Learning & Development Strategies Are Turning Social

While many pundits contend that Learning Management Systems are dying, we believe the LMS is simply maturing the same way as other business technology. Just as Applicant Tracking Systems are an important component of HR’s tech stack, the LMS remains a foundational piece of a company’s learning environment. However, it’s no longer the complete solution.

A true learning culture, meaning one that goes beyond learning only what regulations require employees to know. Such platforms promote social learning and serve as a repository for third-party content in addition to internal company materials, courses and communications. Their depth and flexibility facilitate a more adaptable, extendable and effective learning solution, one that satisfies both the needs of Learning & Development and the demands of learners.

Business learning is changing because technology is changing business itself. According to a study by MIT and Deloitte, 90 percent of organizations anticipate their industries will be disrupted by digital technologies in the near future. As employees adapt to increasingly tech-infused roles, the need for fast, efficient and continuously evolving learning systems becomes more pressing.

Bear in mind that it’s not just business learning that’s evolving. It’s learning in general. With the rise of social media — and with it, the fall of attention spans — people have adapted to creating, curating and processing information via digital and social networks both at home and at work. Given that, it’s no surprise that employees of the modern enterprise demand a social approach to L&D.

The Learning Evolution  

A social approach does more than increase the effectiveness of the L&D stack. It’s crucial for retention rates, as well. In a job-hopping economy — when employees increasingly cite "fulfillment" as a top priority — businesses simply must find ways to keep workers stimulated.

That’s why it’s exciting to see new methods emerging for boosting employee engagement via e-learning techniques such as social collaboration. They take advantage of the fact that learning is becoming increasingly social and personal. Because no two individuals see a system from the same point of view or learn in the same way, learning is most effective when it’s tailored to match the approach an individual worker takes to their job and is delivered through channels they feel most comfortable using.

That’s why curation and social collaboration are fast becoming fundamental elements of learning. Employees are already accustomed to the ways social media integrates itself into daily life through products like Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Instagram. Transplanting their social elements is just another part of the consumerization of IT, and makes e-learning both simple and more effective. Through curation, workers compile knowledge pertinent to their roles that can be useful to others. When they share their expertise through social networks and other technology, tailored learning occurs more quickly.

The Importance of a Robust L&D Stack

Nowadays, people think of technical “stacks” as interconnected tools that help departments around the organization operate efficiently. Consider the idea of Microsoft packaging its CRM product Dynamics and the business intelligence offered by newly acquired LinkedIn. The result would be a powerful sales stack. In the HR world, many technology providers offer third-party product integration so their customers can tailor their workforce-management stack to their own unique needs.

An adaptable LMS that’s packaged with other learning and HR technologies is more practical, and more powerful, than the one-size-fits-all models of the past. This is true not only because of the exponential rate at which companies are implementing new systems, but also because of a crucial paradigm shift underway in L&D. As Josh Bersin explained in a recent webinar, business learning isn’t about industrial efficiency so much as it centers on “scalable learning.”

Today’s corporate environments bear little resemblance to the organizations of 30 years ago. People work across multiple teams, hold job titles that encompass the duties of several roles and often report to more than one manager. Organizational charts look like something closer to spider webs than the traditional, top-down trees. In such an interconnected, flexible workplace, older learning systems quickly become outdated or confusing. They simply can’t keep up.

L&D’s mission is further complicated by the fact that people live longer today, and so careers may last beyond 40 or 50 years. Then consider that LinkedIn’s 2017 Workplace Learning Report says the average “skills shelf life” is only five years. Just as we can’t know what industry-specific technologies workers will need to master to remain effective in their roles, there’s almost no telling what new learning resources will develop throughout the work life of today’s 20-something. Under these conditions, harnessing an entire tool kit, as opposed to depending on a single tool, protects your workforce and your company from obsolescence.

A New Role for the LMS

Two of the big the complaints heard about the traditional LMS are that it’s confusing to users and generates lackluster engagement rates. That doesn’t mean the LMS is losing its edge. For example, organizations of all sizes constantly face compliance challenges, not the least of which is following changing government regulations. Having a one-stop shop that houses compliance and training records is of paramount importance to businesses within highly regulated industries.

But with a wide range of learning materials scattered around the internet, there’s no shortage of resources available to help learners cover various subjects that aren’t mandated by law but can improve business performance. An effective L&D stack not only taps into third-party and socialized knowledge but allows learners to build upon them incrementally through cultivated, customizable learning paths.

The result: a learning environment that fits neatly with today’s changing business landscape.

Mastering Talent Agility: 4 Steps Every Business Must Take to Build the Workforce of the Future

Talent agility is the single most important factor that determines whether your business will succeed or get wiped out by competition in the future.

Having an agile workforce spells the difference between being an industry leader or falling behind. PwC reports that when businesses have development programs that increase agility, 86 percent respond rapidly to changes in the business environment. Without these kinds of programs, only about half do.

Some companies are discovering the strategic advantage and undergoing transformations to build the muscles required for talent agility. But across the United States and around the world, most companies remain uninformed about how to build an agile workforce.

What is talent agility?

Talent agility is a company’s ability to change the composition of talent inside the organization quickly and cost effectively. It takes into account all the levers that are needed to build and develop talent: Learning & Development, acquiring and retaining talent, and engaging them.

The more agile its talent pool, the better a business can reshape itself constantly to address new market challenges, offer new products and services, and fend off competition.

Agility helps a company become an employer that employees seek to work for. And they stay longer, seeing the benefits of developing skills that will help them throughout their careers.

Why is talent agility so important?

We’re living in an era in which tech startups can supplant traditional businesses. It’s happening everywhere and to everyone. Airbnb is stealing even more business away from hotels than initially anticipated,  all without owning a single room. Casper is overturning the mattress industry and doesn’t have a single showroom.

Whether it’s digital marketing and direct-to-consumer, the sharing economy and leveraging existing infrastructure, using data to provide better pricing and economies of scale, or building software to automate many tasks typically done by service providers, there are few areas of competitive advantage left.

In the auto industry, Tesla is now valued at more than General Motors. Based on current profits, this makes no sense. But in the big picture, it does. Because over the next 100 years, I’d rather have Tesla’s talent than GM’s. Tesla’s great asset is not mechanical engineers — it’s their software engineers and data scientists.

As BMW board member Peter Schwarzenbauer told The New York Times: “I am convinced that we are going to see more change in the next 10 or 15 years than we have seen in the last 100 years. The big question is always, Do we car manufacturers learn to become tech companies more quickly than a tech company learns to be an automotive player?”

The operative words in that quote: “learn to.”

It’s up to companies to make sure that learning takes place and is supported by the business. That’s the crux of talent agility.


The greatest talent is adaptability

As big as these industry disruptions are, they don’t give us a view far into the future.

No one can know for certain what kind of homes-away-from-home people will look for when they travel 10 years from now, or how they’ll book them. We can’t know what kind of mattresses they’ll sleep in. And we can’t know what kind of cars they’ll drive.

Uber is seen by many as a challenged company with very limited competitive advantage, which is probably why it’s shifting quickly into a self-driving car company, which requires dramatically different skills than it has today. But even Uber can’t know what lies ahead.

Technology is changing so fast that it’s impossible to predict how business will be done a decade out. And the pace of that change is accelerating.

New technologies pop up, and your business needs experts ASAP. Then those same technologies get phased out and become obsolete within just a few years. LinkedIn’s 2017 Workplace Learning Report found that the average shelf life for skills is now less than five years.

So as you build an agile workforce, it’s important to stop simply looking for people who already have certain skills. Instead fill your ranks with people who prove their ability to adapt to new technologies and pick up new skills quickly. And help them find which skills to develop and the quickest way to do so.

This is why workplace Learning & Development must be a central pillar of any successful organization.

So how do you go about making this happen? Here are four steps to not just build but master talent agility.

Step 1: Talent Assessment

You can’t move forward if you don’t know where you are starting from. This means doing an assessment of strengths and weaknesses.

But beware: Many businesses do this wrong.

They try to pull an assessment together using employees’ titles. For example, they’ll say, “We have 800 engineers who use Java.” But they don’t know that many of those engineers also have skills in cryptography, angular and data ingestion, which they simply haven’t been tasked with using at work. And they don’t know that employees in other departments also have those skills.

Some businesses decide to conduct an internal survey on employees’ skills and have analysts sift through it, or, worse, sign a seven-figure contract with a consulting company to figure this out. That process can take six months or a year. Often, the actual talent pool in the company has changed by the time it’s done.

There’s a much faster way, enabled by a software layer that can keep this inventory up-to-date. A talent development platform, such as Pathgather, enables employees to keep track of their own skills. We’ve found that employees are both honest and accurate in doing so, knowing that they may be called upon to use these skills and that their self-ratings will affect their own development plans.

As this information is entered, the platform automatically pulls together the information you need to understand your company’s talent.

You can then get  a picture of your organization’s “talent shape.”



The further you are from the central circle, the more talent you have available in your ranks. This shape becomes helpful as you enter Step 2.

Step 2: Competitive assessment

With an understanding of where things currently stand, it’s now time to determine how your competitors, and your industry as a whole, are shaping up when it comes to talent.

If they’re hiring people with expertise in an area your company is either weak in or not paying attention to, why is that? What do your competitors know that you don’t?

At Pathgather, we have access to this data for every company in the world, including information pulled from hundreds of millions of job posts. These posts are extracted, dissected, checked for duplication, and tagged with metadata gained through machine-learning and artificial intelligence.

Here’s an example of how your company’s talent shape may compare to a competitor’s, or to your industry broadly.


Be sure to examine not just traditional competitors, but the startups and so-called unicorns in Silicon Valley as well. What talents are they focusing on?

Often, competitor’s public statements and recruiting activities can give you a sense of why they want people with those talents. It’s a chance to consider their takes on the changing marketplace, buying habits, and what consumers (or other businesses, for B2B) are looking for.

It’s also important to get input from leadership and the broader community at your company about what the “next big thing” will be or can be, and to do so with a truly open mind. If Kodak had done so, it would have realized that its own employee had crucial talents for creativity and engineering when he invented the first digital camera back in 1975.

Be ready to pounce as talent shapes change

Keep in mind that your company’s talent shape is not static. But neither are your competitors’ talent shapes. Constantly keep an eye out for the talents that startups and other disruptors are looking for. Your talent development platform can keep you updated on these trends, so you don’t have to play catch-up at great expense.

The most typical way to think about playing catch up is with M&A — buying a company with the talents you need to compete. GM recently bought Cruise, a relatively early stage startup with an immense amount of talent in the self-driving space. Years ago, an acqui-hire like this would have been done for $10 million, $20 million or $50 million. Instead, the price of talent and competition is so high that Cruise was purchased for $1 billion, despite not having a product to show for it. The market, however, applauded the purchase.

And that’s part of the lesson here: You don’t have to be first at doing something new. You can be second or even third — if, and only if, you can pick up quickly on ideas of your competitors and put them into action just as quickly. That’s where your existing infrastructure will come in handy and act as the competitive advantage, assuming you’ve closed the technology gap.

This does require that your own innovations should be as good or almost as good as your competitors’ — and you can’t be five years behind the curve in creating a similar solution. That’s what happened when New York City taxis tried to compete with Uber by creating an app called Curb — too little, too late.

Step 3: Plot your path

This one requires some tough decisions.

If you’ve followed the first two steps, you have a clear sense of what your talent shape looks like and how it compares to those of your competitors. Now, you have to pick a direction.

It’s up to CEOs and other senior leaders to decide: Which parts of your industry do you expect to ramp up in the next two to four years? Which talents are worth investing in?

Unless you’re a massive corporation like Google, you can’t fill up an entire talent shape graphic like a big circle — it’s just not affordable without monopolylike profits and the ability to attract such varied types of talent. No matter what, there will be white space. But the good news is that picking a direction doesn’t lock you in. As things change, you can change your plan with them, so long as you are tracking everything in a scalable and continuous fashion.

