2:54-5:12 Employee experience matters
5:12-6:32 Impact on ROI
6:32-10:24 Developing Interests
10:24-14:36 One shoe does not fit all
14:36-17:24 Personalised Learning
17:24-19:10 Bite-Size Content
19:10-22:47 Learning as a flow of work
22:47-27:20 Right content
27:20-30:00 LMS vs LXP?
August 3, 2022
In this episode of the L&D Cafe, Pranav Kale, Senior copywriter at iMocha, speaks with Dr. Kshitij Deshmukh, who leads Learning and Development Practices at iMocha, about his approach to creating more engaging Learning and Development programs. He talks about LMSs, Learning Experience Platforms or LXPs, the varying attention spans of the employees, and how learning and development can actually resemble a Netflix experience for them, bite-sized learning, and a lot more.
Pranav- Hey, this is Pranav here. Dr. Kshitij, welcome to the show. I think I need to tell the listener or rather warn them that I and Dr. Kshitij actually go way back, we have been colleagues, friends, and also you have been, a mentor to me at times. And so, that doesn't feel like a formal conversation to me. It just feels as if I'm catching up with you and just pulling your thoughts on our topic that I think both you and I are passionate about, which is employee experience in Learning and Development.
So, probably I think a good place to start would be, just establishing the need, right? So, let's get into the mind of learning and development professionals, right? He or she has put together this program and they are doing their job. They are following, they already have a lot on their plate, and now Pranav comes and Dr. Kshitij comes and he tells them that, no, you also need to think of employee experience, which puts an added burden on them.
So, my first question would be, why is it important? Why should any L & D professional actually care about employee experience? How do you convince them?
Dr. Kshitij- So Pranav, thank you first of all, for those kind words; you are definitely an enthusiastic individual, and it's always a pleasure to exchange thoughts. Coming to our first question, why does experience matter? So, let's take a simple example. I'm sure listeners as well as you might have seen how Maruti initially and now Mercedes have changed and the experience that we go through in the automobile segment. Let's assume that we are traveling from Pune to Bombay; what you experience when you're sitting in a C-Class Mercedes cannot be compared to the experience of traveling in a local bus or one of the regular cars.
Similarly, in today's hybrid model, working from home, sometimes from the office, battling multiple things as you rightly said, one of the essential parameters for me as an L & D manager, is always- whether my learner is interested or feeling engaged. So, my perspective is getting the people engaged is one of the prime mottos, which is similar to the experience of traveling in a Mercedes or Maruti 800 as I compared in the previous definition, is what we are trying to establish for our learners. That's why there's a need.
Pranav- Okay, do you think there could be a direct impact on the ROI if the learner is actually interested, or do you think that has not been calculated yet?
Dr. Kshitij- Frankly, there is a tangible direct impact. If I talk about a famous US survey, which was conducted for 261 of the most valuable corporations from the Forbes list, one of the scientists or L & D experts/enthusiasts studied how experience really matters for engagement. It was observed that only 6% of the 261 people are having an awesome employee experience. The rest 94% of people fall in good or below average.
And if he observes stock prices, the ranking of these companies in the great places to work, happiness index of employees, the 6% more-engaged people received a better ROI in terms of stock prices, in terms of happiness, or even employee retention.
Pranav- Okay, yeah, I think that's a great point. Now, going to the other side, or let's say, putting on the employee hat for a bit. Why do you think they're fundamentally let's say a little averse or they do not want to participate in the L & D programs? I have heard it from people and have experienced it myself- whenever there is a new initiative, a new training initiative, or a new learning and development initiative, for the first two weeks, there is a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of engagement, and a lot of participation. Later, that engagement or that participation starts dropping. So, I can totally get where you are coming from I'm totally in for the premise, but I'm just wondering as to why that happens in the first place, why does the adoption drop?
Dr. Kshitij- So, let's take a very simple human behavior to begin understanding this point If I'm given a choice to view a reel on Instagram or Facebook, which is of about 30 seconds, or Netflix, which might be around five to six minutes versus a TV series, which is going to consume half an hour of my time; I will always go for the shorter version or bite-sized version of the reel. L & D programs, when they start, as is common, one is keen to actually go ahead and experience it. What happens to me in the next 10 minutes defines my upcoming two-hour engagement at that place. With the hybrid model, people are not in the classroom. So, the trainer or instructor is sitting far off. If I receive a WhatsApp message or an office email, which is distracting me, is something that needs to be known across. Because of these natural distractions and a limited attention span of not more than 12 minutes, at a time, it automatically impacts the adoption to a lower level, unless you keep pumping something, which is of interest to the people.
