV, it’s a lot more complex.  

“The same is true – albeit with less visibility – in our workplace scenarios. We can help people build skills in a safe space. But we have to include complex spaces for them to practise in because that’s real. You could be on the phone, trying to have a difficult conversation and influence a stakeholder, but there’s actually a lot more going on. There’s politics, there’s personality, there’s emotion.  

“If we want people’s skills to transfer into the real world, we have to simulate as much of the complexity of the real world as possible in their learning environment. Otherwise, it’s a huge shock to the system when they get back to the workplace.”

8. Encourage reflection as a key element of building skills

Another important, but often undervalued, element to skills development is reflection. Georgie goes back to her example of a learner tackling their first ‘difficult’ phone call after training.

“When you come off that first conversation, it’s important to take five minutes and say, okay, how did I feel about that? What went well? What am I going to try next time?”

How to beat the skills gap

If the European Year of Skills is to be a success, organisations need to find ways to address the skills gap. Stellar Labs has a full range of solutions to help, but what’s Georgie’s top tip?  

“Simulate, simulate, simulate!” she says. “It’s difficult to just tell people how to do something. The more practical you can make it, the more you can show what good looks like and then give people opportunities to practise in environments that are as complex and as close to their day-to-day as possible, the better.”  

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