That brings us to the final step.

Step 4: Enable learning

When you see the skills you want to increase in your talent pool, don’t rush out to hire people. Instead, realize first that you may have much of what you need already inside the organization.

The quickest and best way to grow in the right direction is to help your employees do so.

You probably already have employees with some level of the skills you need. Give them time and opportunity to learn to enhance those skills. And give other employees a chance to learn them as well.

They know the company, its goals and challenges. They have relationships — with customers, suppliers and other departments internally — to help things run smoothly. Invest in them.

Not only will you develop high-value internal talent pipelines, but you will keep your people longer and create a magnet for others interested in developing themselves.

Finding proximity

To orchestrate your learning strategy, it’s crucial to find out which of your employees have proximity to what you’re looking for.

In this sense, “proximity” indicates that someone has skills that are adjacent to or that serve as prerequisites for the skill you need. Using your talent development platform, you can strategize to help move them in the right direction.

For example, many finance professionals have great experience working with databases. They need to use those databases to get financial data. That gives them proximity to data analysis. So they’d be first in line to learn the data analysis skills you need.

Without understanding proximity, you may be at risk of providing learning paths and pipelines to employees that are simply too far away from making the leap into a new role or acquiring a new skill.

Carving out time for learning

A powerful example of how to enable learning is AT&T, which is changing its core identity. It’s turning from a telecommunications company into a cloud computing company.

Rather than mass layoffs and hirings, the company took another route. “AT&T has chosen to rapidly retrain its current employees while striving to engender a culture of perpetual learning,” John Donovan, the company’s chief strategy officer, explained in the Harvard Business Review.

With help from Pathgather, AT&T is making talent development a central pillar of its entire organization. CEO Randall Stephenson told The New York Times that he has called for learning to be a sizeable chunk of employees’ work time. People who do not spend five to 10 hours a week in online learning “will obsolete themselves with the technology,” he said.

When you take steps like this, you enable real, practicable talent agility. As new tools and technologies pop up, you have a system in place that allows employees to learn them. Together, your company becomes a growing organism, evolving and adapting to its environment.

Key for engagement

By focusing on learning as the chief means to build talent agility, your company also benefits in other ways.

Learning is crucial for employee productivity, retention and engagement. It’s key to attracting excellent workers, especially millennials, as Gallup has found.

And there’s a lot of work to do on this front. Deloitte found that 84 percent of executives rate learning as important or very important, but only only 37 percent of companies believe their current programs are effective.

Experts say investing in Learning & Development has become so seminal that development executives should now be part of the decisions made at the very top of the company.

Ratios matter

This doesn’t mean you should avoid hiring to fill skill gaps, of course. It just shouldn’t be the first, let alone only, move.

Ratios make a big difference. You can’t have only people with junior levels of any given skill. You need experts to oversee them as well, and put the right content in front of them. In general, you want to keep the ratio at least 1-to-10 — one true expert for every 10 workers at a lower level — and even that’s not enough for certain skill areas.  (PwC’s team of strategists called Strategy&, for example, uses a 1-to-6 ratio of partners to junior consultants.)

It can take three to six months to build skills, but more than a year to become an expert in something. As you work to grow your talent shape, you surely will need to do some hiring, particularly to bring in experts without a delay.

Even still, you’ll want to make sure that everyone you hire has a track record of being good at learning. And you want to make sure that they’re given time to learn new skills as well.

This is what Visa is doing as it strives to become a leader in cryptography. Using Pathgather’s talent development platform, the company is advancing its learning efforts internally even as it hires established experts to join the team.

Getting started

It may seem intimidating. After all, this is about a new way to understand your business and move it forward. We’re here to help make it easy to get started.

In an era of fierce competition, the need for talent agility boils down to a single fact: Companies save themselves by being agile. Without agility, they decline. With it, they can succeed no matter what comes along.

L&D Takes on the Role of Curation ‘Enablers’

For years, L&D professionals have known that they couldn’t create all the content they needed to serve their organizations. Their solution: Curate it. Now, especially in enterprise-level companies, they recognize that even curating content can outstrip the capabilities of a learning-focused team.

Meanwhile, advancing technology has made learning more important than ever. According to the RAND Corporation: “Although trends in job tenure suggest stable or rising tenure for the workforce in the past decade, workers may still experience a need to acquire new skills to perform the same job or to advance to another job with the same employer.”

That observation, in tandem with the improving economy and tightening labor market, has increased pressure on organizations to invest more in employee learning if they want to boost retention rates. Businesses seem to have gotten the message. According to market researcher Technavio, the market for business e-learning will grow at a compound annual growth rate of about 11 percent from 2016 to 2020.

The ever-growing need for learning materials has resulted in a staggering volume of online content: blogs, videos and wiki communities that provide detailed how-to guides while more structured online courses teach everything from coding to critical thinking.

That’s good news on the surface, but it forces Learning & Development managers to proceed cautiously. As they search for content to offer throughout their company, they must make sure they select information that’s engaging, effectively presented and, above all, accurate.

Making their job even more challenging is the fact that workplace skills are evolving at breakneck speeds. According to LinkedIn’s 2017 Workplace Learning Report, the average “skills shelf life” is just five years. So L&D professionals must develop comprehensive “learning experiences” — instead of simple one-off programs — that steer employees toward a path of continuous growth.

The Shift From Creator to Curator

Just 10 years ago, the most valuable L&D professionals were those who could create content. Regardless of the topic, learning took a traditional path in which point A led to point B, which in turn led to point C. Methodologies such as ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation) versus Agile (with a focus on “learning sprints”) dominated debates over the “right” way to create content.

Then, as technology use spread in both the business and consumer worlds, learning began involving a conglomeration of materials — a YouTube video here, a Coursera offering there, a smattering of industry-relevant articles thrown in for good measure. Today, we’re not as concerned with creating content as we are about curating it. One reason is that L&D leaders have come to understand that while curating content can be simpler and more cost-effective than creating and updating it, doing it well isn’t easy. Effective learning involves understanding how different snippets of information are best absorbed by different audiences, enabling learners to use tools they’re comfortable with and allowing the entire approach to be tailored to the needs of each individual worker.

Through all of this, assessing value is paramount. Sloppy curation — providing a steady stream of shallow or off-target information — can do more harm than good in a business world where people are already overwhelmed by content. It’s the curator’s job to make sure every tweet, every video, every article and every quiz is worth the time necessary to click and absorb its lesson. Today’s workers are more than frustrated by wasted time — they resent it.

A New Role for L&D: Enabling Curation

Given that mindset, it’s not surprising that in 2017 we’re hearing more about “decluttering” and books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up are hitting best-seller lists. Just as minimalism has taken hold in the design world, simplicity has become a watchword in the workplace. Employees want less friction: fewer meetings, streamlined methods of collaboration and achieving the coveted state of Inbox Zero.

In terms of learning, each worker wants to see only the resources that will provide them with the most help in developing their skills and doing their jobs. That makes a centralized approach to sifting through content an exercise in futility. The continuously evolving nature of e-learning and the ever-growing volume of available information make it all but impossible for learning teams to develop approaches that can satisfy the needs of all workers.

The solution lies in empowering the workforce to curate for itself. We’re talking about a bottom-up approach, where employees, internal thought leaders and influencers share materials with one another, resulting in less noise and the amplification of the most valuable messages.

“For many individuals, curated insights represent a ‘learning locker,’ allowing for both reflection and a demonstration of what they know,” wrote Allison Anderson and Ben Betts in their book Ready, Set, Curate: 8 Learning Experts Tell You How. “Allowing learners to contribute in these ways makes creating and maintaining a curated list of resources much more efficient.”

Fostering a Community of Curators

Of course, enabling organization-wide curation presents a number of challenges. A variety of technologies are available to help, but before you begin to explore them, think about the work involved in assembling a successful community of contributors.

First and foremost, you must be ready to demonstrate that each participant’s time spent on curating information will be valued. Managers must be educated on how and why their employees’ time spent on curating benefits the organization.

Curators who offer outstanding value should be recognized and rewarded.

Meanwhile, L&D professionals must devote time to being supplementary curators, organizing and supporting the community while continuously tweaking their approach to keep up with the latest trends and technologies — because as L&D evolves, so does the roles of its practitioners.

If technology and social media have changed the way people communicate and learn, L&D must look for ways to embrace, and exploit these new behaviors. Not only must they understand curation, they must be able to orchestrate curation, so that the entire community of their organization becomes a learning mechanism itself.

How HP Reinvented Learning with Brain Candy

Earlier this year, one of our favorite Pathgather customers, Mike Jordan, Global Head of Talent and Learning at HP Inc. joined us at the CLO Spring Symposium, During the event, Mike shared the story of how he and his team reinvented learning at HP. We love this story so much, we wanted to share it here on our blog. Enjoy the video and transcript below!

At HP Inc., we have transformed the way we think about learning. We did this just as HP separated into two companies. I'll talk a little bit about the journey of how we got there, but also exactly the process and the way we implemented that. 

New Company, New Learning Culture

Back in November 2015, HP Inc. split from HP Enterprise and became a standalone company. As we did that, we looked at our culture, and thought, "What do we want to change? What do we want to be known for? What do we want to leave behind?" And a lot of that truly had to do with the way we think about learning overall, and the way that we wanted to shift that.

We did focus groups and surveys. We connected with all of the employees in our different regions to figure out what learning and development would look like in a brand new company and answer these questions: What's happening out there? What are other companies doing? What research can we learn from?

And that helped us to galvanize a few themes that came forward from our employees:

  1. It needed to be a lot easier for employees to find and share content.
  2. People wanted to be able to find experts in the company. We have a lot of great and smart people at HP, and yet we can't find them, or get them to share their expertise because they're hidden.
  3. Employees wanted to be able to customize and curate learning. Employees wanted to take more ownership.
  4. And they want to be able to access that on the go with their mobile devices. 

Big Changes, Short Timelines

We gathered that feedback and connected with several external platforms to look at what would be the best possible option. We found one that worked the best for us, Pathgather. From the minute we signed the deal with Pathgather to implement, we decided we wanted to do it very quickly.

Within 14 weeks of being official with Pathgather, we launched this new social learning platform.

To do that, we created core project teams comprised of people within the HR and L&D functions, as well as the line of business. We knew we needed to tap into people who had a passion for learning and development, could help us curate content, and think about how we could pull this together. 

In mid-April 2016, we started to pull together those teams. We had to be thoughtful about not only the content that we were going to curate but how we would market it to the organization, as how the platform was launched would impact perception and overall value.

We also did a beta pilot with early adopters to help us curate content. They represented all different parts of the business. Then we expanded and invited in 500 employees to see what was working and what wasn't. Is it confusing? Do they understand how to access content? Where do they see additional areas that we need to focus on before we launch? 

The Launch

We launched in July 2016, and were very intentional about not attaching our launch to a single learning event, which many organizations do. That can be helpful, but we wanted this to be purely something that people accessed because they felt learning was valuable and they wanted to find it in new ways.

We crowdsourced the name itself. We wanted to step away from more traditional names we'd used in the past, i.e. HP University to describe how different this new process of accessing learning content was. We came up with Brain Candy. I think were a few bets about how long it would be take for me to be let go after trying to launch a learning platform named Brain Candy, But it was received quite well. A lot of that had to do with the buzz we built working with the teams across the globe.

We curated great content from multiple sources. We had our internal learning and leveraged external learning sources like lynda.com. Anything with a URL web address can be we pulled into Pathgather AKA Brain Candy, which is fantastic. This allows employees to pull in any content that they want to serve up. 