Pranav- Understood. Do you also think when we are designing the actual training program, we also have to actually go and talk to the employees and understand their motivations, and where they want to be? So, do you think there is also, along with the pointers that you made about distractions and having maybe bite-size content, do you think there is also a fundamental flaw in the strategy, where the L & D community or the L & D professionals are not talking to employees enough, and not really understanding what motivates them? Do you think that also plays here?
Dr. Kshitij- I think you've hit the nail on the head. You give me what you feel is right for me, rather than finding out whether I'm interested in that or not. For example, let's say, I don't like a specific vegetable and you fill my plate with that vegetable, and then try to force me to eat it even though I never wanted it, I will automatically starve. And you will always insist that you have pushed something or served something, which is something really useful, but I don't need it. Very, very important step, Pranav, you picked it up, is to have at least a focus group, you cannot talk to all employees, we understand that. But again focus group participation and the need of getting the validation correct is what I think is one of the important aspects we should consider as an L & D fraternity.
Pranav- Cool, that's helpful. So, let's assume that someone is listening, like the VP of an L & D or even an L & D manager, and they have already talked to the employees or they have conducted the focus group exercise that you spoke about and have gathered some requirements. Now, they're listening to this podcast, and as they're looking to plan their initiative, they're right at the start, okay? So, the thought process has been done, maybe the skill gap analysis has been done, the learning path has been designed to an extent, or maybe, at the start of designing the learning path, right?
In that case, where do they begin? Because they know that, Dr. Kshitij says that, okay, we have to focus on employees, we get that. But, it's such a big project and I don't know where to start. So, what could be a few pillars or what could be a few good starting points for them to start increasing this employee participation or increasing the employee experience in the whole process?
Dr. Kshitij- So, if I understand your question right, Pranav, just help me formulate the question. If I am an L & D manager and I want good adoption or participation in my L & D program, what are some of the key elements I need to take care of, or what can be the foundational steps that I can take?
Pranav- Exactly, yes that's correct.
Dr. Kshitij- A famous saying, which I love, is one shoe does not fit all, but when it comes to learning, let's take a simple example of communication skills. Whether I have ten years of experience, eight years, or two years of experience, all of us are put into grammar training, a kind of program, without actually conducting pre-assessment to know- am I already beyond the training program's level? In this case, voluntary participation will never happen. So, always allow people to undergo experimentation and make an assessment; not as a mandate, but as an option for them to check, (once they know) in the areas of communication, for instance, speaking and grammar, where I'm good, but vocabulary and structured writing is something where Dr. Kshitij Deshmukh is not up to the mark. So, I will accept the program and I will start participating in it. So, definitely provide a personalized form of learning. Also, start with some pre-assessments to show them a mirror, (if I am using that word correctly) so that they know and there is a bind from their side
Pranav- Okay, so I think for the listeners, I would just like to summarize what you have said because I think this was super interesting. I think it'll be tempting for me to say that if there's a business unit of, let's say 40 team members, it's very tempting for me to have a one-size-fits-everyone approach, where I put all of them through similar training, just because I have some anecdotal data that, okay, these guys, for example, are customer-facing, but their communication is not great. And so, we have to improve their communication, that's the brief that the L & D manager gets. Then he starts implementing the program, but one of the mistakes that he or she should avoid is creating this one-size-fits-all approach for all of those 40 members, because it's quite possible that, maybe 10 of them are actually good at written English, but when it comes to speaking English, they struggle or maybe it's vice versa for the other 10, right? So, I think what you're saying is really interesting and helpful; that we have to take the extra effort, right? It's easy for me to just put in one solution for everyone and a little harder for me to customize it, but that's a necessary effort that we have to put in as we execute the Learning and Development program.
