Learning How We Learn Best with Open Learning Month

Organisational learning programmes can be a lot like New Year’s resolutions. They sound great in theory, but are often much harder to execute effectively.

Here at Open Government Products (OGP), formal learning has traditionally taken 2 forms. The first is Learning Fridays, where we set aside an entire day at the end of every week to learn something new.

And then there’s Learning Month, which we just concluded this past December, where each OGP officer traditionally takes the entire month to focus on completing a full course in either design or computer science.

These mechanisms worked well for OGP in our first two years. But in the past year, we’ve seen how our team’s involvement in projects like vaccine and endemic operations, along with our launch of RedeemSG and the CDC vouchers, makes it challenging to practically carve out time to learn. When urgent deadlines are looming, focused learning naturally gets deprioritised.

So this past December, we took the opportunity to rethink how learning happens across OGP. We used it as a time to experiment with various initiatives, and to also gather data on what exactly it is that’s most relevant to our teams.

We operated with the hypothesis that you cannot force people to learn; you can only create the conditions that would motivate them to do so.

In pursuit of this, here were 2 big things we tried, and what we learnt in the process:

1) Vision Setting

Creating an autonomous learning environment

One of the key cultural practices that defines life at OGP is our emphasis on autonomy. In any regular context, OGP officers have the space to decide how their product is going to make an impact, and to then pursue what’s needed to do so.

Our approach to learning was no different. We kicked-off Learning Month with a Vision Setting Exercise, where everyone took a week to reflect on the challenges they experienced in 2021, before using these challenges as a north star to inform what they would learn in December.

This year, we chose not to mandate that officers had to enroll in any particular course. Some decided to focus on sharpening their technical skills, while others focused instead on soft skills, like becoming a better communicator, or improving their time management.

Obviously, a month is not enough to gain full competence in any field. But the real benefit of this exercise was that it got everyone to pause and reflect. To be honest with themselves about where they were struggling, and to then take a longer term view on how they wanted to learn and grow.

2) Making Learning Visible

Encouraging accountability and drive towards learning

When it comes to setting and hitting one’s goals, one of the more popular strategies is to appoint an accountability partner. While we didn’t do this exactly, we tried to leverage on a similar dynamic to organise learning across the team.

Firstly, we put everyone in the same Slack channel, where everyone could share resources, self-organise into study groups, and keep track of some of the course-based learning that was happening (AWS Immersion Days, for example).

One by-product of this was that some officers ended up running their own workshops for others on the team. For example, a software engineer conducted a crash course on web hooks for the non-engineers on the team.

Secondly, we organised team-wide sharings where randomly selected team members shared about their learning goals. Many were extremely candid, and this created a platform for everyone to hear about each other’s challenges, and what they were planning to do to tackle them.

These sharings also created the opportunity to realise that firstly, if you’re struggling with something, you’re probably not alone. In addition, it was just a great platform to learn about resources they weren’t previously aware of.

With these initiatives, no one was compelled to do anything that didn’t seem useful or relevant to them. But once team members started chipping in and participating, the momentum picked up and took on a life of its own.

This sense of the organisation moving in the same direction, pursuing similar learning goals, can be quite invigorating.

What’s next for learning at Open Government Products?

As we move towards more nimble yet comprehensive learning programming that accounts for different learning styles and levels of experience, there is still plenty of work to be done.

The first step is to understand how learning can happen across all the different stages of the employee life cycle. For instance, having new hires pursue cross-functional learning as part of their onboarding. Or creating a peer mentoring programme for OGP officers who want to work on specific competencies through learning from each other. Or even equipping our middle-managers with the right tools and skill sets to facilitate learning for their teams.

Our approach thus far has been to pilot learning interventions before iterating and scaling them across the organisation. And this is something we hope to continue doing throughout 2022. If anything, we’ve learnt that learning how we learn best is fundamentally also a core part of learning.

Learning is an important aspect of our work culture at OGP. If you’re interested to be part of our team that builds tech for public good, we are hiring! Check out our career opportunities and find out more about our full suite of products.

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Open Government Products

Open Government Products

We are Open Government Products, an experimental division of the Government Technology Agency of Singapore. We build technology for the public good.