We not only had this iconic symbol of Brain Candy appear, but we had a week of events, and every day we had a different focus that would help employees learn about Brain Candy. We also came up with a slogan, "fuel your curiosity," and we swapped out the word "curiosity" with different words. Fuel your network. Fuel your growth. Fuel your career. So that they could understand this was a way not only to learn but to supercharge the way that they think about their development overall.

We put out kiosks and had people sign in. Within the first ten days, we had about 12,000 of 50,000 people log into Brain Candy. The feedback from employees was fantastic. It felt fresh, different, and new. It felt like the platforms that employees used in their personal lives, which is what we wanted. 

As we all know the line between work and home blurs. And if something at work looks like it was built in 1972, then people don't want to use it. So Brain Candy looks and feels like what people are expecting these days, especially our junior employees. There was really positive feedback overall.

Mind the Data

From launch, we were aggressive about mining the data. What are we learning about? What's getting a lot of attention? What's being completed? What's being shared? What's being created? We also have an intranet, the Daily Ink, where we launched stories about people who have been sharing their content.

Our employees are going wild with this whole concept of being able to share their content. Currently, we have 27,000 users out of 50,000, and that’s 27,000 active users.

They can also attach to gatherings, which are groups of people learning about different topics. We have over 600. We've had an incredible amount of content completions. And the most completed content is the content that employees share themselves.

As much as we're (L&D) putting content out there, what employees are deciding is important for their growth is what they're completing the most. Because they can endorse it and they can see what they like rise to the top. Just like with social platforms. 

What's Next?

It's been a huge success so far. We're now at a point where we're looking at what's going take it to the next step. It's been nine months, and now we want to figure out how can we augment it even more, and how can we make it even more applicable for learners across the globe. 

We have learned a lot of lessons through the launch. We feel like a lot of things went very well.

But what made it the most successful is that we worked closely with our employees. They were part of the process. We were linked with the business; it wasn’t something that we launched at them, it was something they were a part of building.

And of course, having leadership involved helped, and having a great relationship with IT was key. Those were most important pieces that we were able to attack and solve for. 

We're realizing that this is a long-term change. Nine months in and we have great traction. We're moving in a direction that we think is the right one for the company amd we're continuing to get great feedback. We see not just millennials use Brain Candy, but we see all generations use it. Our different organizations and businesses are using it, from our CTO to our labs, to our 3D printing organization. 

It's something that we're paying close attention to, but it is a journey that we're all on together, and look forward to seeing where Brain Candy will take us in the next year or two.

Learning’s Future: Curation With Intent

If you care about corporate learning, you should care about curation.

As the need for learning becomes more critical, the pace of technical change often means formal training can’t be developed quickly enough to keep up. For Learning & Development organizations, curating and sharing information from internal subject-matter experts throughout the organization keeps their workforce up to date with rapidly changing roles and technology.

As more workers curate for their co-workers, departments or even their entire company, it’s destined to become an integral way for enterprises to share knowledge.

That’s especially true today, when jobs are being redefined and workers continually require new skills. According to Josh Bersin by Deloitte, employees are overwhelmed by the sheer pace and complexity of their work -- and they lack the skills to keep up with their changing roles. Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce reports that 65 percent of jobs require a college degree while only 34 percent of Americans have one. That’s pushed organizations to increase Learning & Development by double digits for each year between 2011 and 2014.

With learning becoming increasingly social and personal, it’s most effective when it’s tailored to match the approach a worker takes to their job and is comfortably conveyed to them.

Creation of such an individualized approach can come from the workforce itself. When workers share their expertise with colleagues, learning naturally happens -- more quickly and in a more personalized way.  

The key to making that happen is curation, the selection of information for sharing. In today’s world, where learning should be embedded into almost every job, curation helps separate the signal from the noise that bombards the workplace. Effective workplace curation is the sharing of knowledge with the intent to help others. Properly done, it develops media literacy, reduces the cognitive load for ourselves and others, and improves social intelligence through sharing and feedback. As work becomes less routine, with fewer standardized methods applicable to each task, an organization’s ability to innovate will depend on how well its workers share knowledge.  

This might sound like a “soft” skill, but when spread across the organization it can lead to meaningful results. As Martin Harrysson, Estelle Metayer and Hugo Sarrazin wrote in the McKinsey Quarterly’s November 2012 edition: “By identifying and engaging [internal expert] players, employing potent Web-focused analytics to draw strategic meaning from social-media data, and channeling this information to people within the organization who need and want it, companies can develop a ‘social intelligence’ that is forward looking, global in scope, and capable of playing out in real time.”

Beth Kanter, an expert on social media and learning for the nonprofit sector, describes content curation as a three-part process that involves seeking, sensing and sharing. She believes “it has to support your organization’s communications objectives or your professional learning goals.” Effective curation, then, happens within the context of the enterprise, when workers curate for their team, department or organization.

First of All, Find Information of Value

Learning is often about making connections. Curation helps identify and share connections. To offer value, curators must understand where their information comes from: Who’s providing it? Are they a reputable source? How do they know? Because the algorithms behind a search engine skew its results in unknown ways, the simple fact that a piece of data appears atop Google’s results list doesn’t mean it’s the highest quality information available. Consequently, knowing and trusting the data’s source is critical in an age of information abundance.

That’s all the more important because businesses often require information on complex or specialized subjects for which there is no single reputable source. In such cases, they need a network of experts who can give an informed and nuanced perspective. The challenge is these networks may not yet exist. We may have to build them ourselves. In that case, trust is imperative: If we trust a person involved in the network, we’re likely to trust the sources of information and knowledge they rely on.

But we should always be wary. By continually testing the information we receive, we can discern patterns and understand an expert’s underlying biases. Over time, we’ll be able to build a unique network and, as Rob Cross and Andrew Parker point out in their book The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations: “High performers are distinguished by larger and more diversified personal networks.” 

This highlights a reality about valuable curation: Good curators must be connected and curious -- connected, in the sense that they need large and diverse networks from which to glean new information and perspectives, and curious because curiosity drives learning, curiosity about ideas improves creativity and curiosity about people improves empathy and understanding.

Quick Tip

Curation should always spotlight useful information and make it easier to understand the core message. Six specific ways to add value to information:

  1. Validate: Ensure that information is reliable, current and supported by research.

  2. Synthesize: Describe patterns, trends or flows in large amounts of information.

  3. Present: Make information understandable through visualization or logical presentation.

  4. Contextualize: Describe the information in the context of the organization or group.

  5. Question: Critically examine the assumptions of a source of information.

  6. Compare: Show how and where sources of information differ on a topic, and where they agree.


Share with Intent

Once we’ve curated information, we have to share it. And effective sharing effectively involves more than simply posting it in an online learning community. One size doesn’t fit all, so curators have to determine when to share specific knowledge, with whom, and through which channel. In some instances, an organization-wide blog may be the most effective way to share. In others, posting to a narrowly focused community may be the best way to reach an intended audience.

Curators must also recognize when to capture information that may not be needed until later. For example, 1,500 workers could use a specific tool every day, but over six months 200 of them may stumble across the need to use an unfamiliar feature to make a deadline. If curators had the foresight to recognize information about how that feature could be valuable under certain circumstances, they could categorize it and include it in a knowledge base for use on-demand.

Curators add further value by putting information in the context of the person asking for help. Sending a note saying, “Here’s a link to the resource,” provides some value, but including a description of how the resource has previously been used adds more. Providing a list of resources, with each annotated according to the context of the person asking for help, adds even more.

Create a Solution Based on Engagement

All of this is especially important at a time when technology and automation are driving fundamental changes in how work gets done. While media discussions center on how new technologies will eliminate the need for many roles now performed by people, in November 2015’s McKinsey Quarterly, Michael Chui, James Manyika and Mehdi Miremadi contended that the focus on individual occupations was misleading. “Very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the near or medium term,” they wrote. Instead, “certain activities are more likely to be automated, requiring entire business processes to be transformed, and jobs performed by people to be redefined, much like the bank teller’s job was redefined with the advent of ATMs.”

In many cases, then, automation will result in workers taking on roles that are more complex. While ATMs handle more of a customer’s routine banking chores, for example, tellers take charge of more tasks that involve sensitive financial matters and require human interaction. So, automation doesn’t necessarily mean work becomes easier. It means people are left to address issues that are more technically or personally complex.

Such redefined jobs require learning new skills, yet the pace of technical change often outpaces L&D’s ability to develop formal training. Consequently, organizations have little choice but to lean more heavily on informal learning if they’re to help employees’ keep their skills current. Curation helps accomplish this by encouraging workers and L&D teams to find and put to use  the knowledge and work of others. It fosters wider sharing of diverse ideas, and over time that sharing builds trust. Improved trust speeds the flow of knowledge throughout the organization, and the organization becomes more nimble. Better sharing improves learning, and better learning leads to better decisions.

Trusted Networks Ease the Flow of Information

Because technology makes it easier the share information, curators must be discerning in what they share. A shotgun approach to knowledge-sharing doesn’t accomplish much besides burying the audience, thus diluting the value curation is supposed to offer in the first place.

In large organizations especially, employees require the right social tools to share knowledge, collaborate and cooperate. Such tools enable faster feedback loops inside the organization and allow it to work more effectively with connected customers, suppliers and partners, and to address challenges posed by competitors. They connect the work being done with the identification of new opportunities and ideas.

But people view knowledge in a personal way. For example, most employees care little about organizational knowledge bases; instead, they care about what they need to accomplish their goals.

After building his company’s knowledge base in 2003, Ernst & Young’s Chief Knowledge Officer Dave Pollard wrote: “[My] conclusion this time around was that the centralized stuff we spent so much time and money maintaining was simply not very useful to most practitioners. The practitioners I talked to about [personal productivity improvement] said they would love to participate in PPI coaching, provided it was focused on the content on their own desktops and hard drives, and not the stuff in the central repositories.”

Pollard’s experience demonstrates that individual knowledge sharing and organizational knowledge management must complement each other. A decentralized approach, with individuals using their personal methods and sharing on their own terms, yields better results over time. The self-determination theory developed by professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan has shown that workers are engaged when they have autonomy, mastery and relatedness. In the context of curation, they need the independence to select their own tools, the time to practice and master sense-making skills -- which allow them to take information and create meaning and understanding around it -- and a trusted network of peers with whom to share and learn.  

Curation supports such self-determination. By connecting information and knowledge with their professional networks, workers better relate to their peers and more efficiently solve problems. Curation becomes a form of engagement, and the return on that engagement is trust. While trust is all-but impossible to measure, it’s an important result to CLOs who want knowledge to flow quickly, and the idea that knowledge flows faster through trusted networks is a foundation block of learning.

To succeed, organizations must let go of the idea of directed learning and embrace the concept of facilitated learning through curation. They must empower individuals to identify small pieces of information and then join them under minimal organizational control. While each person has to find their own process, the end result is an organization that collectively makes sense of and shares knowledge to everyone’s advantage.

Key Takeaways

  • Technology and social networking have integrated themselves into our working and professional lives, often changing the nature of work itself. As a result, learning and development has never been more important, yet L&D organizations can barely keep up. The solution is readily available: Empower workers to curate and share information throughout the company.

  • By sharing knowledge through their professional networks, workers better relate to their peers and more efficiently solve problems. Curation becomes a form of engagement, and the return on that engagement is trust. That’s an important result to CLOs who want knowledge to flow quickly.

  • It’s time to let go of the idea of directed learning and embrace the concept of facilitated learning through curation. Organizations that encourage individuals to identify small pieces of information and join them with minimal oversight will organically share and make sense of knowledge to everyone’s advantage.

What AT&T’s Corporate Training Revolution, Japanese History and a Cucumber Mean for the New Era of Learning

Imagine creating a business, scaling it into a global behemoth, and then discovering that it has to change the very core of what it does — or risk going extinct. 

