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Tanya Boyd


L&D Effectiveness Expert and Facilitator

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The awareness factor: How to upskill your learners more efficiently

When it comes to upskilling your learners, L&D professionals should consider bring 'Awareness' into the training mix

In today’s turbulent business world organisations need employees to quickly perform in new positions, under new circumstances and facing new challenges as roles shift due to restructuring, adoption of new technologies and in response to a rapidly changing business environment. Key to success is ensuring employees acquire the right skills to perform at a high level – rapidly!

Experience tells us that learning a new skill takes time. Sometimes success with a new skill takes knowledge, sometimes practice, and sometimes both; and this takes time. The question facing organisations and employees now is how can we reduce the time to performance for a person who needs to learn a new skill?

Sometimes success with a new skill takes knowledge, sometimes practice, and sometimes both; and this takes time

What has been tried

One ongoing approach to this problem is to look for ways to improve learning and development itself, specifically to make learning offerings more engaging and relevant. Essentially this approach says, let’s find ways to make sure that learners actually complete the course/training or access the content/skills practice; and that it gives them the information that they need in a way that helps them add the knowledge to their memories and changes their behaviours. Approaches used here include (among others) spaced learning, social learning, and gamification. 

Another approach to the problem looks for ways to integrate learning into the work itself, removing or reducing the need for intentional transfer of training. Strategies supporting this include learning in the flow of work, the 70-20-10 model, and project-based learning.

What has been missed

These are useful and positive steps in improving the ways that we can upskill others or ourselves. But a major factor that can speed up the upskilling process has been overlooked. This factor may be just assumed by some and skipped by others; but intentionally putting it front and center is perhaps the most impactful thing organisations and employees can do to fast track their upskilling. That factor is Awareness.

Awareness is the difference between just pressing "Start" on your assigned training module, and taking a moment to consider:

  • What you already know about this skill; what your strengths are related to this skill.
  • What you think may be your own biggest challenge in gaining this new skill, and how you will handle this so that it does not get in your way.
  • What is the best way that you can learn this skill? Is it through a training module, or do you learn best through reading a book, or in dialogue with a mentor, or through observation?

These are very simple questions, but they have the potential to exponentially increase how quickly you are able to perform a new skill at a high level.

What might this look like?

  • A job requires the ability to code using Python. Your employer asks how you would prefer to learn Python; you could take a course, read a book, work through a project, talk to a coach/mentor. As you think about what you already know about coding and how you learned best in the past, as well as knowing that your biggest challenge will be prioritising this and getting through it, you decide to ask your employer for a project that uses Python and connect with a coach/mentor who can get you started and be an in-the-moment resource for you.
  • A leader completes a multi-rater feedback tool, and identifies four key leadership skills that are most likely to support their effectiveness as a leader. The leader brings awareness to each skill, identifying their strengths in these skills as well as the primary ways they may trip up in each area; and, working with a coach, builds a plan to specifically address these needs in the way that both leverages their strengths and preferences and stretches their areas of opportunity.

The Awareness Factor is an unlocker for speed to performance in upskilling, and will complement and accelerate the effectiveness of all other learning methodologies used

In each of the examples above, the default approach (without awareness) could have been to complete a course or series of courses. Even if these courses were fun, engaging, spaced, gamified, and followed the 70-20-10 model, the learners would not have been as primed and "ready" to learn as they were by activating their awareness as the first step in upskilling.

Ideally, awareness then remains a key part of the upskilling process, influencing the choices they make along the pathway to skilled performance. As they bring their awareness to what they are learning along the way, they get the dopamine hit of recognising improvements in their performance, which sparks motivation to continue.

The Awareness Factor, then, is an unlocker for speed to performance in upskilling, and will complement and accelerate the effectiveness of all other learning methodologies used.

Takeaways for employees:

  • Prior to upskilling, take a moment to activate awareness. What do you know already about this skill? What may be a challenge for you in developing this skill? What resources can you draw on to overcome any challenges?
  • Use your awareness to take an active role in building your pathway to high level skill performance. Share your ideal approach with your employer to see if they will support your approach. Even if they do not, your journey through a pre-determined upskilling pathway will be faster and more effective if you approach it with active awareness.
  • Keep coming back to awareness as you progress in upskilling. Celebrate your successes! As you learn more, does that change what you believe you need to develop or what the best way forward for you would be?

Takeaways for organisations:

  • Look for ways to activate awareness in your employees at the beginning of any upskilling program. Preference-based profiles and personality assessments such as Insights Discovery, along with skill audits, can help activate awareness and identify personalized strengths, gaps, and resources.
  • Encourage employees to take an active role in their upskilling. Rather than designing a one-size fits all approach, prepare for a polysynchronous, hybrid approach to enable you to support employees if they request a non-standard approach to upskilling.
  • Build in awareness activators throughout upskilling to maximise impact.
  • Find ways to build awareness as a global employee competency to have the broadest impact on upskilling and other training and development needs.

Interested in this topic? Read Upskilling: why the UK needs a capabilities revolution.

Author Profile Picture
Tanya Boyd

L&D Effectiveness Expert and Facilitator

Read more from Tanya Boyd

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