Monday, February 07, 2011

Professional development and training is evolving quickly to meet the needs of busy professionals who want to implement micro-learning. In addition, the need to make learning modules accessible via multiple devices is also driving innovation. Welcome to an interview with Julie Ogilvie, vice president for Skillsoft, a provider of integrated learning solutions in a wide array of subject areas.

1. What is your name and your relation to elearning?
Julie Ogilvie. I’m the vice president of corporate marketing for SkillSoft – an e-learning provider.

2. What kinds of elearning does Skillsoft offer?
SkillSoft is primarily known for its vast collection of off-the-shelf e-learning content which serves a broad range of business needs such as needs such as compliance, IT, business (soft) skills, project management, leadership development, desktop application and customer service. Our content takes many forms – courses, online books, videos and simulations and also comes in 19 languages. Customers can use the content as-is or customize it using tools that we offer. Many of our customers have adopted our products because they just have so many needs, they simply can’t keep up with the demand. Off-the-shelf learning products are a great fit for today’s overburdened training professionals who are simply swamped by the constantly changing and growing needs of their global learner populations.

We also provide the technology to deliver, manage and track learning. Our SkillPort platform is a SaaS solution used by over 2,000 customers and 7 million end users. We also work with many clients who use third party learning management systems – and often our customers have a hybrid environment.

What is most important is finding a way to deliver learning that makes it easy for the employee to access and apply the learning – so in the last several years we’ve been developing products that are geared around helping employees get to the learning and find what they need quickly - things like our KnowledgeCenters which are learning portals that focus on a particular topic and bring together all of the formal and informal learning resources in one location.

3. What are the ways in which Skillsoft offers mobile learning / training?
What is your view of assessment in mobile learning? Currently, most of our customers are looking for mobile learning solutions that are geared more toward “performance support” than “formal training.” As such, they are looking to deliver information that employees need to answer questions and solve problems when they are away from their desks. Our Books24x7 On The Go platform is designed specifically for this; it allows users to search for answers from the thousands of business and technical titles contained in our Books24x7 collections. They can even view our Leadership Development Channel QuickTalks on their phones…this has been very popular with field-based populations such as sales reps and executives.

We do recognize that as the mobile options continue to grow, so will the demand for mobile learning solutions, including formal training that requires assessments. We are actively working with customers to support these needs right now.

4. How is Skillsoft responding to new eLearning trends? What are the trends you see the most promising in the next 12 - 18 months?
E-learning trends are a by-product of the overall work environment. All of us are being asked to do more work, get things done in shorter timeframes and wear more hats. For learning professionals, these effects have been especially acute. Many of our customers are struggling to deliver high-quality learning experiences with limited budget and resources. They have had to take a new view of their work – shifting from the viewpoint of “instructor” to more of a supply-chain expert – looking for ways to ensure a smooth flow of current, consistent, quality resources to meet skill demands of hundreds of job roles.

In our world this has translated into customers asking for a more modular approach to e-learning – “bite-sized” learning that can fit into busy schedules. So today many of our learning experiences are designed to be consumed in less than 5 minutes. Even formal training courses are now often designed for use in an hour rather than 2-3 hours, which used to be the standard.

Learner expectations are also driving changes in e-learning. They want rich learning experiences that engage them in the topic. In recent years that has led SkillSoft down a path of increasing the availability of video, gaming techniques and other rich media. Our customers have found that their learners react very positively to these approaches, and it increases the likelihood that learners will be pro-actively seek out additional learning on their own.

The other trend in the workplace is that now when learners have question or a problem they think “Google it!” We see more and more that even the assets we have designed for “formal learning” are being used in a just-in-time, informal way. The importance of an effective search engine cannot be overstated. Many companies have recognized that time spent searching for answers is a productivity drain, and on top of that, the “answers” available on the Internet aren’t always the right ones. This is leading to a greater appreciation of the need for vetted, expert content in combination with a search function that can quickly pinpoint the most relevant passages.

5. How are training needs changing in today's workplace?
Training needs are expanding but the time available for training is contracting. Today’s workforce is under pressure. Many companies have needed to downsize in the past couple of years, which means employees need to do more work in more different areas. They have needed to learn new skills, and they have had less time to devote to doing it! These are the trends that are producing greater demand for all kinds of online learning that can be accessed during the “in between” times in the work day.

6. Please recommend two books you've recently read.
Here is a book that I would recommend to everyone - The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor. Shawn spoke at our user conference last year, and I have to say it was a life-altering event for me! So I dashed out to get his book when it became available. What you will find compelling in this book is that the ideas expressed are backed up by research on how the brain works. As learning people we can appreciate this. The book is full of wit and insight that you will think about and use in your life (at least I have in mine).

Another book I would recommend is The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done. I happened to pick this up because an executive in our company was speaking at the annual Drucker Symposium in Vienna this past year. I knew about Peter Drucker – “the father of management” – but I didn’t realize how vast his influence has been on our way of working and thinking. Drucker believes that continuous learning is essential to creating a culture of innovation – and this is something that learning professionals should take to the bank! This little book is good way to get into Drucker in nice bite-sized chunks.

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