That’s the position AT&T found itself in over the last few years, as new technologies are steadily wiping out the traditional telecom business.

“With its industry moving from cables and hardware to the internet and the cloud, AT&T is in a sprint to reinvent itself,” the Harvard Business Review reported. The article was co-written by John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer

For AT&T, the reinvention is fundamental. The Dallas-based corporation is transitioning from being primarily a telecom company to primarily a cloud computing company.

This could have meant mass layoffs and entirely new hires.  But instead, the company took a different route. “Rather than hiring new talent wholesale, AT&T has chosen to rapidly retrain its current employees while striving to engender a culture of perpetual learning,” the Harvard Business Review article added.

That choice presented its own huge challenge.

‘The pivot is happening’

Robert Koehler, the lead consultant in HR technology at AT&T University  (the company’s flagship development program), describes the company’s undertaking as an “enterprise-wide skills pivot, which redefines jobs, roles, methods and skills currently in use.”

“The pivot is happening because there’s danger,” Koehler told a packed crowd of learning professionals at the ATD International Conference and Exposition, a three-day event that drew 10,000 people from 78 countries.

All kinds of businesses are realizing they must evolve because the landscape for how they operate is changing so rapidly, Koehler said.  For his employer, the message was clear: “Things have got to change within AT&T to continue to be competitive.”

When top brass call for it, change happens

Another key factor for AT&T was that top executives specifically called for this change.

“There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop,” CEO Randall Stephenson told The New York Times, sharing the message he has given employees. The article’s stark headline read, “Gearing Up for the Cloud, AT&T Tells Its Workers: Adapt, or Else.”

Stephenson made clear he expected learning to become a sizeable chunk of work time.  He told the Times that people who do not spend five to 10 hours a week in online learning “will obsolete themselves with the technology.”

To make this transition work, AT&T announced a commitment to training unlike anything in its history.

“In 2016 we delivered training to 250,000-plus employees, who in turn accomplished 13,143,361 completions and over 2,325,871 student days via 542,454 enrollments,” Koehler announced during his session at the Georgia World Congress Center.

The company’s new program has made waves in the learning industry.

This year’s Global Human Capital Trends report by Deloitte cited it when calling on chief learning officers to deliver “learning solutions that inspire people to reinvent themselves, develop deep skills, and contribute to the learning of others. The goal is a learning environment adapted to a world of increased employee mobility. Interdisciplinary skills development is critical ... Learning should encourage, and even push, people to move across jobs.”

The report noted that “since 2013, AT&T has invested $250 million in education and development programs,” and “now offers a wide range of online learning opportunities and encourages employees to find new jobs, seek out mentors, and learn new technologies.”

Personalization is ‘spine-tingling’

Despite the scale, AT&T’s strategy was designed around individuals. It’s called PLE, for Personal Learning Experience, a platform that aggregates development initiatives. “This unified platform will enable workforce planning, talent management and learning strategies to seamlessly align and transform together,” Koehler explained at the conference in Atlanta.

This design is a response to the “writing on the social, cultural and professional wall – trends in evidence everywhere,” including the increases in micro-learning, use of video and mobile, gamification and game-based learning, as well as adaptive learning, Koehler said.  

Importantly, we were seeing evolution in daily life. People learning at a high rate, in a new way, and showing accomplishment, motivation, involvement, and excitement. Any teacher would be thrilled to see those characteristics in learners.  Self-starting, passionate, and discriminating, motivating and immediate.

“Importantly, we were seeing evolution in daily life.  People learning at a high rate, in a new way, and showing accomplishment, motivation, involvement, and excitement.  Any teacher would be thrilled to see those characteristics in learners.  Self-starting, passionate, and discriminating, motivating and immediate.”

There’s a level of trust that goes with this new era of learning, he said.  By making materials available, rather than following traditional classroom methods, businesses are telling employees, “We trust you.”

“We trust them to guide their own learning experience, to tell us when it is difficult or confusing, and to ask for help when needed,” Koehler said. “It’s a new distribution of power and responsibility, and an investment in the learning process and the learner that is daring, insightful, and empowering. I find it spine-tingling.”

Make it engaging

For personal learning experiences to work, Koehler emphasized, the materials have to be engaging.

One example, he said, is a YouTube video about Japanese history, brought to him by his son, a senior in high school.  In just over a year, this video has racked up more than 28 million views.

It’s not that the style of this should or should not be copied, Koehler said.  The video is “very visual” and “full of humor,” but also “somewhat ragged,” and some people may find parts of it offensive. Still, it’s extremely successful in delivering its message. In seven minutes, on their own time, millions of people have gained insights into Japanese history.

Another favorite example of Koehler’s lasts less than a  minute.  It’s a rap about the many potential uses for a cucumber. In a couple of months, it’s racked up more than 360,000 views.

These videos are examples of a burgeoning trend of successful and enjoyable communication, Koehler said.  Businesses can learn from this trend and utilize the many tools available today to create fun, memorable and effective learning content.

Create options for everyone

Training and development initiatives are not just for upper-level staff, and not just for intellectual topics, Koehler added. There should be options in the learning ecosystem to help everyone advance. And there should be efforts to get people at all levels, in all departments, excited about training.

“When you get up in the morning, you have to bring your motivation, your inspiration, and apply it to people,” he told the attendees.  

Learning professionals should use every tool at their disposal to reach far and wide throughout their organizations so that as many people as possible take part, Koehler said.  “You’ve got to know the multiple levels of influence it takes to move individuals and groups into a position in which they want to do this.”

Getting the funding

Of course, not every company has top execs already on board with the idea of revolutionizing learning culture to meet new demands.  

To get things moving, learning professionals will need to prove value.  That can be tricky, because businesses have traditionally looked for return on investments through creating things that are sold externally, Koehler said, adding:  

“If you submit a business case to someone and say, ‘This is what we’ve got, there’s $15 million we can bring back to the company,’ the finance experts may say, ‘That’s zero — because it’s not going out and being sold to anyone. It isn’t literally generating revenue.’”

The key is to show in a clear, concise way how this approach to developing pragmatic skills will drive business success, Koehler said. It also means understanding “funding windows” and deliverables. “In this environment, you can be funded in January and defunded in October. And that’s occasionally based merely on perception. People may come in from an executive ‘island’ and say, ‘Oh, I talked to Joe Blow and he said you’re really not using this money, so I’m going to take it and put it in my own project.’”

So, Koehler said, “sharpening your negotiating skills is important.”

Evangelize the effort

Even once an initiative is going, it takes work to make sure those who can best push it forward understand what it’s all about, Koehler warned. “Don’t assume that just because you know the process and its benefits, that leadership does and that your evangelists do.”  

He encouraged the crowd to “engineer” learning programs for those potential evangelists so that they feel safe participating and getting to know it.

To chuckles from the crowd, Koehler compared this idea to parents who teach their children.  Too often, parents aren’t fully appreciated “until after they’re dead,” he said. “You need to make your businesses appreciate you while you’re alive!”

Big work for big reward

Koehler, who has been with the company for 18 years, said PLE is replacing “years of embedded, customized, legacy technology across AT&T with a unified personal learning solution that will grow and change with the company."

But the work, done by so many people across different units, is well worth it. Because ultimately, it’s about tapping the brain power of the workforce. Learning leads people to innovate and create the strongest possible business.

The ultimate success, he said, comes when an employee who spent time learning goes home at the end of the day. “After dinner, they sit down and think, ‘You know what would work? You know what we could do?’”

Each time that happens, he said, a business is given a new idea that can transform it for the better. “Someone dreamed it for you,” Koehler said with a smile. “That’s great. 

“A great thing about humanity is that, on occasion, people go outside themselves based on inspiration,” he said.  “You create something, and life gets better.”

Learning Leader Tamar Elkeles Calls for Industry Overhaul: ‘We Need to Be Leading the Talent Agenda’

Tamar Elkeles is known as an outspoken voice pushing the Learning & Development industry to move forward in big ways. So it’s perhaps no surprise that, delivering a talk at a big conference, she had words you rarely hear from a public speaker: “This is ridiculous. Why are you here?  We could be doing this on an app!”

Elkeles was referring to the need to embrace new technologies in corporate talent development.  While workers are increasingly turning to their mobile devices, too much training in businesses still comes in the classroom form. “We are part of the problem,” she said. “We have been offering classroom learning for years, so we continue to do it.” 

The need to update how learning takes place was just one of the takeaways from her high-energy talk at the ATD International Conference and Expo, which drew nearly 10,000 people from around the world to Atlanta for three days.  

When conference organizers described the event as including “game changers, the individuals who are shaping the industry,” they could have had in mind Elkeles, co-author of Chief Talent Officer and chief talent executive for the global venture capital firm Atlantic Bridge. Under her leadership, Qualcomm was named Learning & Development Organization of the Year in 2015 by Chief Learning Officer magazine.

“The number one differentiator in companies is culture,” she told the learning professionals who packed her session. When workers consider corporate culture, they focus on the opportunity to learn as essential, she said. “The number one reason employees stay in an organization today is to grow their careers.”  

This is especially true for the youngest employees. “What millennials want more than anything is training and development,” Elkeles said. 

A top business challenge

Corporate learning and development professionals sometimes see their roles as ancillary.  But as Elkeles sees it, that vastly underestimates their importance.  She called on them to view their work as central to any business.

Our value in organizations today is so much bigger than L&D. We need to be leading the talent agenda. Our role is to leverage talent in organizations, and figuring out an impressive way to do that.

The business landscape is changing rapidly, Elkeles said. Complexity and competition are on the rise, as are the use of new technologies and the speed at which business is done. New, emerging markets and platforms will keep popping up.

So companies are left with challenges like trying to forecast the future and “developing people for jobs that don’t even exist yet.” This means creating a company culture “that maximizes employee growth and engagement.” And it means “retaining talent to drive business success.”

Talent assessment

The strategy for tackling this challenge has to include a deep dive into how well a company’s talent pool matches its needs — not just currently, but in the years to come. Elkeles called on conference attendees to gather talent analytics for a full picture. 

They should ask a series of questions, including: Do we have the right talent for the next one or two years? What strategic or core skills, competencies and experiences need to be added, and what significant challenges or opportunities might occur during that time? Then they need to look beyond the two-year mark to determine needs and strengths well into the future.

Many organizations fail to ask two crucial questions, largely because people are afraid to, she added. They are: What skills do you see as no longer needing, or declining? What derails talent in your business?

But development isn’t just about skills. Elkeles called on the crowd to examine key traits that distinguish great leaders as well: curiosity, adaptability, resourcefulness, exceptional people skills and an open mind, which includes good listening skills.

To develop these, employees need feedback. Elkeles offered a line she uses with executives. “I have something for you and it’s free,” she tells them. Then they’re generally all ears.  “It’s feedback,” she tells them, “free feedback.” She then asks whether they want to hear it.

She told a story of one executive who wanted the feedback. “I said, ‘You’re very dismissive and do not listen.’ And the executive said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. My ex-wife said the same thing!’”

Make development a constant at every level 

These kinds of constructive critiques should come year-round, as a regular part of management, Elkeles said. There should be “constant feedback and development discussions.”

And they should happen throughout the entire pipeline. “Don’t just focus on your VPs and above,” Elkeles said. “If you’re a true talent executive, you’re looking at talent as it comes in the door.” Leadership development is for everyone, and people peak at different times in their careers.

 To make development a pillar of how an organization operates, managers at all levels must be brought on board as part of the effort, she said. They should come to see development as a standard part of what they do.

 The key is to make the entire development ecosystem active every day. “If you’re just waiting for your annual performance review to discuss development and feedback,” Elkeles warned, “you’re not effectively managing talent.”