Dr. Kshitij- Perfect, Pranav. I'm just adding one more layer out here- many times if I'm a five-year or eight-year experienced project manager, or business analyst, typically from IT, I already talk day in and day out to customers. I get a lot of appreciation meals, but I'm put into a communication skills training program. My acceptance is very low. I say, "Hey, I don't need it yet. My manager is being too harsh on me." So go ahead, make one assessment plugged into the system, which tells me, where do I start as compared to the required norms? So, when I start the program, I have a mental bind- "Yes, I need this program, and that's why I'm here." And I will take extra efforts to learn, implement the learnings, and bring that it out. That's my point.
Pranav- So, if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is showing them the mirror, as you said, which I think is a fascinating term. Just maybe having a pre-training assessment where you give them some, let's say, proof, or you actually show them the report, which then tells them that, okay, this is not biased. This is not something that we feel and that's why you're doing it; it's something because, in the reality of it, this is the report. And that's why you should participate in this program.
Dr. Kshitij- Absolutely correct. And one more dimension, just to add out here, now as an L & D manager, you can get buy-in from the employee side, see, typically let's continue with the same communication skill example. So, there is a person called Ramesh, who's working as part of my team. He feels he's a rock star, but the assessment reveals that there are certain gaps. So, the next step is to explain to Ramesh what are the gaps. So, there is something called a coach, who needs to be from the same industry, who picks up that report, and then explains to Ramesh, what are the lacunas, and exactly how training is going to help him. If this coaching was done by any English guy, Ramesh will never buy that, the coaching has to be done by a relevant person.
Pranav- Understood, okay. This is awesome Kshitij. So, if you had to move on, apart from this point that you've covered about personalized learning, and getting their buy-in, what are the other things that I as an L & D professional need to look at if I have to just transform my employee experience in the industry?
Dr Kshitij- Pranav, I'm sure you are tracking the way the L & D community per se, how people learn. At one time we used to be inside a classroom instructor, instruction or instructor-led training was very popular. Then we go down to a traditional guidance Coursera era, wherein I was given a program that used to be for 30 hours, two months of duration. Now today's learner wants to work during his work. He cannot dedicate himself. So, as a young chap, I remember when I used to be preparing for my MBA, or when I used to be in the 10th, we used to get up early, dedicate two hours, starting in the day, every day, for five days a week. Today's learners, multi-generation millennials, don't want to do it. If I need an Excel formula, I need to have a learning mechanism, which is available to me during this conversation so that I can learn. It needs to be small in size, easy to understand, and directly implementable at the workplace. Concepts, Josh Bersin keeps talking about such as learning as a flow of work, are actually right. And it's high time, we as L & D professionals, migrate away from a traditional push strategy to empowering our learners today, to learn as they want to.
Pranav- Understood, even though you have established the foundation, I believe where you explained how the whole learning environment has evolved, let's say from the 70s, and 80s to where we are today, could you zoom in, or could you double click on this thing that you said, which is learning as a flow of work, what does it actually mean? And could you just break it apart a little bit?
Dr. Kshitij- Sure, thank you for asking. It's a question very close to my heart. What I am trying to do is, just to give you an insight. Learning as a flow of work is, you don't dedicatedly reserve a specific time to learn. You don't take extra effort. You learn naturally while you are working, which is one of the examples or simple definitions of learning as a flow of work. How does this help? So, I'm sure, all of us are working on one of the project management software called Teams.
So, all of us have Microsoft plugin, PowerPoint plugin, and some of our project management tools available in the Team environment itself. Let's say, Pranav is working on a complex Excel Sheet, where he needs to have learnings of VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP and use them for bringing out certain data pointers on Power BI implementation. Can I have, within the Team's environment, without going onto any of the other browsers, the ability to pick up small bite-sized learning? Can I type in the help bar, "what is HLOOKUP?" Four options,-something from Udemy, something from Coursera, and something from YouTube emerge, which is of five minutes, 15 minutes, and 14 minutes. I, as a learner, have a choice to pick up the thing that I want to pick up and learn and immediately implement it in my workflow, which is learning as a flow of work typically.
Pranav- Is it about me, as a participant, learning that concept during my working hours, or what is it more about?
