As Vice President of Learning at Udemy, Shelley Osborne is a true learning leader who is passionate about building cultures of learning that enable the continuous upskilling of employees.
She is also author of an upcoming book titled, The Upskilling Imperative: Five Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work. And Shelley is even a Udemy instructor herself with seven courses currently available, ranging from topics such as fostering psychological safety, to best practices for working remotely.
In this episode of Leading Learning, Jeff talks with Shelley about Udemy’s model as a global learning provider and why continuous upskilling is so critical to the success of individuals and organizations. They also delve into the “five ways” outlined in her book including: developing agile learners, the important role of feedback in learning cultures, thinking like a marketer to drive learning, learning in the flow of work, and signaling the value of learning.
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[01:59] – You might consider the reflection questions below on your own after listening to an episode, and/or you might pull the team together, using part or all of the podcast episode for a group discussion.
- One very obvious area for reflection is the whole topic of upskilling, which, of course, is the idea that you help learners be agile and gain the new skills and knowledge they need to remain competitive in today’s dynamic employment market. We challenge listeners to ask: How intentionally and strategically are you addressing upskilling needs in the field or industry you serve?
- Of course, most of our listeners aren’t operating within a corporate or other institutional setting; they are providing learning opportunities from the outside. So, as an extension of the first question, we ask: How can you best leverage the five ways that Shelley writes about to connect with and enhance the upskilling efforts of internal learning and development departments?
[03:25] – Introduction to Shelley and some additional information about her background and work.
[05:30] – Can you say a little bit more about what Udemy as a company does?
Shelley describes Udemy as the largest online learning marketplace where they have the ability for anyone, anywhere in the world to teach anything online.
And that really opens up access to education globally for students where they can access content across over 150,000 courses.
They have millions and millions of students who come to Udemy every day to learn all sorts of skills ranging from technology skills to cooking. So it’s a really broad approach and perspective to learning.
Udemy also supports businesses and they have a Udemy for Business offering.
This is a curated collection of those courses that are relevant for businesses and organizations to help upskill their employees and get information on emerging topics.
[06:46] – I was really fascinated when I first saw this model. You have all of the courses that you have because you’re able to tap into the global pool of subject matter experts. So in theory, really anybody who has expertise in a topic can come to Udemy and using your tools and the support and the processes you give them, they can publish an online course. Am I saying that correctly?
Shelley says yes and that they have a belief at Udemy that the best teachers aren’t always found in classrooms (although some of them are).
There’s a lot of people all around the world who have incredible knowledge and it’s wasted when it’s not shared. And Udemy is that opportunity to give people a platform to really share what they know and help develop expertise in others.
They are also really passionate about the fact that this opens up a revenue stream for individuals who want to be instructors, anywhere in the world.
It’s a really exciting model and Shelley notes that she’s also a Udemy instructor.
The Upskilling Imperative
[08:15] – Can you set the context for your book, The Upskilling Imperative: Five Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work and tell us why upskilling is such a burning issue right now? What made you feel compelled to write it?
Shelley shares that for her, learning is the path forward in times of change.
What’s become more and more prevalent — even especially right now as the world faces a pandemic — is that the rate of change just keeps accelerating. And what goes along with that is a need for us to continuously learn, to get a lot better at being learners, to be more efficient at learning, and for organizations to accept the responsibility they have in creating the conditions for learning for their employees.
When she thought about writing this book, Shelley was connecting her ideas about how we can create that foundational culture of learning that, to her, isn’t something that’s often considered.
She points out that some people are open to considering learning needs to happen for their employees, but it’s transactional or it isn’t given a lot of thought or effort.
What’s important to Shelley is that this foundation of a culture of learning must be a precursor to this so that we aren’t just responding to an immediate today need, rather we’re already preparing for the change that we know is coming.
And this has been really illustrated by the challenges and difficulties we’ve faced in the pandemic.
Five Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work
[10:37] – At Leading Learning we often talk about learning as a process, rather than an event—learning evolves and develops over time, and it takes time. And your book definitely recognizes that, and it really provides kind of a road map to doing that. You do reference in the subtitle of your book the “Five Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work”, and although we can’t go into detail on all each of those, I do want to highlight them:
- Develop and Foster Agile Learners
- Feedback is fuel for Learning Cultures
- Think Like a Marketer to Drive Learning and Development
- Put Learning into the Flow of Work
- Signal the Value of Learning
Develop and Foster Agile Learners
[12:25] – Can you talk a little more about what the traits are of an agile learner?
Shelley explains that the concept of agile learners emerged for her from a perspective she learned from software and agile development.
She shares that her husband (a software developer) taught her a lot about Scrum and Agile and she quickly realized that the same concepts actually apply to how we think about agile learners and how we really instill a growth mindset in people.
Shelley references Carol Dweck’s work on mindset and how influential it’s been.