 Learning comes through on-the-job assignments and even board meetings.  And besides skills and traits, employees need to learn company culture.  “Every touchpoint you have is an opportunity to share” what the company is all about, she said, highlighting one company that sent its employees stories about its culture every week for a year.

 “From the minute people accept an offer letter to join your company, it’s an opportunity to communicate to them about your culture,” Elkeles said.

Learn from each other 

Another part of continual learning is to embrace user-generated content and peer learning.

Elkeles did this at Qualcomm by using Pathgather, which pulls together internal and external resources to create a single destination for learning and building career paths. 

“I’d rather have a talent platform that actively shares what people are learning online and from each other than use an antiquated LMS (Learning Management System),” said Elkeles, who serves as an adviser to Pathgather.


Elkeles also told the crowd at the Georgia World Congress Center: “Build your learning apps.” When employees have easy-to-use applications in the palms of their hands, learning vastly increases.


We’re living in an era of intense personalization, Elkeles argued. “The fact that we have everything personalized today reinforces the need to personalize learning, and we’re not,” she said.

By offering a multitude of options, giving regular feedback at the individual level and making sure people have access to development tools in the most convenient ways possible, that individualization can thrive, she said. 

Even in group learning situations, the one-size-fits-all idea of learning is misguided, Elkeles said.  “This — me talking to you — I hate this,” she said to laughter. Elkeles prefers to “hear your experiences” and “learn from you,” rather than deliver a lecture like a classroom teacher.  

“I really believe the classroom is reserved for three things,” she explained: interaction with an expert, interaction with each other and role-playing to practice skills “in a safe environment.”

Assessing value

To move forward in the talent development arena, professionals need to help executives understand the clear value of what they’re achieving, and of what they’re pursuing. “I’ve never met a business executive who knew how to measure L&D,” Elkeles said.

In general, the wrong metrics have been used, which created a “mess,” she argued. Learning leaders have pointed to the numbers of people who underwent training and the numbers of courses offered. But these don’t show the top brass real value. “When we start talking about training classes and butts in seats and those are the measurements we’re using, we’re screwing ourselves,” she said.  

Think about changing the discussion to: How do we add value to the business? How do we leverage our talent?

By using analytics to create a clear, simple graphic, talent executives can show worth in both the short-term and long-term.  They can demonstrate the ways talent initiatives lead to higher employee performance, satisfaction and retention — and how that saves the company money.  Elkeles put it succinctly: “Talent analytics are linked to business success.”

Three-year plan

 Enacting these changes will take time, Elkeles said. “I always say that complete change takes three years.” By the third year, companies have adopted it as standard practice.  

 Getting more and more people on board by explaining why these changes are necessary can help speed up the process.

 It’s a big charge, but a crucial one, Elkeles told the crowd. “You own that.”

The ‘Trainer’s Trainer’ Has a Message for the Industry: Here’s Where We’re Failing and What to Do About It

When 10,000 corporate learning professionals from 78 countries converged in Atlanta for the ATD International Conference and Exposition, organizers picked the “trainer’s trainer” to meet first with the media.  

Elaine Biech, a leader in the field for 30 years, had an important message for the training industry: 

Our profession has to be built on what the science tells us about learning and how people learn best. And truthfully, we haven’t been real good about thinking about those things and incorporating them.

It’s time for training leaders to learn cognitive science, which focuses on how people learn, she said.  It’s an issue she delves into in her new book The Art and Science of Training.

For example, science shows that “we lose information rapidly after we hear it.  But there is a way to solve that,” Biech said. “You give a large piece of information, and then keep adding information along the way. It’s called spacing.”  

Training leaders should also study the learning curve, first described by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, she said.

Competence, confidence, commitment

A big reason the science hasn’t gotten enough attention, Biech said, is that much of the training offered inside companies stops short of its intended goal.  It consists of presenting information to employees, but without any follow-up to see what people actually learned — or whether they can and will apply the new knowledge in their jobs. 

“We’re very very good at the competence part, figuring out what people need to know,” she argued.  “But we’re not so good at the confidence part — giving them the confidence to use it, as well as the commitment to use it.”

All too often when employees are given a reading assignment, a MOOC (massive open online course) or training class, she said, “We forget that these folks now have to go back to the real world and implement these things.”  

A new model 

Pathgather asked Biech about the steps organizations can take to fix this. 

For starters, she said, bring supervisors on board, because middle management often doesn’t know what employees need to learn and do differently. “So we need to talk to those managers and explain, ‘Here’s what it’s about, here’s why it’s important.’” And trainers should show managers the steps to take after their employees come back from training.

Biech also pushes businesses to explore “a new model.”

What I have started to say is that trainers need to lead and leaders need to train. And we need to have that switch taking place.

It’s a matter of growing a deeper understanding of what those roles are, she said.  Trainers should be a part of the leadership of any organization, and all leaders should understand that developing the skills of their staff is part of their job. 

“Supervisors are the people who are supposed to develop, not trainers,” Biech said. “We’re supposed to provide some support. Trainers should be at the table, in the C-suite, helping our senior leaders understand what it is that they need to do, getting the training and development at the table when decisions are made.  When an organization creates a new strategy, they need to understand what people need to know to implement that strategy.”

Artistry in how training is done

Just as her book title suggests, the needed fix isn’t all about information and hard science.  It’s also about artistry, the emotional and creative expression people engage in.

“If we have a solid background in the science and then layer on the art that’s within us, we’ll be more successful,” she said.   

Using new technologies, people can design all kinds of creative mechanisms for learning, she said.  

And that creativity is necessary because today’s workers rarely want to feel like they’re back in school. Biech avoids the word “educator” because “in my mind educators stand behind a podium and teach at people … I want people coming into any learning setting saying, ‘I’m excited about learning.’”

“So it’s not just about the science of training, but about how to make that happen.  The artist inside the trainer has to come out to make sure that happens.”

Our robotic future?

Honing both the art and science of corporate training is more important than ever as the workplace undergoes dramatic change, Biech said.

For example, a 2010 study predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce would be “contingent workers,” which includes contractors, temporary workers and the self-employed.  But then the news came — two years ago — that the United States had already reached that figure.  

To develop workers in this new economy, businesses need to understand how people are learning, how they can learn, and how to use creativity to deliver actionable information.

Biech’s message also serves as a rallying cry: Evolve your role or risk becoming obsolete. As artificial intelligence grows, she asked, “How are you going to respond to a boss that is a computer or a robot?”

Or, even more starkly, she warned that workers “could possibly be chipped in the next five to 10 years.” If trainers view their roles as simply presenting information, their jobs “will be gone,” she said. 

But by embracing a larger role as business leaders with expertise in the art and science of development, they can continue to serve crucial roles well into the future.

ATD Conference Shows Learning and Development Has Become ‘Business-Critical’

For professionals in the corporate learning industry, a massive conference last month in Atlanta wasn’t just an opportunity to get together, exchange ideas and showcase new tools.  It was a chance for power players from all over the globe to steer business at large in a new direction.

Experts at the ATD International Conference and Exposition made this clear: To succeed in the new economy, organizations must make talent development a central pillar of what they do.  

From what the Pathgather team saw and experienced while running a prominent exhibition on the showroom floor, the message appeared to resonate.

Learning & Development is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s business-critical.


"There seems to be a growing understanding that amid the pace of change everyone’s businesses are experiencing, Learning & Development is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s business-critical,” said Eric Duffy, Pathgather’s founder and CEO. L&D professionals “believe the onus is on them to find novel and impactful solutions."

“They increasingly seem to have a mandate from their business partners to push the envelope, meaning that prospects seem not just willing but eager to seek out new approaches that even a couple of years ago they would not have been ready to take a look at,” Duffy said. He was part of the Pathgather team meeting with some of the 10,000 attendees from 78 countries who filled the sprawling Georgia World Congress Center.  

Along with a growing sense of responsibility comes a newfound commitment to creativity, Duffy said. “I was inspired by how inspired attendees themselves seem to be. I perceive a shift over the past couple of years in how empowered L&D practitioners seem to be to try new things.”

The transformative state of the training industry also struck Kirk Wells, Pathgather’s vice president of sales. The conference showed there’s a “reshaping of how L&D is viewed,” with practitioners becoming “more strategic” and more “prescriptive,” rather than “reactive,” he said.

Still, there are challenges that come along with that, Wells noted. The conference showed there are “tons of content providers across all specialties.” He said that’s “great, but also creates more noise …  It did seem everyone was trying to find a way to combine many different things — such as content, communications, initiatives and resources — in a meaningful direction. That could make it harder for someone to “sift through the BS and get to something relevant.”

Becky Hobbs, a Pathgather product marketing consultant, also picked up on a challenge facing the industry as she worked her way through the conference. Too many companies are not designing training for “the average employee,” she said. “Almost all of the training content providers were sales and leadership companies.”

This is a problem experts have also pointed to, including Pathgather adviser Tamar Elkeles during her session at the conference. “Don’t just focus on your VPs and above,” Elkeles said. “If you’re a true talent executive, you’re looking at talent as it comes in the door.”

Hobbs also found that many in the L&D space still believe myths about millennials, the largest group in today’s workforce. For example, she said, “they say millennials complain and ask why instead of just doing.” But people in general look for answers, Hobbs said. Millennials are just more used to getting them because of such quick access to information. Asking the reasons for a task doesn’t mean millennials are less interested in getting a task done, she said, adding: “It hasn’t changed the core intent.”

Hobbs says she also found that much of the “L&D/Talent crowd is ‘traditional’ rather than tech-savvy — far behind many of their colleagues in their businesses in grasping new tech.”

This is another challenge facing the industry. AT&T executive Robert Koehler referred to it during his session at the conference, saying professionals must embrace new tech to create engaging content. 

That’s another reason Duffy found the conference hopeful. As learning professionals are just starting to explore new technological options, “many people were intrigued to learn more about what a Talent Development Platform is,” he said. “At Pathgather, we have a good opportunity to define it.”

The Difference Between Real Learning and ‘Morale Boosting’

When is a corporate Learning & Development program doomed to failure? No matter what industry you’re in, the answer’s the same: When it’s only there to make employees feel good, not to help them advance their careers.

One video professional remembers an ex-employer who offered programs “as morale boosters with no further action.” The skills being taught weren’t relevant for helping employees do their jobs or advance to higher positions. At his 1,000-employee company, “The CEO made a big deal about training available in IT for non-IT personnel,” he says. The IT department wasn’t expanding, and the company had no plans to even consider non-IT personnel for technology roles anyway. “Many employees laughed at the absurdity of it.”

‘Cotton Candy’ Learning

“Morale boost learning is like cotton candy,” says Christopher Veal, organizational development and training manager for the Orange County Fire Authority in southern California. “Sure, you leave feeling good, but it’s fleeting. Nothing really changes and the participant doesn’t likely change behavior in any way that makes a difference.”

Sometimes, “morale boost” programs may come with good intentions. For example, when David Stanley worked in the brutal field of financial sales for a Richmond, Va.-based company, “phones were slammed down on salespeople, doors were shut in their faces, insults were hurled,” he recalls. “Frontline sales people took a beating. Consequently, most of our training consisted of pep talks designed to counteract the psychological damage.”

However, the approach didn’t fix the problem, which was “inadequate substantive training,” says Stanley, who is now a science teacher and author. “As with most pep-talks, the effects were short-lived and useless.” Instead, he believes the training should have focused on how to prospect effectively in order to spend more time selling to qualified leads and less time being harassed by people with no interest in financial products.  

The Training Effectiveness Gap

This disconnect between the knowledge workers need and the knowledge they receive is a challenge faced by Learning & Development professionals everywhere. Around the world, 84 percent of executives believe learning is important, yet only 37 percent of companies believe that their current training programs are effective, according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report.

This gap is leading employees toward the door. “Dissatisfaction with some employee-development efforts appears to fuel many early exits,” wrote Monika Hamori, Jie Cao and Burak Koyuncuin in the Harvard Business Review.  