Dr. Kshitij- Absolutely, Without you knowing that you are learning, you're working to make that working efficient, you need to learn something, you just moved out, stepped out, learned, came back, and implemented it. Because it was useful, and you felt it was in line with your work, there is 100% adoption of these types of things.
Pranav- Okay, is the adoption because of the fact that it's bite-sized learning, or is it because the context is relevant to me at this point in time that, okay, I am facing this problem and I feel that I need to learn something to solve that problem? So, the context is relevant. Is it because of that? Or is it because of, maybe integrating it into an already existing environment, as you said into something like Teams, or is it all of these?
Dr. Kshitij- Frankly, if you ask me because the context is correct, it's bite-sized, I can actually learn. And it's available within the same environment. So I think all three tie together to make it readily available. And there is no aversion or reservation from my side to participate and pick this up. All three coming together has made this more possible.
Pranav- Understood, during our interactions offline, I think I've touched upon bite-sized learning a couple of times now, but one objection that comes to my mind, okay, and this is not backed by data or anything, but just like my personal opinion perhaps, or a personal resistance, I would say, to bite-sized learning would be that bite-sized learning sounds good because it's easier to consume, but when you're looking for a deeper transformation through learning when you're actually looking to transform as a person, or really learn a particular skill and become a master at that skill, it just seems to be that we need probably a longer intervention. So, how do you balance this bite-sized content with a longer intervention? If that question makes sense.
Dr. Kshitij- Very interesting question Pranav. So, this question, allow me to set a context for this. So, if I am a college graduating student, trying to build my thesis around thermodynamics, and I want to prepare a 10-page report and be a master of a topic called thermodynamics, I may not really pick up learning as a flow model to actually demonstrate this learning because the ultimate purpose is to create some research, which is backed by some reading. So, we have to go back to the traditional model. As an L & D manager with 5,000 plus people in an organization, I am responsible for providing a conducive environment, making things available, and improving efficiency. If they used to take six hours to complete one Excel formula-based work to bring it down to five and half hours today and translate it to five hours. I save one hour for each person, Pranav. If there are 5,000, I have increased 5000 hours of productivity for my company. So, since we are not here to help you master a skill, definitely you are correct. I know the concept of HLOOKUP or VLOOKUP, temporarily, I can go and use it in my current project. But if I want to master it, within a night or over the weekend, I will have to go back, take a deeper dive, find out, and then come back. That's how we need to differentiate both contexts.
Pranav- Yeah, I think that's a really good distinction because I think that does address my concern that for now, you're getting a small bite, it's like a trailer to a movie. And then whenever you...
Dr. Kshitij- The purpose of the bite is to enable you. You're caught at a place, which is not allowing you to complete the assignment. I just enable that opening up a gate for you.
Pranav- Right, and that small win also gives me the confidence, right? To explore the topic deeply as opposed to climbing this huge mountain, you are telling me to climb one step, which is so much easier. And when I climb that one step, I feel motivated to maybe climb the mountain or maybe take the next step and then eventually climb the mountain.
Dr. Kshitij- In fact, I'll tell you my personal story. When I started my journey towards perceiving my doctorate, explained this to many people, who actually used to discourage me a lot because the thesis is always 254 pages. My thesis is 254 pages. You need to study and do 1500 plus, actual primary data collection points. It's humongous when you look at it in totality, but always in my life, I have divided the problem ad then tried to conquer it. I took one step at a point, tried to digest it, and then automatically, logically, the second step actually followed. That's how I was able to complete my doctorate in a shorter span of three and a half years. Normally people take six to seven years to actually establish their primary data content. So, it's better to break it and then use it.
Pranav- Yeah, that's a really good analogy. Thank you for that. So, I was also wondering, if there is a role of, as you were exploring the transition of Learning and Development over the years, one thing that comes up is this transition from LMS to LXP, right? Do you think that LXP also has a certain potential to enhance the employee experience in Learning and Development?
