The Building Blocks of Sustainable Learning in Tech

Erica Starr
Jan 8 · 6 min read

How to find out what really matters and then go build it

Multi level library
Photo by Gabriel Sollmann on Unsplash

As a Learning & Growth Manager in Tech, my focus is on how I can help our teams continuously learn and grow in their careers so they can do their best work. Building a sustainable learning culture doesn’t happen overnight — teams reorganize, priorities shift, new tools are released, and needs evolve.

So, where do you even start? The secret is committing to constantly learning as much as you can about what the teams and people you support care about. Take some time to work through and capture your answers to the following five questions, which will help you get to the heart of what employees need so you can strategize and plan effectively.

  1. Who are your learners?
  2. What do they value?
  3. Which ‘learning products’ will work best?
  4. How can you optimize your marketing strategy to reach your learners?
  5. How can you empower your learners to become teachers?

Let’s do a deep dive into each of these questions and explore some tips to help guide your output.

Question #1 — Who are your learners?

Before you can offer relevant learning opportunities, you need to know who your learners are. Take a look at the department or organization you support and note the different levels and groups your programs will be targeting. Are they new hires, individual contributors, people managers, senior leaders, technical, or non-technical people? Depending on the size of your organization, you may even consider splitting them further into individual teams, or by the priorities, products, or projects they support.

Output: Identify the key audiences that your learning culture supports. Segment them as much as you see fit or align them with the key priorities of your organization. Consider the size of each group, critical skills needed, and any other relevant demographic info that will help you in your planning.

Example persona for an entry level software engineer

Question #2 — What do your learners value?

Learning preferences can vary greatly based on role, team, tenure, location, career experience, and even general passion and interest. What challenges do your learners face? What patterns are you seeing? Which events get the highest attendance? Which resources or communication channels are visited most often?

Our team utilizes polls, pilots, focus groups, and beta testers to gain intel on potential programs or ideas before launching them broadly. Targeted conversations and specific feedback requests help participants refine their thoughts, can easily be tied back to the problem you’re trying to solve, and help identify what features are most important for your learners. Vary the mechanisms you use and make it interactive where you can to drill down to what’s most important to them.

Output: Create personas for larger groups and determine what they value, then support those values with career building resources and programs. If you don’t know, ask! Set up focus groups, hold ‘office hours’, or join key Slack channels to get the conversation going. The more you build trust with your learners, the more they will reach out and engage with you.

Example persona for an experienced software engineer

Question #3 — Which learning “products” will work best?

Every company is different, and every department has its own unique learning culture that starts to form as people become more familiar with the programs offered, resources available, and what they want to focus on in their learning journey. Home in on the balance of instructor-led, employee-led, pre-recorded, and self-paced learning options your audience needs, then make it easy for people to choose what they want to spend their time on. Consider hosting it all in a central location, such as an online landing page with links to internal and external content.

These are a few examples of the resources we offer, which range in cost, effort, reach, and impact. We also allot annual learning stipends so employees can work with their manager to source highly relevant learning opportunities (e.g., industry conferences) that align with their role and growth plan.

Output: Consider your budget from both a monetary and time perspective and test out a variety of options to see what lands best. Capture metrics such as page views, number and type of attendees, readership, feedback, and impact to business results to help you settle on the best mix of programs for your future planning and investments.

Question #4 — How can you optimize your marketing strategy to reach your learners?

Curating opportunities and marketing them to your learners can help them prioritize what they want to focus on when parsing content from always-full email inboxes and messaging tools. The trick is to use some detective work to identify the style and approach that best captivates your audience. Here are a few strategies that we have tested out with our teams to raise awareness of available learning opportunities.

  • Expand the visibility of your messages by determining when there are natural breaks in the day for the learners you work with to engage with content. Time your announcements and programs to align with those breaks.
  • Challenge yourself to get creative and help people fit learning into the flow of work. Instead of 3-hour long programs — break up content into two 90-minute sessions. Or a 60-minute innovation lab. Or a 60-second microlearning tip delivered once a day.
  • Test a variety of communication formats, such as email campaigns, landing pages, Slack announcements, and audio digests to see what sticks. Make those a repeatable and consistent part of your workflow to increase engagement.
  • Strengthen the reach of your learning culture by encouraging influential leaders and employees to share opportunities with their teams in high-visibility channels you may not be part of.

Output: Build consistency and brand recognition by marketing any new opportunities in the communication channels your audience frequents most, and adjust your strategy based on engagement. Don’t be afraid to test new methods — remember, if they don’t know it exists, they won’t use it!

Slack post for a learning newsletter
Slack post for a learning newsletter

Question #5 — How can you empower your learners to become teachers?

You might be surprised to learn how many of your learners are great teachers eager to make their debut. One of our most successful technical training programs last year was taught entirely by engineers, for engineers. Internally led programs also help learners stay connected and build community more naturally after the session ends. By tying skill-building classes and best practices directly into their daily workflow, you can create consistency across teams and projects. It’s also a great way to help dedicated employees receive recognition for going above and beyond their daily work to educate others in the community.

Output: Support employees already teaching on a smaller scale in their quest to share their knowledge more broadly. Consider hosting “Train the Trainer” or presentation skills workshops to help them scale their content and build their executive presence. Ensure you have a system in place to recognize them for their work.

Learning experiences are personal. With many people working virtually for the foreseeable future, what they want to learn about now, and how they want to learn it has shifted from in the past, but the building blocks are the same. It may take some trial and error to get it right, but it’s a worthy endeavor to build the foundation for a sustainable learning culture that meets your learners where they’re at and sets them up to lead and succeed in Tech and beyond.

Xandr-Tech

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Xandr-Tech

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Erica Starr

Written by

I focus on building a culture of continuous learning where people can share their knowledge, grow their skillset, and achieve their career goals.

Xandr-Tech

Our latest thoughts, challenges, triumphs, try-again’s, most snarky and profound commit messages. Our proudest achievements, deepest darkest technical debt regrets (just kidding, maybe). All the humbling yet informative things you learn when you try to do things with computers.