“We asked young managers what their employers do to help them grow in their jobs and what they’d like their employers to do, and found some large gaps,” the researchers said. “Workers reported that companies generally satisfy their needs for on-the-job development... But they’re not getting much in the way of formal development, such as training, mentoring, and coaching—things they also value highly.”

With that in mind, it’s easy to see how short-term morale-boosting isn’t satisfying employees’ long-term goals. And when workers find a company that will offer real learning opportunities, they’re happy to jump.

The Cultural Fix

So how can businesses make sure their training options align with their employees’ aspirations?

One of the keys is to maintain a culture in which employees feel they can safely communicate with their managers, says Kristen Fyfe-Mills, associate director of communications at the Association for Talent Development in Alexandria, Va. For example, at previous employers she’s sat through programs that didn’t align with her goals for advancement. “I wish I’d known I could go to my manager and say, ‘You know, this training you’re having me do [in drafting documents], I learned in eighth grade. This won’t help me contribute to your bottom line faster. Are there some other ways we can structure programming?’”

“Really effective change,” Fyfe-Mills says, “comes when people are able to express themselves in organizations.”

But that’s only a piece of the puzzle. Companies must also conduct needs assessments for improving and fine-tuning their training options.

For Veal, the first step is to consider what some people call “WIIFM,” or “What’s In It For Me?” “When I’m looking to design training for our employees, one of the first things I look at is the ‘WIIFM’ aspect as it relates to the target audience,” he says. “There’s a lot of content out there to be found, and I want to make sure that it has practical and useful relevance for our participants.”

A Crucial Investment

It’s also important to remind executives that when training is done right--when it really educates employees rather than just attempts to make them feel good--businesses succeed.

“Global business is really competitive. If you want a highly skilled workforce, that’s going to require an investment in people--an investment that’s relevant and meaningful and is contributing to business impact,” Fyfe-Mills points out. Building a successful talent development program “is a game changer for organizations.” Companies that truly position themselves for success “are the ones doubling down on their beliefs and investments in talent development,” she says.

Research backs her up. Numerous studies show that impactful training programs improve retention, and employees become more committed, innovative and productive. In fact, Deloitte notes that after “studying more than 30 different research studies on retention and engagement, researchers found that focus on company-specific training is one of the strongest contributors to employee engagement and retention. Research also shows that ‘high-impact’ learning organizations deliver 30 percent higher customer service and show similar high performance in innovation.”

When learning hits the mark, employees “see the path forward and make that discretionary investment to want to contribute more,” Fyfe-Mills says.

It’s also crucial for attracting millennials, now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. As Gallup found: “Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction--they are pursuing development.”

Steady Improvement

The good news is things are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.

“The trend lines are all pointing up,” Fyfe-Mills says. ADT’s annual state of the industry report found that companies invested an average of $1,252 per employee in 2015, totalling more than 4.3 percent of percent payroll expenditures, up from 4 percent the previous year. The amount of time employees spent in training also rose, to 33.5 hours from 32.4. And, Fyfe-Mills notes, companies are learning to put more focus and funding into the kind of training that their workforces need to advance.

Deloitte found similarly positive developments. According to its 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, companies are moving toward “always-on” learning experiences that allow employees to build skills “quickly, easily, and on their own terms.”  

Finally, Veal says, while learning for advancement is important, it doesn’t have to be the sole focus. “Some employees may not have a desire to climb the ladder. They may simply want to learn new skills. So be sure to look at the multiple reasons for why your employees are seeking learning opportunities,” he advises.

Morale boosts can deflate quickly. Cotton candy leaves you hungry. To tap into the power of their employees, businesses need to give them the fuel they deserve--the chance to learn, develop, and expand. That’s how you build the workforce of the future.

Formal vs. Informal Content: The Aha Moment

We’ve been operating on a hypothesis for a long time now as a company - that people learn in their free time, outside of the traditional structure that L&D provides. This is something we say to our customers and prospects, and it’s a message our competitors share as well.

It wasn’t until a recent “Data & Dinner” session our product team hosted for the company that we were able to truly qualify this hypothesis... and the findings were pretty astounding.  

Because Pathgather aggregates formal learning content within organizations and informal learning from across the web into one place, we’re uniquely positioned to identify interesting corporate learning trends. These trends were previously invisible when all you could see was what was happening in your LMS, which is still the case at most organizations.

For context, the kinds of formal and informal content we’re talking about:

Formal Enterprise Content; Licensed or Produced Internally

  • Internal Platforms: LMS, CMS, Cloud Storage, etc. 
  • Third-Party Content: Lynda.com, Coursera, Pluralsight, Khan, Udacity, etc.

Informal Shared Content; Authored by Employees & Industry Through Leaders

  • TED Talks, YouTube, Industry Videos, etc.
  • Publication Articles, Blogs, Wikis, etc. 

When we pulled the data across our entire customer base, we discovered two thought-provoking observations. First, and not surprisingly, formal content vastly outnumbers informal content. However, what was surprising is just how large that discrepancy is.

On average, 97% of the content in the Pathgather library is formal, corporately controlled while just 3% can be classified as informal content and curated by employees.


Second, and get ready for this one, despite informal content making up just 3% of the content library, it accounts for over 50% of content completed in Pathgather. That means over half of the learning that happens on Pathgather costs your organization nothing to provide. Zero. Nada.  

This is a pretty astounding revelation given that companies spend untold sums of money on content that employees have no interest in using, and can actually be obtained for free on the web at a higher level of quality.

Now, we could’ve easily dropped some “oh sh*t” stats on you and walked away, but we decided to dive into some of the reasons why we think this trend is occurring along with a variety of  ways to drive engagement with your formal content below.

Why do we see such a drastic shift toward informal content?

It all boils down to relevancy. Your employees are bombarded with a mountain of information throughout their day. This makes them numb to messaging and fosters a culture of reactivity. Therefore, only hyper-relevant material will penetrate their blinders and cause them to engage.

This is exactly what informal content does. While engaging with peers, mentors and influencers, users are curating skill-specific content that piques their interest and satiates their learning appetites.

Most L&D teams are not equipped to meet the growing, daily demand of its employees’ learning needs because those needs vary widely between individuals. This makes it virtually impossible for L&D to keep up with changing processes, technologies and methodologies.

Learning organizations need to then rely on the experts within their communities to be the frontline curators and help guide the learning process for all employees. If this data tells us anything, it’s that the role of the modern L&D team should be consultants and facilitators of learning, not creators.  

Should you throw away formal content?  

Absolutely not! Formal content will always play a critical role in your organization and it’s particularly important for developing foundational skills within each employee. What should be a continuous practice is the evaluation of your internal and third-party content to ensure that usage remains high and outcomes are positive for the learners.

This is seamlessly done in Pathgather because you can easily compare content sources, see which courses are the most popular amongst your employees and identify alternative informal content that may be more impactful.  

How do you achieve a better ROI?  

This gets to the old adage, “If you build it, they will come.” Just because you have a content library that spans every topic imaginable, doesn’t mean your employees are going to proactively find it, consume it and retain it. You need to take a page out of the informal process and build in relevancy to all your content catalogs.

For example, if you have engineering content, identify the groups of individuals who would most benefit from each skill addressed and proactively market this material to them. By tagging content by skills and topics, and organizing this information in an easy to find and engaging platform, learners are able to achieve what every L&D team and employee hopes for - professional development.   

To learn more about these statistics or how Pathgather can reinvent learning at your organization, reach out to us at info@pathgather.com.


Changelog #8

We've released a slew of improvements over the past month or so, so it's time for another changelog! We've added support for several new integrations, added the ability to more easily organize your content into topics, expanded our admin roles, and much more. As always, please reach out to us at support@pathgather.com with any feedback or questions.

New integrations

A bulk of our work over the past couple of months has focused on new integrations. To enable these, simply login to the admin interface, navigate to the Settings section, and click on Integrations.

In addition, we also now have integrations for some new LMSs. Configuring an LMS integration requires our support team to flip some switches for you, so if you are interested in these, simply email us at support@pathgather.com.

Categorize external content using your internal topics

For those of you that leverage our content vendor integrations, this is a big one! We now support the ability to 'map' both a vendor's entire content catalog and/or a specific topic defined by a vendor to your own Pathgather-defined topics.

So, let's say you've enabled our integration to Coursera. You can now easily add all of Coursera's content to a specific topic you've defined, or you can 'map' a Coursera defined topic (e.g. Data Science) to a Pathgather topic you've defined (e.g. Computer Science).

To configure a mapping, head over to the Topics management section in the admin interface and click on the "Manage topic mappings" button in the top right. From there, click on "Define a mapping" (again) in the top right. The first option you'll be presented is to select an integrated provider (e.g. Coursera). Once you select a provider, you can choose the topic to add the provider's content to. If the provider has their own defined topics, an optional third option will be displayed that allows you to only consider a certain topic defined by the provider in the mapping. If you leave this blank, the provider's entire catalog will be added to the topic you select.

Add content to a topic in bulk

In another effort to make content organization easier, you can now also bulk add content to a specific topic. To do this, simply navigate over to the content management view of the admin interface. Select the content you'd like to add to a topic and click the "Add to topic" option above the results!

Additional admin scopes

Previously, we supported 2 user roles in Pathgather: a normal user and an admin. The admin role gave that user access to everything in the admin interface, which may be a bit much at times. So, we've separated our admin role into 3 new scopes:

  • Admin - This is the current role that gives the user access to everything in the admin interface.
  • Moderator - A 'moderator' admin can create, edit, and destroy any data, but doesn't have access to the Settings section, which includes branding, integrations, and API configuration abilities.
  • Read-only - A read-only admin can view analytics and data and run any reports they like, but they cannot modify any data or settings.

xAPI support (beta)

To clarify this one right off the bat, this does not introduce support for hosting xAPI content in Pathgather. Instead, this allows certain events that occur in Pathgather (user completes a path, user shares new content, user creates a new path, etc) to be sent as xAPI statements to an external LRS. This is in beta mode at the moment, so if you are interested in this one, please let us know at support@pathgather.com!

Custom support section

In the past, we've supported the ability to add an internal support email for users to contact at your organization. That's still supported, but we've also added support to enter any text/links you like to display in your support section. This is great to link to internal help resources, help desks, or to simply elaborate on how users can get additional support!

To configure this section, simply head over to the Settings section of the admin interface and configure the "Support Information" option.

Skills API

For the more technically inclined, our official API now supports adding skills to both the Pathgather skill collection and/or adding skills to specific users. This is quite useful if your HRIS or another internal tool already has some definition of the skills most important to or already acquired by users.

To learn more about this API support, peruse our API docs at http://docs.pathgather.com

Webhooks (beta)

Another enhancement for the more technically inclined, we've added beta support for certain webhooks in Pathgather. Webhooks allow you to 'subscribe' to certain events that occur in Pathgather. Once an event occurs, we'll send an HTTP POST to a URL you define with a payload that details the event that occurred. For example, if you are interested in promoting Pathgather in your company's enterprise social network, you could subscribe to certain events (e.g. user created a path, user joined a gathering, etc) via these webhooks. The payload you'd receive would contain information on the user that triggered the action and the data that was affected. You could then use this payload to create a 'feed item' in your enterprise social network (e.g. Yammer, Chatter, etc) that details the activity that occurred in Pathgather. 

To read more about the webhooks currently supported, you can view our API docs.

That's it for this Changelog! Again, if you have any questions or feedback, we're just a short email away at support@pathgather.com

Happy learning,

The Pathgather Team

Crisis Averted: Fostering A Learning Culture During Hard Times

Companies fail; however, failure is often preventable or even reversible. In aviation, there is a saying, “It takes three mistakes to kill you.” Meaning that just one failure doesn’t usually cause a catastrophic incident. Rather, it’s the compounding effect of multiple independent failures that leads to a catastrophe.  