Dr. Kshitij- Absolutely, so thank you for bringing the basic context back to the discussion, LXP. Now, a few years back, we were using Google classroom or Moodle as one of our learning management systems, we had internal SMEs, we used to create questions, and we used to create the content. We used to house it over certain things. There was the web, there was a sequence of web pages, and we used to send this specific link as learning material to all 5,000 plus employees. Initially, we received at large because from the classroom too, we were able to bring everything online. But when it came to sales training, the sales team did not want to have these things. They wanted to have live case studies. Now, if I talk about the business analysts, one of the groups wanted to participate in this human link through a mobile platform. There were certain administrators or coaches who could only connect through their company given Apple phones or tablets. Now my Moodle used to fail at that point. People were forced to open their laptops, sit down, and then only try to do it. So, this new era of LXP manages all the devices. It opens up on all the platforms and gives you a plethora of options. The same implementation, if I have to do it today, I will pick up an LXP, and LXP will allow them to pick up our learning topics from any number of different options, like Udemy, Coursera, YouTube, Pluralsight, whatever they feel like. So, I'm not providing them handpicked. The power is with them to actually pick, select, and then explore it. So the flow entirely has changed because of LPs.
Pranav- Okay, as we begin to wrap up, I want to summarize the different things that we have covered so far, and perhaps also give you a chance to add anything more, if you want to. But we started off with a problem or with a challenge or with a question that when we start, when we launch our training program or L & D program, the participation is usually enthusiastic. The engagement is usually high and then it starts dropping. And as to why does it actually happen in the first place? So first, we started trying to address this problem by going right to the foundation, which is, that perhaps the program that you're designing is not in line with the why of the employees, with their fundamental motivations and desires. So, that is what we started with, then after that is sorted, you touched upon a few concepts.
So, the first one is personalization, which is where you said that you can't treat everyone the same. There is no one size fits in learning, even in a small group, there's always a chance to go deeper, and slice and dice that group into different parts. And depending on their current skill level, we can have a specialized learning path for them. One of the ways to remove their bias is basically by doing a pre-training assessment, which gives them a report, which basically proves to them, that, okay, this is a skill that you're missing, and this is a skill that you probably need to work on. So, that was the first part. In the second part, you spoke about learning as a flow of work, where you spoke about how we can integrate learning into the work-life of a professional. Where you touched upon things like having it in the already existing systems that they're using. So you gave examples of Teams, which I thought was fascinating.
You also touched upon having bite-sized learning, which I thought was also helpful in the sense that it gives them small wins, lets them learn a little bit, and then, I know, lets them graduate to a bigger program if they want to. And finally, we touched upon the whole concept of LXP and what potential do they have in enhancing the experience. Do you have anything else to add, Dr. Kshitij, before we wrap this up?
Dr. Kshitij- Pranav, it was very interesting! The last couple of things that I want to add is-you came to me, you asked me what program am I looking for through a focus group, and you conducted a pre-assessment. So, I'm aligned with you. You've ensured I have experience, whether it is offline, or online experience.
If you could just add the last layer of a bit of appreciation to me, by quantifying my learning and indicating my improvements, to me, my line manager, or let's say practice head, it'll create a big buy-in or a positive pull for people to come down, can be as simple as giving me certain patches, some certificates, or giving certain goodies as a recognition of my effort. Now, if you could lastly let me know, where in my existing organization or outside, I can use this, (my knowledge) I get a tangible benefit in terms of changing my role. This is something that will add a lot and a lot more participation to the entire activity.
Pranav- Yeah, I think this is a really good point, right? And maybe we need to have a separate episode on just the rewards and the recognition for our participants, which I think is a deep topic in itself because, in my reading, I've come across a couple of articles. I don't remember which ones, but they spoke about having both internal rewards and external rewards. So internal is more of like, my motivation and just appealing to my desires. And then the external rewards could be something monetary for that matter, or maybe it could be something as shallow as giving them some refreshments at a program, like something as simple as that.
Dr. Kshitij- That's a good point, for e.g., Flipkart rewards.
Pranav- Right, right, so yeah, even though we can't really go deep into this topic, I think you have given the audience a good start and they can perhaps explore how the whole rewarding system can work for them. But yeah, I think these are really good, four, five pillars or four, five pointers that the audience can chew on. And perhaps in later episodes, we can go maybe deeper or dive even deeper into all of these pointers one by one. So, yeah, this was fun. I think, I learned a lot in the process, and thank you so much for taking the time, Dr. Kshitij. This was super interesting.
Dr. Kshitij- Thank you, Pranav! It's always a pleasure talking to you.
Thank you, wish you all the best.