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Building Big Learning Roadmaps For A Small Team Company Culture

Building Big Learning Roadmaps for a Small Team

CourseHorse’s mission as a company is literally to support lifelong learning, but it doesn’t take an educational technology company to understand the importance—and benefits—of learning and development.

As a small but fast-growing team, we had a number of needs (closing skills and knowledge gaps, being time efficient), and limitations (little bandwidth for execution, smaller budget), which forced creative solutions.

Idea number one: Piloting the creation of individual learning roadmaps that combined essential professional skills for each role with personal goals for career development. Our learning roadmaps were intended to be executed independently with minimal oversight (see: small team, limited bandwidth), but they did involve setting goals and regular check-ins for accountability purposes.

After nearly a year of having these learning roadmaps, here are seven things we’ve learned:

1.People care about learning. For real.

It may sound trite, but people want to learn. It makes their lives easier, enables them to be better at their jobs, and raises job satisfaction ratings. Bottom line: People feel motivated at work when they’re learning and getting better at things.

We realized this when we sent out a workplace satisfaction survey, and it quickly became apparent that opportunities for learning and professional development rated very highly on the list. Also significant: Our staff needed help identifying and working towards these learning opportunities.

2. Take the time to identify the right learning goals. It makes all the difference.

It’s a big challenge to make sure that whatever somebody is learning is going to immediately and measurably impact their day-to-day responsibilities. It seems very straightforward, but it’s much harder to implement in practice, because if there’s no conviction, management support, or need to utilize those skills regularly, learning them will take a backseat.

We found that making an effort to tie skills development back to direct company needs meant that learners could both prioritize the learning process and directly use their newfound skills to the benefit of CourseHorse. For example, one of our employees wanted to learn user research. We matched her with our product team lead who was conducting user interviews by phone for a new feature, which enabled her to get real-world experience and propelled her learning journey forward.

3. People learn very differently—and you have to plan for it.

When we first piloted these learning and development roadmaps, we realized how different everyone’s learning styles really were. Some employees wanted deadlines or benchmarks for “deliverables” to help meet their goals, while others asked for a compendium of self-serve resources that would enable them to learn in their own time, at their own pace.

Strategizing how people should acquire the skills they need is as important as establishing a specific, tangible learning goal.

4. Having an expert (if not a mentor) is important.

One critical thing we realized after our first pilot was the importance of having a subject matter expert help develop the learning roadmap. The mantra “you don’t know what you don’t know” really applies here—having someone say “I want to learn Excel” isn’t a specific goal, and someone that isn’t fluent in the topic wouldn’t be able to speak to the formulas, functions, or concepts you’d need to learn in order to gain a competency in that area.

Luckily, we have plenty of recognized in-house experts that were happy to act as mentors to staffers beginning their learning roadmaps. We paired them up from the outset, and encouraged regular check-ins throughout the process.

In some instances, we didn’t have the skill set in-house. In those cases, we leaned on our network to find people that could help mentor us and offer advice on goal-setting and skills acquisition from the outside.

5. Figuring out what success looks like is hard.

We’ll be real: Truly measuring the success of a program is really hard. It’s not all that hard to tell the difference between when something is going well and right, and when it’s falling apart, but what’s the direct ROI of investing time, resources, and budgets into these learning roadmaps?

That brings us right back around to lesson #2: Take your time to identify the right learning goals. You want to target skills or knowledge that will have a direct impact on day-to-day tasks, either by increasing efficiency, or by letting someone climb to the next level of responsibility in a particular area.

6. Do a mixture of in-house and outsourced learning.

You don’t have to have a huge educational team to provide value to your employees on this front. A lot can be accomplished through a mixture of custom in-house solutions and foundational skills learning.

Some subjects, like the aforementioned Excel learning goal, have a variety of well-defined classes in the beginner/intermediate/expert levels which make them a good candidate for outsourcing. Shameless plug: CourseHorse is a great place to find these professional classes in New York, San Francisco, and other major cities across the US.

That said, other subjects or soft skills like communication or negotiation can be effectively developed through a high-performing mentor or learning buddy within the company.

7. Sometimes, necessity is the mother of learning.

We’ve found that when you’re running a small business, there’s often relatively little runway for learning new skills since they’re needed so urgently. When priorities shift or problems force a pivot, staffers have to step up to the plate whether or not they have prior experience in an area.

Despite the planning and good intentions that go into learning roadmaps, there’s also plenty of valuable learning that happens through executing on something that needs to happen right now. Sometimes being thrown “into the deep end” is as good a pretext for learning as a formal plan.

Through the implementation of these learning roadmaps, we’ve watched writers build Excel models, ops team members write SQL queries, and customer success managers perform user research. Along the way we’ve increased output, added new skill sets, and gained new efficiencies—but we’re always looking to improve. 

Have some ideas on learning roadmaps, or looking to share ways that your company has tackled learning and development? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a note in the comments section to share your thoughts!

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Arielle Shipper

Arielle curates content at CourseHorse, a local discovery engine that helps connect educators and students across the United States. When she’s not writing equestrian puns or brainstorming new blog posts, you can find her taking her dog for long walks in Madison Square Park or reading in an oversized armchair. Say hi (and see puppy pics) via LinkedIn or Instagram.

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