For example, if the automatic landing gear doesn’t work, the back up gear will help everyone get home safely. If the manual landing gear extension is also broken, you’re in for a rough landing, but you’ll probably still make it. However, if for some reason you also don’t have enough fuel to make it to a safer area for a crash landing, you’re in trouble...

Just like airplanes, companies are complex machines and it takes a lot to bring them down. Most are resilient enough to survive one or two big, strategic missteps. But compound that with an unexpected economic downturn and morale-deflating layoffs not too far behind, that’s when one enters dangerous territory. It’s the crucial decisions made, and not made, in the aftermath of those layoffs that will determine the future of your company.

The Unearthing Effects of Layoffs

Following heavy layoffs, the remaining employees will become overwhelmed and concerned for their own job security. Eventually, many will leave for more welcoming and nurturing work environments if their current ecosystem doesn’t improve.

The first ones to leave, logically, are those who have the easiest time finding another job. Unfortunately for struggling organizations, those happen to be the people they can least afford to lose. Those who stay will then be burdened with filling the gaps created, facing exhaustion and burnout risk. In time, depleting team morale and uncertain job security will begin to push these employees out.

Studies paint an unpleasant picture of the impact that a culture of lowered morale has on employees. As if trying to hire during a rough stretch wasn’t already tough enough, 87% of surviving workers say they are less likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work. Given the uncertainty and turmoil, 77% of surviving workers unsurprisingly report that more errors and mistakes are made and 64% say the productivity of their colleagues has declined.

Perhaps most important of all to the company’s present and future bottom line is that 81% of surviving workers say the service that customers receive has declined. This is a post-layoff nightmare; a downward spiral of diminishing engagement, yielding an atmosphere of greater detachment and lower productivity making it harder to recruit and retain top talent.

Lean Into the Challenge

Crisis management 101 – don’t run away from a crisis. Embrace it. Lean into it. Learn from it.

All right, we’ve made our point – layoffs negatively impact company culture. We’re writing this post because there’s absolutely something companies can do about this!

Research (see footnotes) shows that by investing in people, organizations can increase engagement, retention, productivity and revenue. Fostering an authentic learning culture remains critical to an organization’s recovery and growth plans.

As Marcus Aurelius eloquently said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Or, in the more modern words of Ryan Holiday, “Turn trials into triumphs,” from The Obstacle is the Way. Let’s visit some of the ways leadership can judo flip the crisis into a culture-boosting opportunity.

Invest in Growing Talent

After a layoff or business split, individuals are uncertain about their future and place at the company. Many are often fearful of making any noise out of fear of being cut. Unfortunately, this stifles productivity, innovation and other significant contributions. A company full of people “keeping their heads down” during a crisis is exactly the opposite of what the company truly needs to turnaround.

Telling the team to pick their heads up and “shake it off” isn’t enough. Instead, leverage this instinct by providing an avenue for personal and professional growth. When employees recognize that staying at the organization remains the best way to develop skills valued by the marketplace, fewer people will think about heading for the door.

Mitigate the Hard Costs of Layoffs

Leaders must remain aware and mindful during and after layoffs. If positive actions aren’t taken to shore up morale and reduce turnover, it can make the problem far worse.

Studies show that the cost of lost employees can be nearly two times their annual salary. According to Josh Bersin, Principal at Deloitte, turnover costs include:

  • Hiring costs associated with advertising, interviewing and screening a new employee.

  • Onboarding, training and management time of a new team member.

  • Lost productivity as new talent may take up to one to two years to reach the full productivity of an existing person.

  • Reduced engagement and efficiency from other employees who disengage following high turnover.

  • Low customer service and additional time to resolve errors as a new employee undergoes a learning curve.

  • Fruitless training costs as the average company invests 10-20% of an employee's salary on training within their first two to three years.

Developing a comprehensive and effective learning culture is key to future stability. Showing existing talent that management is devoting energy and resources during tough times to their growth potential has an immediate impact on their decision to remain at, or run from, their organization.

Realize the Value of Learning

Learning is something that almost every business book, guide, blog and management consultant recommends in and after a time of crisis. Why? Because the act of learning and the engagement it creates unlocks the power to change underlying motivators. By stimulating the talent’s perspectives and future opportunities, the company empowers positive change from within.

We should be clear about one very important thing here – we are talking about learning, not training. Training will help one handle the present situation if performed properly. Learning, on the other hand, will equip one not only for the present, but also better prepare for and mitigate future trials. This is the sweet spot for crisis mode companies who aren’t able to fix their way out of the problem with present-day knowledge.

To quote Dale Carnegie, “Life truly is a boomerang. What you give, you get.” Just think of the potential positive returns of investing in one’s workforce during the most unlikely times. By investing in talent, the company showcases its character and interest in realizing the full potential of its people. As an inherent reciprocal, the team garners greater trust in the business and its values.

Dare To Be Great

Crises demand personal and collaborative greatness. It calls on individuals to rise to the occasion and make bold decisions.

If other organizations have experienced great change by following examples of learning-culture companies, such as Google and Intuit, who continue to invest in their workforces’ happiness and development by providing learning tools and programs, why not do the same?

It’s a bold move to invest in your talent when everyone is retreating. However, it’s this foresight perseverance that truly makes the difference in the business surviving or crashing.



Changelog #7

It's been a little while since our last changelog, as we've been hard at work on some exciting enhancements! Read on below to learn about our new Browse page, the new Learning Streaks feature, our redesigned navigation, and our path enhancements. As always, please reach out to us at support@pathgather.com with any feedback or questions.

Welcome learners with our beautiful new Browse page

Allow users to browse featured resources, topics, and skills

Allow users to browse featured resources, topics, and skills

Allow your organization's learning efforts to truly stand out with our new Browse page! This addition brings with it a wealth of commonly requested enhancements: the ability to feature specific resources, full control over topics and skills displayed, currently trending resources, top content and learners for a skill, and much more!

This page is the eventual successor to the existing Topics page. Once you configure and publish it, it will replace your Topics page, but you'll have plenty of time to make that change. Read more here for details on how the configuration process works.

Stay on track with our new Learning Streaks

Learning Streaks are a great way to motivate learners to learn something every week!

Learning Streaks are a great way to motivate learners to learn something every week!

Continuous learning is critical to both our personal and professional development, but it can be easy to forget to give learning the effort it deserves. However, our new Learning Streaks feature is here to help! As you learn in Pathgather, we'll track how much you learn each week and showcase that activity in your profile. Learn something every week to keep your current learning streak going!

Path builder enhancements and image support

Adding content and images to your paths is now much easier!

Adding content and images to your paths is now much easier!

We've improved the path editor so that the process of building a path is more intuitive and streamlined. Adding content to your paths is now part of creating the actual section the content will reside in. In addition, adding images to your paths is now fully supported!

Redesigned navigation

As you can see from the screenshots above, our navigation also received an improvement. We redesigned our navigation to give it a more organized, standard look and feel. We've also reduced the number of navigation options so there's less to sort through.

That's it for this Changelog! Again, if you have any questions or feedback, we're just a short email away at support@pathgather.com

Happy learning,

The Pathgather Team

A Note About Customer Success at Pathgather

Over the past 3+ years of building and growing Pathgather, we’ve been incredibly humbled and honored to work with some of the largest and most innovative companies in the world.  When we started, our expertise was in the design and development of beautiful, engaging web and mobile applications, but we were relative newcomers to the enterprise learning & development space.  As such, we relied heavily upon the vast experience of our customers, and it was their opinions and insight that helped us build the product we have today.

It’s easy to throw around the word “partner” when it comes to vendor-buyer relationships without necessarily meaning it, but partnerships are unquestionably what we formed with our customers over these early, formative years.  This was as much by necessity as it was our natural inclination - in order to build the right product, we simply had to.

We’ve now come to understand that there’s just no other way to do it.  We’re endlessly dedicated to creating as valuable and impactful a learning platform as we can, and the only way to do that is to listen to our customers, to allow them to help guide and refine our offering, and to invest as much time and as many resources into high-touch service and support as we can.  Our customers’ success yields our success - it’s as simple as that.

Because of this, we’ve decided to double down on customer success in one of the most emphatic ways a young company can, by having one of our co-founders, Jamie Davidson, lead the charge in the newly formed role of Chief Customer Officer.

If you haven’t heard of a CCO before, you’re not alone - it’s not a particularly common role.  But we think maybe it should be.

Building a company is hard.  There are dozens of competing concerns and priorities at any given moment, and we’ve seen what happens when customer service gets reprioritized or brushed aside in the name of, for example, growth. We get how and why this happens at other companies, but it’s not going to happen at ours.  With Jamie at the helm, we’re ensuring that customer success is and will always be our foremost concern.

For the past 3+ years, Jamie has helped build and scale the technical side of Pathgather as our CTO, where he's had the pleasure of helping to build an amazing technical team. The first member of that team, Neville Samuell, has helped Jamie at every step of the way as our Lead Engineer and has been a critical part of our success to date. Thus, we're also excited to announce that Neville will be promoted into a new role as CTO here at Pathgather, where we know he’ll do an incredible job.

To all of our customers reading this, here’s the upshot: we hope we’ve been doing a pretty decent job so far, but we want to blow that performance out of the water.  Hold us to the highest standards possible, and and we’ll continue to do our part to rise to the occasion.

With all that said, it’s back to work,
Eric, Jamie, and Team PG

Smashgather: Automating A Smash Bros Leaderboard With Computer Vision

Three weeks ago, I was comparing startup stories with a friend of mine, and we realized our respective companies were missing quite possibly the most stereotypical icon of startup "culture": the ping pong table. At that point I felt obligated to point out that, at Pathgather, we'd moved beyond ping pong and had taken to playing Super Smash Bros (the N64 version) at the end of every week - after spending the afternoon learning whatever we feel like, of course. It occurred to me that we didn't have a good way to keep score of our brawls... that seems like something I could automate, right?

That day, I cobbled together the first version of Smashgather: "An OpenCV app that automatically records Super Smash Bros 64 games to The Internet™, using computer vision and magic."

How It Works

We play Smash Bros via my laptop, hooked up to a TV in our office. While we're playing, the Smashgather client application is running in the background and capturing a screenshot every second using OpenGL, then uses OpenCV to run a very rudimentary image processing algorithm on the screenshot that determines two things:

  1. Is the current screenshot a win screen?
  2. If so, who is the winning character?

Once we detect a winner, we can log the results to a web server, and then display the data on a web app. By the time the winner has stopped celebrating the final smash, their victory is immortalized forever at smashgather.com.

Detecting Wins

Some example win screens from the original Super Smash Bros.

Some example win screens from the original Super Smash Bros.

I started by collecting an example screenshot for every character's win screen. You'll notice how similar these all are - in fact, the "WINS" text is identical in each one, except at slightly different locations on the screen, depending on the winning character name. We can definitely design an algorithm to take advantage of this! This is pretty basic image processing stuff, but it's still fun to dig in a bit to see how this works.

The Smashgather algorithm is a combination of template matching and image similarity. First, the screenshot is converted to grayscale (for simplicity and performance) and then matched to a template (cropped image) of the "WINS" text that accompanies every Super Smash Bros victory. This matching is done by "convolving" the template across the entire screenshot - without getting too into the weeds, that basically means we compare the template to the screenshot at every possible x/y location to find the point at which the template and the screenshot have the strongest overlap. For our screenshots, that's roughly 2 million different locations, but OpenCV is pretty good at doing that quickly so we don't have to worry about implementing all the math.

The "WINS" template is matched to every location in the screenshot, producing the strange image in the middle. The bright point in that image indicates the strongest match; when we overlay the template at that location, it produces the image on the right.

