L&D | Why the course is a non-starter when it comes to upskilling

Why the course is a non-starter when it comes to upskilling

By Steve Dineen, Founder & President, Fuse

The learning industry has been relentlessly focused on skills for years now, with L&D teams caught up in courses as the solution to skilling people for tomorrow. But here’s the thing: while courses have a valuable role to play in reskilling, they’re a non-starter when it comes to upskilling.

Upskilling for today, reskilling for tomorrow

The biggest problem in L&D today is that reskilling and upskilling are both characterised by course-based learning. How can that be when the two serve different purposes? Reskilling seeks to equip people with skills they can apply in the future, whereas upskilling is focused on driving performance in the here and now.

It’s neither feasible nor logical to send an employee on a course every time they need to solve a problem at work. Besides, 9 times out of 10 when we encounter a problem at work, we don’t actually need a course, we just need the answer to a specific question. The average employee, for example, won’t need to complete a course to use Google Slides, but they might need to ask a company subject matter expert (SME) how to turn on suggested edits. That little nugget of knowledge is probably all that’s needed to support immediate upskilling and drive performance.

A performance-first approach

And therein lies the lightbulb moment: upskilling requires a performance first approach to learning. It’s a simple shift in mindset but one that signifies the difference between assigning ten people to tick-box training, and seeing those same ten people performing x% better.

So how do we support upskilling on the job?

The answer lies in enabling instant access to the right knowledge, at the right time – and all within the flow of work. As a solution, that couldn’t be further from course-led learning design. We’re talking about empowering learners to easily search for, and access, the exact answer or information they need to solve a problem on the job. And, with the performance ratio already estimated to be as wide as 80% knowledge and 20% skills (and probably closer to 90:10), the absurdity of trying to upskill with a course can be fully appreciated.

The good news is that the learning industry as a whole is recognising this. We’re seeing a marked transition away from traditional ‘absorb and retain’ courses towards quick, easy and YouTube-like access to experiential tacit knowledge that can be put into immediate practice.

But the next question is this: how do organisations actually place that implicit knowledge at the learner’s fingertips so that it’s readily accessible to them in a digestible format? More to the point, how can it be extracted from the heads of company experts in the first place?

Learning powered by Knowledge Intelligence

Key to success here is modern learning technology that enables experts to continually share their knowledge so that it’s forever available to learners at the point of need. That calls for AI-powered ‘Knowledge Intelligence’ that understands context and even intent - and which can therefore guide the learner to the exact knowledge they need in a matter of seconds. The best bit? Get this right and the need for formal learning, and its associated costs, will also drastically diminish – and possibly by as much as 80%.

Of course, technology alone is not enough here. To really drive positive learning habits – and to reach the intended learning destination, whether that be upskilling for performance today, or developing a new skill for performance in the future, organisations will first need to build a culture of engaged learning whereby L&D is prioritised at all levels of the organisation. It is this combination of culture and technology, underpinned by performance-first learning design, that is key to delivering the best outcomes for both people and business.

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