Agile learning is her continuation of that perspective and how we frame the concept for people in a really tangible, tactical way.
This is so they can start thinking about themselves as being agile and changing the framing they have for how they approach learning.
And she stresses that developing that (agile learning) mindset in learners is critical and crucial if you’re going to have an organization that can respond to this exceptional, intimidating rate of change and the way skills develop.
See our related episode, Maximizing Learning with Mindset.
Feedback is Fuel for Learning Cultures
[14:29] – Talk a little more about what a learning culture is, how you foster that, and how you know you have it so that those learners will be motivated/inspired to be agile.
Shelley explains that a culture of learning is a lens through which you look at your organization; it’s a way of working and thinking.
It ties back to the idea that learning is the path forward and that you are thinking of learning really early as you’re considering your organization’s strategy, challenges you’re about to face, or what you’re preparing to do in the next couple years—it’s building in that mindset.
And this is a shift in how people think.
She’s come to realize that no matter how much people love learning, there’s a perspective that there’s a completion time or a “done” moment.
For example, a graduation is often seen as that moment where you are “done” learning.
But in fact, Shelley points out that is actually quite a misconception and how the ceremony is called “commencement” for a reason—it’s the beginning of your learning.
And that perspective needs to become pervasive in organizations, be developed and fostered.
Shelley talks about how these five steps she developed for leaders in her book can help create a foundation for this.
Also, one of the things she’s really passionate about is feedback.
She spends a lot of her time with organizations and at Udemy creating a culture of feedback, where feedback is seen as fuel.
There’s often a perspective that feedback is a gift and Shelley rejects that.
A gift is something that’s nice to get a couple times a year. But feedback is fuel is the oxygen we need to breathe, and it’s needed.
Feedback is the core to learning. It’s how we know that we’re improving and how we find out what opportunities we have to develop. And we have to create the perspective within our organizations and as individuals that we both want feedback and that giving feedback is actually caring about others and helping them in their development journey.
Check out Shelley’s course at Udemy, Feedback is Fuel.
And see our related episode, The Art and Science of Effective Feedback.
Put Learning into the Flow of Work
[18:41] – That seems to relate very naturally to this concept of learning in the flow of work. Can you talk a little bit more about what it really means to put learning into the flow of work, how it happens, and what the challenges/barriers are that have traditionally blocked that from happening?
Shelley thinks this is very connected to feedback because if we want to scale learning and we want to have a true learning culture where people are learning all the time, we have to have this democratized.
And this has to be happening outside of a classic L&D team.
She recognizes this might sound controversial for her to say as the leader of a learning team but she’s actually trying to remove herself from the equation and put the power into the hands of the people.
This means creating those feedback loops and also that learning needs to find its way into the flow of work versus being help in a corner by the learning and development team.
Her perspective is that their role is to create the conditions and the opportunities to access that and create the culture where that can happen.
This is so when someone has that moment of need, and when that relevancy happens, that’s when they’re able to access learning.
That’s where Shelley says we have to think differently about how we approach it—with content providers who have democratized their approach, who are providing fast access to really rich, deep learning, and the way Udemy has unlocked the potential of instructors all around the world, is key to that.
This way, we’re not waiting on the learning or hiding it away in a corner.
And crucial to that as well is not preserving it for some group of people that have been determined to be “high potentials”.
They want to give learning to everyone.
It’s democratized in its access as well as across all levels of the organization. And that’s what putting learning into the flow of work is.
[21:13] – I assume you probably hear from a lot of L&D professionals. How open are people in other roles at companies/organizations to this idea of learning in the flow of work or democratizing learning? What kind of feedback are you getting around this?
Shelley admits it is mixed and that some people have accepted this idea. But some are holding onto a perspective about what learning and development is from a broken model.
This is a lot of what she’s actually trying to frame with the culture of learning—that it doesn’t necessarily have to be this very traditional perspective.
For example, we have to think about how people approach even the digital content they access in their daily lives. The way we used to release content to people was in a completely different format that couldn’t be accessed on devices. And the Netflix approach to the world has shifted expectations but sometimes we haven’t given that to the education space.
We’re still expecting multi-day workshops and thinking we have to take people offline for hours and hours to learn what they need to. And we’re very much still battling this idea of the “butts in seats” model of attendance equals learning. And none of that is true.
She says we have to shift the perspective and help people understand that a 5-minute video that teaches you something you actually need to know is powerful.
Shelley talks about the idea of relevancy that she learned in her classroom days and how it was pretty obvious to her when kids cared about what she was teaching was when it mattered to them and context was there.
When we are able to make those connections for people and show them that learning doesn’t have to be this painful experience (something they’ve probably had in the past), but instead that it’s going to be relevant and applicable.
Also, that it’s going to be personalized because we’re not waiting for this old-school approach where everybody goes to the same workshop—we’re going to unlock people’s willingness to approach this as a way of working.
