2020: Employees should learn in the flow of work, not from A to Z

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Learning in the flow of work through nonlinear training will lead to stronger developers in 2020.

TechRepublic’s Karen Roby talks with Laura Baldwin, the President of O’Reilly Media, about what employers need to keep in mind when it comes to employee training and learning in 2020. The following is an edited transcript of their interview.

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Laura Baldwin: We actually define learning two different ways. We define linear learning as, start from A, and go to Z. You need to to learn a new technology for example, or even a new language, you start at A, you go to Z. But the reality is, most of the people in our orbit, our 2.5 million users on the platform, they are already conversant in many technologies. We call that structural literacy, and they don’t need the A-to-Z type learning that is provided by most learning platforms. They need productivity tools, like we provide, that allow them to go in and search for an answer and get that answer in the flow of their work.

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At O’Reilly, we are big believers in learning in the flow of work. We believe that even putting a simple question into our learning platform–“Help me fix my loop in Python”–is someone learning on the job. We think a mistake companies are making is they’re defining learning as, “Hey everybody, go take this 40-hour video course.” Sitting through a video doesn’t mean you know how to actually apply that knowledge. We are big into application. We believe that that nonlinear learning–that learning in the flow of work where you’re actually taking bits and pieces to make up what you need to be a more productive employee–is exactly where the world is going, and 50% of the usage on our platform is exactly that.

We’ve acquired a company called Katacoda, that has an open platform that allows sandboxes, where they can actually take a reference material like a book and actually play inside of a Python sandbox so they can learn as they go. We think that’s critical. Because like I said, just reading a piece of text or watching a video does not mean you understand and can apply what you’ve learned, and we believe that is really the future of learning. That the days of sitting behind a computer and reading or watching something, that’s sort of what we call static learning approach, is really over, and interactivity is where things are really going.

Karen Roby: Now that we’re rounding out 2019 and heading in to 2020, do you feel like employers are getting this? Is this something that they’re kind of opposed to? I mean, change is always hard for us, but are they coming around to it?

Laura Baldwin: I would say some are and some aren’t. The ones that are really understand that new technologies and innovation within their companies starts from the ground up. It doesn’t start with an executive team sitting in a conference room making decisions about what’s going to happen. It is really smart people working for you that are trying new things as they go. And I think those people today, those developers, those product managers, they need access to the tools to help them learn and understand how to take those technologies, and turn them into innovation and strategies for their company. I think that’s the job of any good learning platform is to enable users. Not just to let them watch a video and say, “I’ve learned how to do this,” but how to turn it into productivity tools and innovation for their companies, and that’s what we try to focus on.

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