Thursday, March 10, 2016

Interview with Srikant Vasan, SkillStore: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Finding ways to make skills training enjoyable, effective, and affordable continues to be a major challenge for organizations. SkillStore has tackled the challenge via social learning, and has deployed training that incorporates what we know about how people learn and gain confidence about themselves.

Welcome to an interview with Srikant Vasan, SkillStore. For a limited time, SkillStore is offering six free courses. The instructions are at the end of the article.

 1.  What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
My name is Srikant Vasan, and I've been working in e-learning for 7 years. In that time, I have served as a Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and was their first Entrepreneur-in-Residence, where I had the opportunity to learn about the latest innovations in online learning. I was also the Founder and President of Mount St. Mary's Online College, a nonprofit online college (funded by leading donors including Bill Gates, Reed Hastings and the Walton family) focused on helping low-income Americans get quality college degrees affordably.

Srikant Vasan, SkillStore
Now at SkillStore, we offer an effective and scalable soft skills training solution through our social-learning app. We launched the app last year, in collaboration with leading companies like Western Union and SAP. SkillStore’s approach to transforming soft skills training – where learners record their practices and get feedback from coaches and peers – is catching on. Users in over 40 countries now access SkillStore from their laptops, smartphones or tablets for leadership development, communications and management training.

2.  How did you become interested in elearning?
I became interested in elearning because of my background in both education and technology. Elearning is an effective and engaging tool to empower learners. Technology, especially mobile learning, is the future of training and development.

3.  What are some of the soft skills that most professionals need to have, regardless of their specialty?
People skills are critical. Research estimates that 85% of professional success is due to strong social skills. In particular, listening and observing others, effectively communicating, negotiating, and empowering others are essential to success in a professional environment. In a competitive business environment, managers are increasingly seeking employees who have strong people skills and can work well with others in the office as well as with clients.

4.  What causes much of the training that is offered in today's environment to be less than ideal?
Research estimates that about 80% of training is wasted, especially that focused on soft skills development. We think the root cause for this is that today’s training methods – both in-person and online – have severe shortcomings. These programs tend not to be engaging or effective. They typically focus on delivering content, but don't allow learners to practice the skills in real-life situations. Learners spend a lot of the day reading, watching videos, or listening to someone speak. They don't retain the material.

Additionally, instructor-led workshops are expensive, time-consuming, and hard to scale and standardize, and thus are not a realistic option for most organizations. Not to mention, millennials tend to hate long lectures and classroom settings. And web-based training typically offers few opportunities to practice these skills interactively and learn with other people in a social learning environment. People skills are best developed by practicing with other people.

5.  How is helping?  What makes SkillStore unique?
SkillStore helps because it addresses skills that helps professionals succeed, such as emotional intelligence, running effective meetings, negotiating a promotion, and nonverbal communication. What makes SkillStore unique are the following features of its learning model.

•    Focus on practice. Consider that one week after a lecture, learners remember only about 10% of the information. Even after re-reading the material, one week later they will only retain 39%. If they practice these skills, the retention rate goes up substantially, to as much as 80%. Ideally, at least 50% of time training on any subject should be spent on active practice. Practice is one of the most fundamental aspects of skill development, yet it is likely the most overlooked element in corporate learning programs.

•    Enable feedback
. Practice and feedback go hand-in-hand for skill development. The best type of feedback involves observations and suggestions about a practice session, delivered in a candid, constructive manner. This includes self-evaluation (because watching yourself on video is incredibly instructive) and feedback provided by peers and managers.

•    Enable social learning. Social interaction creates richer experiences and increased application opportunities. With peer interaction and feedback, learners enhance their understanding from others’ experiences, approaches, and perspectives. This aspect of social learning leads to greater engagement with and effectiveness of training programs. An important side benefit is that learning together is a powerful community builder that helps to forge deeper relationships and a vibrant company culture.

•    Offer micro-learning.  Learning is more convenient and effective when offered in small chunks, especially with today’s hectic schedules. Even better is when learning is an ongoing, on-demand initiative available to managers when and how they need it. In a survey of learning professionals, 90% reported preferring more “bite-sized,” or micro-learning.

•    Let you learn anywhere. Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, so their preferences help define learning approaches for the future. They are tech-savvy and value flexibility regarding when and where they work and learn. They expect learning to be as accessible as a map to the nearest restaurant and available in the palm of their hands. This means fewer classrooms and schedules, and learning that can be accessed anywhere – on the Web, on smartphones, or on other mobile devices.

6.  Please describe a few of your favorite courses -- give an example of some unusual and beneficial things that happened in the courses.

It might makes more sense to describe some of the curricula. Leading Change has learning modules that help managers manage change in their organizations; Working in Teams has learning modules that develop strong professional teams; and Hiring the Best has learning modules that demonstrate best practices in hiring new employees. Our feedback from clients has been fantastic. One learner used the Negotiating Salary module in the Women in Leadership curriculum and then successfully negotiated a higher salary for herself. She said that before going through that lesson she never would have thought of asking for a higher salary.

7.  What are your plans for the future?
We believe SkillStore has the potential to transform leadership and management skills training at scale. We aim to become the leader in soft skills training programs that help organizations efficiently develop their employees' skills. We are just getting started and it will be exciting to see where we go from here.


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