In the face of the rapid digitalisation of the learning industry, People Matters caught up with So-Young Kang, CEO and Co-Founder of Gnowbe, to gain insights into the future. The company recently earmarked $10 million in scholarships for those who intend to develop their skills in designing and building more human-centric learning experiences. It also plans to scale its efforts in equipping creators to design more impactful learning programs. By providing them better tools and support and giving them access to their dashboards, Gnowbe is empowering learning professionals to envision, experiment and track their learning programs and facilitate engagement of their teams.
In an exclusive interaction, Kang talks about the changes she has witnessed as businesses have evolved to keep pace with the changing nature of work post-pandemic and how they plan to create a business impact through their learners. Here are some excerpts:
What changes have you witnessed when comparing the pre-covid and the post-covid learning landscape?
The one thing that has come out of Covid is that we’ve always valued human connection. While there was an acceleration in the use of technology, people are increasingly saying we need ‘human technology’, which enables us to connect better with our audiences. Because even though we can travel, you and I are still across the screen. The critical question is, “How do we create those connection points before, during, and after a webinar in a more human way?”
A broader trend is the realisation that it's not enough to learn by knowing enough. So let's stop talking down to our learners. Adults are smart, intelligent human beings. We need to think; we need to reflect; we need to engage and participate. So let's evolve to learn by doing.
What are the problem statements in the corporate learning space today? How do we measure the ROI and business impact?
Before becoming an entrepreneur, I led McKinsey's performance, transformation, and service line. So I'm all about impact ROI analysis, and there's a broad spectrum of mistakes in measuring. Every learning experience should have a specific set of design outcomes, and those could be qualitative or quantitative. It's important to think about the different learning objectives we're trying to achieve. And then what tools, resources, and technology can we use to help track that impact better?
What I would challenge people to do when they think about learning outcomes is to start with what they are trying to measure. Then, once we apply these changes, we can find ways to improve the design of the learning experience to drive those outcomes better in terms of a real business impact.
One of the biggest challenges we face is one of mindset. We often say that “I've always done it this way”, and thus don’t change. Inertia becomes an important barrier for companies to overcome. With Gnowbe, the whole idea was to give creators the tools to simplify learning experiences and get more creative using technology.
How willing are companies to experiment with their learning strategies?
While companies are starting to experiment, they can do a lot more because they still tend to lean towards safe choices. So there is a very strong momentum towards doing what everyone else has done before because I don't want to get in trouble. Depending on your corporate culture, my encouragement is to step out of that hesitation and be willing to innovate and try new things. This also boils down to how we measure impact as well.
It starts with a learning mindset, and if we can foster a continuous learning culture, it would help accelerate the development and the upskilling of professionals.
How do we break away from a ‘tick-in-the box’ mindset to enable a real difference through our corporate learning programs?
It depends on what you're doing. We first need to think about learning itself. Experiential, participatory learning will drive higher results. But you need to measure the business outcome and ask yourself: Is it a new product? Is it new behaviour? And how will that ultimately translate into business value?
One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they start with indicators and not outcomes. There's no such thing as a common set of metrics and indicators; they have to fit the outcomes. If everyone tracks the same indicator, that will be a problem because, by definition, a metric is an indicator of something. It's an indicator of a critical performance outcome you're trying to get to. So the important question is, what are you trying to accomplish? Then, what are the right metrics to use to achieve that?
How does one connect learning to growth, promotion, increased salaries, and better opportunities for the learners?
When we started Gnowbe, we first asked ourselves: who are our learners and what are their motivations? And we found there were several learning personas. For instance, some learners are achievers who love to learn and add to their credentials, while others are social learners who enjoy sharing their knowledge. It is essential to recognise that your learners are not all the same, and when you design your curriculum and learner experience, it needs to connect with as many people as possible.
A lot of the traditional e-learning technology did not incorporate instructional design, which has been found to lead to better learning outcomes. Instructional design has become crucial to ensure micro-learning through bite-sized content becomes a success. The reason many researchers would argue against micro-learning is that learners have to process a lot of information. What’s needed instead is an instructional design approach.
One of the biggest gaps that lie today in a lot of L&D professionals is not having a background in instructional design, but simultaneously, it also provides an excellent opportunity for innovation which is why we launched the scholarship.
What does the future look like for the learning tech industry? What are some of the big shifts you see from your vantage point?
There is a shift towards having a growth mindset, the desire to learn constantly. On the technology side, we see an evolution in Metaverse, AR, VR, and so much more. It's really about experimenting and understanding the multiple technologies without being scared of them. It’s about having more agility, taking note of those mega digital trends coming, embracing them and then tracking and measuring their impact.
I think every L&D professional should understand instructional design and the right approach to micro-learning because it's core to facilitation, teaching, training, and communication. As we build their technical and soft skills, I believe that L&D will continue to evolve. And I'm excited about being part of that learning transformation.