Using Tech to Enhance the ROI of Learning


Source: EdSurge

A panel comprising Fast Company Contributing Writer Ainsley O’Connell, General Assembly CEO Jake Schwartz, US Director of Educational Technology Richard Culatta, and Union Square Ventures Managing Partner Fred Wilson.  Source: EdSurge

Last week, NYU and EDGE, an EdTech Accelerator, hosted National Education Week, a conference that brought together leaders in K12, Higher Education, and Corporate Learning to hear about the problems and opportunities presented by new technologies as they transform the $6 trillion education industry.

General Assembly’s corporate learning team attended the conference to hear about what’s influencing the education space, and we found a diversity of perspectives from the different areas of education. In this post, I’ll investigate the three biggest challenges corporations are facing in their quest to enhance the ROI of learning for employees. I’ll also provide my observations about what these corporations might learn, not only from their corporate peers, but from educators in K12 and Higher Education, too.  

Challenge 1: Recent University Graduates Aren’t Prepared for the Workforce

Source: Ariana Dugan

A panel including Strayer Education CEO Karl McDonnell. Source: Ariana Dugan

Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strayer Education, the holding company that owns for-profit, online college Strayer University, cited a McKinsey study that asked education providers whether their new graduates were “ready to work.” 72% of education providers said yes. The same study found that, when asking the same question to their employers, or the new graduates themselves, fewer than half said that the new graduates were “ready to work.” This means there’s an enormous opportunity for players in the education space to better prepare students for the workforce.

McDonnell went on to point out that this skills gap has created opportunities for institutions to develop credentialing techniques to help both sides: to help the higher ed space know what skills employers are looking for, and to help the employers understand candidates’ skillsets and make more informed hiring decisions.

I was excited to hear this from McDonnell because GA is actually pursuing exactly this kind of credentialing in two of today’s most coveted skills–web development and digital marketing. If you’re interested, you can learn more here.

When done right, a credential is a uniquely valuable tool because it provides a quantitative perspective and a benchmark by which to compare multiple learners. Credentialing can help put skilled people into jobs they’ll succeed at, and I can think of few better returns on a learning investment than success in the workplace. 


Challenge 2:  Right Content, Right Time, Right Place


AIG CIO Dan Lovely, Co-Founder of EdTech Europe Charles McIntyre, and Teach For America Founder Wendy Kopp. Source: LinkedIn

Dan Lovely, CLO of AIG, pointed out that most organizations used to approach L&D transactionally and teach skills that helped people do specific work tasks. Now, he said, many corporations have realized that they need dynamic learning initiatives to teach strategic thinking, rather than hard skills, in order to better prepare their knowledge workers for an uncertain future. How, then, to present their employees with accessible and well-curated content that will drive impact in the workplace?

Charles McIntyre, Co-Founder of EdTech Europe, added to the complexity of the problem when he pointed out that, by 2017, the majority of the digital universe will be in emerging markets, and more than 90% of the population under 30 will be in emerging marketers. That means that in the future, much more corporate learning will have to be international.

While I don’t think technology can solve every corporate learning problem, I think that being open-minded to new learning technologies and having an entrepreneurial approach to learning can help corporate learning leaders innovate to meet the increasing demands of their employee-learners.

In a presentation titled “EdTech Around the World,” Teach for America Founder Wendy Kopp spoke about a free tool called Edpuzzle, created by Teach for Spain (Empieza Por Educar) grads Jordi Gonzalez, Xavier Verges Parisi, and Santiago Herrero Bajo, to help teach high school math. The product allows educators to take videos from a variety of places on the internet, crop them, and insert questions and multiple choice answers that are automatically graded within the lesson. It allows educators to see who viewed the video and how viewers performed when answering the questions.

While EdPuzzle wasn’t designed for enterprise organizations, it speaks to something I believe is a critical feature of successful learning organizations: the intentional recruitment of L&D professionals with entrepreneurial potential to both lead learners on a journey and innovate along the way. While innovation, and especially technical innovation, is heralded as a key to success on the business side of many organizations, we are interested to see the envelope pushed further in the learning and development side of the organization.

Mastering this combination of right content, right place, right time will maximize learners’ ROI. Because measuring ROI is high on the priority list of today’s L&D community, I’m also confident that L&D teams will begin to pair entrepreneurial mindsets with technological advances to deliver improved ROI measurement methods, as we’ll investigate below.

Challenge 3: Measuring Impact

General Assembly CEO Jake Schwartz addresses the crowd. Source: Ariana Dugan

General Assembly CEO Jake Schwartz addresses the crowd. Source: Ariana Dugan

In his talk, Lovely pointed out that there are billions of dollars spent on leadership development, but that the feedback loop in this system is broken. For one, there’s little data collected in the midst of the program that would help leaders and trainers adjust and improve. Secondly, with little to no data, it’s a struggle to gather conclusive evidence that programs have an impact.

David Levin, CEO McGraw Hill, said that one of educational technology’s biggest promises is as a data collection enabler. Data collection and analysis can help us improve learning efficacy in three key ways:

1. It can inform the learner about what content is appropriate for him or her. 

2. It can help instructors to adjust on the fly, and

3. It can evolve content and create a virtuous cycle.

“If you want to get away from the turgid corporate video, you need to bring the world of software into content, work with instructional design, and use data and efficacy to make things better.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. While technology is certainly not a panacea, it does provide another lens through which we can evaluate learning efficacy. As we teach in our own data courses, it’s important to start collecting data, so that you can establish a benchmark. Once a benchmark is in place, it’s easier to recognize exceptions that prompt further examination and progress.  

We’ve been able to do that with our own engagement data on the Essentials of Digital Marketing, an online learning platform we designed to help agency and corporate marketing teams stay up to speed with changes in digital marketing. Since we launched the product in early 2014, we’ve diligently collected data and have been able to establish an average monthly engagement rate of 40% (40% of users on the platform take a lesson each month) and an average lifetime engagement rate of 95% (95% of users on the platform take a lesson over their ‘lifetime’ with the product, normally one year). Armed with these benchmarks, we can immediately identify when individual users are struggling to engage, and we can partner with the program sponsors at their company to come up with solutions.

GA’s CEO Jake Schwartz summed up the use of technology to improve ROI well when he said that people usually think of GA is an EdTech company, but really we’re a TechEd company. We’re interested in how we can educate people about technology, and how we can use technology to enhance learning. There’s a lot of energy and power around tech in education, and technology can disrupt the output and the value we provide to learners, rather than just cutting costs.

The sentiment of much the conference was just as balanced: technology provides promise, but should be used wisely to improve a variety of processes within, and surrounding, learning, rather than entirely replacing the important element of the human experience.

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