The "WINS" template is matched to every location in the screenshot, producing the strange image in the middle. The bright point in that image indicates the strongest match; when we overlay the template at that location, it produces the image on the right.

Now that we have the co-ordinate where the template overlaps the most, we can set about trying to determine if the "WINS" text is actually there. This is an easier problem to understand - we crop the screenshot and template to the same size, and then compute the SSIM (structural similarity) score between the two images to determine how similar they are. Remember, the two images won't be identical - the background will vary, the alignment might not be exact, etc. The SSIM algorithm is designed to be relatively good at handling those kinds of errors, and it certainly works well enough for our purposes. If the cropped screenshot and the "WINS" template are similar enough, we can safely say that we are, in fact, looking at a Super Smash Bros win screen!

Next up, we have to figure out who the winning character is. For this step, we run the exact same "match & compare" algorithm against templates for each of the character names. As soon as we find a matching character template, we've gotten everything we need (if you're curious, you can see the source for this simple algorithm here: WinDetector.cpp).

This whole process (capture screenshot, "WINS" template matching & comparison, character name template matching & comparison) is performed every second in order to track the current state of the game. We wrap up the process with a simple state machine, to avoid double counting wins, and we've got ourselves a program that can automatically keep track of Super Smash Bros games!

Keeping Score

The rest of Smashgather is less interesting - whenever a win is detected, we record that on a server and then make those records accessible via a basic web app. To make this part of the project more fun, I used a bunch of technologies that don't really make sense for this problem: PostgreSQL for data storage, a GraphQL Node backend to serve up the results, and a React + Relay app to render the data. Sure, a simple Ruby on Rails site would have taken a fraction of the time and require a lot less Javascript (the un-minified, un-compressed bundle is a hilarious 2.1 MB), but where's the fun in that? Besides, even with all that unnecessary work, we still had time Friday afternoon to put together a cringe-inducing 90s-style interface. You can, of course, check our leaderboards anytime by visiting smashgather.com.


To be honest, we're busier than ever at Pathgather. Between launching new customers, coding new features, and hiring new employees, we don't exactly have a ton of free time - not exactly the ideal moment to spend a day or two hacking together an automated video game leaderboard, is it?

I'd argue that there will always be an excuse to compromise on your company values and culture, but you shouldn't compromise. We had a lot of fun building Smashgather on our "learning Friday", we learned new things about some interesting technologies, and I got to play around with my old love, C++. Also, let's be honest - keeping track of our wins is absolutely critical. Work can wait until Monday.

Of course, you can check out all the Smashgather code on Github.

Keep Learning!

The Real Recipe for Building a Culture of Learning

There is a theme in the HR industry that has received a lot of attention in recent years - building a “culture of learning.” Bersin by Deloitte defines this idea as the “set of values, conventions, processes, and practices that influence and encourage continuous learning.” Research from the same firm notes that organizations with strong learning cultures are 17% more likely than their peers to be market leaders because employees are continuously developing new skills. It seems self-evident that organizations would want to build cultures of learning, but what is more a mystery is another question - “how do you achieve this?”

In my experience working closely with top L&D departments from around the country and across industries, I’ve observed three key drivers of this culture - true, honest buy-in at all levels of the organization, the right resources, and the ability to share your expertise. Indeed, the marriage of these three things can dramatically shift the paradigm for organizational learning cultures. You might be tempted to ask, “So if it’s this simple, why doesn’t everyone have a culture of learning already?” Well, it’s because achieving this takes thoughtful consideration and the right strategy to support. Let’s dive in.

True, honest buy-in

First and foremost, to build a culture of learning, you need sincere buy-in at every level of the organization. It’s wonderful that your CEO made a mention of learning on the last quarterly call, but unless this philosophy trickles down and is supported by managers across all functions, you’re not really there yet.

So what does this mean in practice? It means that if one of your engineering managers sees a direct report taking a Pluralsight course on the latest programming language during normal business hours, that behavior is supported and not discouraged. In fact, that behavior is considered just as valuable as, say, meeting the next project sprint deadline. It means that the head of your sales department requires all salespeople to take one afternoon a month to drop everything and learn, and leads by example. 

I often hear that companies try to push learning but are unsuccessful. In my opinion, unless learning is seen as a truly valuable and legitimate business activity by senior leaders and managers of people - one that stands to make teams and entire organizations more productive and effective - you simply can’t build a true culture of learning.

The right resources

So once you’ve got the buy-in, now what? It seems obvious, but it’s critically important to focus on providing and curating the best and most relevant learning content. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to take here. 

For example, let’s say your retail company is mostly made up of marketing professionals. Most of the marketing personnel have years of experience in print advertising. However, your retail company plans to move 90% of the business to e-commerce by 2018. In this case, it’s hugely important for the longevity of the business that your marketing professionals have access to a wealth of resources on digital marketing.

Consider another scenario in which providing content actually has a negative impact on the learning culture. Let’s say the sales department just made a big push to acquire licenses to a content vendor for every single salesperson, but feedback from the ground level quickly reveals that the content is outdated and the UI is too frustrating to bear. In just a short amount of time, you’ve actually discouraged your workforce from voluntarily pursuing learning by connecting them with the wrong materials.

The ability to share your expertise

Of course, it’s important to consider the world in which we live today. Digital drives everything and real-time relevance is important. That’s why once you have the right resources and the culture to support taking advantage of them, it’s vital to give your employees a mechanism to share their expertise via learning resources. This can help ensure your culture of learning actually scales across the organization, which is particularly important at large multinational enterprises. Your culture of learning can go viral.

Continue the conversation

The three ingredients above are crucial to building a culture of learning - you can’t have one without these things. If you think you’ve done this successfully, or if you have other ideas, I’d love to hear from you - reach out to hello@pathgather.com!



Changelog #6

This month's changelog brings a new and improved onboarding experience, the ability to clone paths, and a new integration to Harvard ManageMentor. As always, please reach out to us at support@pathgather.com with any feedback or questions.

A More Delightful Onboarding Experience

We've launched a new (and brand-able) onboarding experience that allows you to immediately engage learners with custom copy and vivid images. This new experience guides users through the learning journey of finding great learning content, sharing knowledge and resources with others, and tracking progress as they learn.

And, as mentioned, it's brand-able! Just head over to your organization's settings in the admin interface to adjust the skills communicated to users and the images displayed. You can even create your own custom step in the onboarding experience to promote your brand and the value offered by your Pathgather implementation!

Path Cloning

We've also added the ability to clone paths, allowing you to use any path as a starting path for your own! You can clone your own paths as many times as you wish, allowing you to easily create a 'base' path that is used as a template for many others. If you decide to clone someone else's path, we'll track and promote that so you can always navigate your way back to the original.

Harvard ManageMentor (HMM) Support

We also recently shipped a new integration for Harvard ManageMentor (HMM), allowing all HMM content to be easily added to your Pathgather content catalog. To enable HMM in your instance, please reach out to our support team at support@pathgather.com to configure SSO access to your HMM library. In the next changelog, you'll be able to actually configure these SSO details yourself, so keep an eye out for that ;)

That's it for this Changelog! Again, if you have any questions or feedback, we're just a short email away at support@pathgather.com

Happy learning,

The Pathgather Team

Learning in the Enterprise: Udacity

This is the latest installment of our series delving into some of the coolest ways to learn online. You can view earlier installments here:

This time around, we’re going to take a quick look quick at Udacity, the learning website that did as much as any to kick off the MOOC revolution that first gained steam in 2012.  Because they helped champion the MOOC cause, Udacity has received a lot of media scrutiny ever since its founding in 2011, with news outlets alternately proclaiming it the bearer of the university system’s doom as well as a flop that can’t get students to finish its courses.

A MOOC, of course, is a Massive Open Online Course.  One of the first offered was a class on artificial intelligence that Udacity’s founder, Sebastian Thrun, taught at Stanford and subsequently made available to anyone online, for free.  More than 150,000 people signed up for the course, or, more than 10x the total number of enrolled students at Stanford.  Not bad!  Soon thereafter Thrun launched Udacity, with a vision of making high quality education available to anyone in the world.

About two years later however, Thrun was quoted as saying that Udacity had a “lousy product” and that they were pivoting to a model more focused on technical vocational training.  I’m not sure how many founders would admit in such a public way that the approach they had been championing for years was not working. However, this willingness to look objectively at the data and pivot to a new model is exactly what has helped Udacity get to where they are today - a product that, though I have no data on whether it is actually working or not, seems to be serving a real, existing market need, and doing so successfully.

So without further ado, let’s have a look at just what Udacity offers.


What can I learn there?

Everything about Udacity, from their marketing to their course offerings, is centered around the idea of skilling you up to the point where you’re definitively ready to be employed as a software engineer - their messaging is unequivocal about this.

Their learning content is packaged into something they call Nanodegrees, a cool term that encapsulates the idea that their courses are both detailed and serious enough to be worthy of being called a degree, but narrowly focused enough that you’re not going to be wasting your time on learning extraneous subject matter.

Some Nanodegrees that Udacity offers include:

  • Front-End Web Developer

  • Android Developer

  • iOS Developer

  • Data Analyst

  • Full-Stack Developer

  • Intro to Programming

  • Tech Entrepreneur

Why Should I use Udacity at my organization?

The answer to this question is naturally going to be highly dependent upon what your workforce is asking you for.  Udacity’s months-long courses represent a different way of learning than the one many experienced developers in your org would likely prefer.  However, the long-form structure and cohort-based pedagogy of nanodegrees will have strong appeal to many employees who have very little familiarity with coding and want to develop their knowledge into an actual asset - both for themselves, and your company.

Further Udacity Nanodegrees should be particularly compelling to companies because the learner earns a certificate upon completion that has some decent cachet to it, having been developed in partnership with companies like Google. That means employees are more likely to learn because they believe others will recognize the time and effort they put into the course material to be a valuable achievement, allowing them to ultimately apply their new skills on the job.

If you’re not convinced, why not pilot it with some of your more motivated and promising software engineers?  There’s no doubt that for many organizations the skills Udacity promises to help you acquire are or will be essential to your business, so it’s well worth looking into.


Changelog #5

Our first Changelog of 2016 sees a ton of enhancements around analytics. We know several of you have been waiting for these, so we hope you enjoy! As always, please reach out to us at support@pathgather.com with any feedback or questions.

A New Analytics Interface, With New Insights!

Understanding how and where learning occurs in your organization is critical to ensuring your efforts are recognized and relevant to your users. Our new analytics interfaces aim to give you complete insight into the learning that occurs within your organization.

We've redesigned the analytics administrative interface to be more intuitive and flexible, and we've also added new metrics for content views, launches, new gathering members, and new conversations. It's now easier than ever to dig into the content and paths most piquing your users' interest!

Track engagement with individual paths and courses

Each course and path in Pathgather is now accompanied with a dashboard showing engagement with that resource over time. Views, launches, completions, and much more can now be viewed across any date range and, if you have administrative access, for any resource in your catalog! For those without administrative access, you'll still have access to this dashboard for content you share or create. 

Oh, and one last bonus - paths now display each learner's progress with each individual path item, allowing you to easily discover which path resource is most or least popular!

Share from Drive and Box

When sharing content, users can now upload from cloud storage services like Drive and Box alongside normal support for sharing a URL. We've had administrative support for this for awhile when creating content, and we're happy to finally support this when sharing content too! Don't forget that we also automatically embed Drive and Box content, making it a great choice to store your PDFs, Powerpoints, and other learning files.

A Redesigned Path Page

Consistency is typically good, which is why we've made some slight tweaks to the path design so that paths provide a similar, consistent experience as all other content.

That's it for this Changelog! Again, if you have any questions or feedback, we're just a short email away at support@pathgather.com

Happy learning,

The Pathgather Team

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