[24:18] – What advice would you have for outside learning and education providers (who traditionally provide experiences such as the annual conference or seminars) for how they might be more involved in this learning in the flow of work? How should they be rethinking how they deliver support for learning?
Shelley stresses that those experiences don’t have to be discounted as not being valuable.
But the opportunity is to connect them throughout that year.
Whatever you are doing in those experiences where you gather people together, realize that isn’t the end either. It’s the same concept about the culmination versus the commencement.
We have to stop thinking about that as the one-off and that everything is absorbed and done in one day.
Think about how it serves as a connection point to the learning they will provide people throughout the year or until the next they meet. And consider the ways to serve a point of need and time.
Going back to the agile perspective, Shelley encourages you to think about how you serve people in a moment of need and ditch the idea of perfection.
She often says that perfect is the enemy of good. So focusing on providing value in ways that are meaningful, topical, context-driven and relevant for that moment, is the way to go about it.
She clarifies that this isn’t saying to ditch that model—it’s that and this.
Think Like a Marketer to Drive Learning and Development
[26:46] – Can you explain the concept of the learning and development professional thinking like a marketer and some key strategies/tactics that learning professionals might want to embrace from the marketing world?
Shelley discusses how when you’re asking people to think like a marketer, it’s sort of acknowledging that there are a lot of things competing for people’s attention right now.
And there’s no way we can avoid considering new and innovative approaches to capturing that attention.
A lot of the advice she gives in the chapter is related to tapping into some of the very same techniques that digital marketers are using. She really recommends people pay attention to what caught their attention from a product perspective as a consumer and how they tapped into your awareness or got you excited about something.
Those same principles apply to how we should approach getting people jazzed and really excited about what we’re doing from a learning perspective.
Realize that many of the key characteristics that marketers use are related to personalization, building up anticipation and excitement, having campaigns, and crisp messaging, for example.
When you can look at another discipline or area and see how they are achieving success and how that can be applied to the work you’re doing, Shelley says that’s at the core of upskilling and continuous learning.
See our related episode, 7 Essential Rules of Successful Internet Marketers.
Signal the Value of Learning
[30:08] – A good digital marketer is going to be all about really showcasing what the value is. You’re kind of saying the same thing about learning and making sure that you’re truly signaling that value so that the people who are having to make decisions about it/participating in it get it and recognize what they’re getting out of it. Am I characterizing that correctly?
Shelley explains there are two ways to think about this.
With signaling the value, we want there to be true, inherent value in the learning and for people to actually walk away with something tangible.
But what she’s most excited about is how we represent the value of learning from a leadership perspective, and how we create these feedback loops in themselves by demonstrating why learning is valuable within an organization.
Some of the ways we do this is by having leadership lead by example in talking about their own learning, how they’ve grown and developed, and what the value of that has been for them.
And she says there are two ways to do that.
When the leader shares that they learn too and they make space for it, that sends a signal and opens eyes in the organization to the idea that this is allowed and permissible.
The value side is showing how it helped that person get to that stage in their career.
Shelley thinks there’s a lot we can do from an organizational perspective.
We can really ask leaders to be more authentic and vulnerable in talking about their own areas of development where they instill this perspective of continuous learning.
[32:30] – How might some of these outside organizations (like most Leading Learning listeners) signal value to an individual or to corporate buyers? Is that a matter of social proof, testimonials, or data showing that the education they offer is valuable?
Shelley says this is about authentically walking the walk. If you are a learning provider or a vendor, she encourages you to ask yourself: How are you internally (in your own organization) practicing this? What is the learning culture in your organization? How do you use your own content and product?
She discusses how having that authenticity to lean into, and how when we as learners ourselves participate in this, is the real signal of value when you’re talking to a prospect or a customer.
[34:46] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Shelley shares about how becoming a classroom teacher was the most profound learning experience she ever had.
And it wasn’t until she was actually applying the concepts she learned in an actual classroom that she was finally able to witness some of the weaknesses/flaws of traditional approaches to education.
This experience is what opened her eyes to a lot of the principles she drives into organizations today where learners need relevancy. And also how to reduce fear and shame when it comes to learning or not knowing something, how to develop growth mindsets, and how to deliver feedback in a way that actually pushes people forward.
All of this has been foundational to the work she does and the perspective that she’s been able to align so closely with at a company like Udemy.
[37:10] – How to connect with Shelley and/or learn more:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shelley-osborne/
- Shelley’s Udemy courses: https://www.udemy.com/user/shelley-osborne-2/
[38:36] – Wrap-Up
- How intentionally and strategically are you addressing upskilling needs in the field or industry you serve?
- How can you best leverage the five ways that Shelley writes about to connect with and enhance the upskilling efforts of internal learning and development departments?
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[40:25] – Sign off