Article: Learning has to be purposeful: Irwin Anand, MD, Udemy India

Learning & Development

Learning has to be purposeful: Irwin Anand, MD, Udemy India

“To be effective, learning must be dynamic and meet individuals where they are,” shares Irwin Anand, MD, Udemy India, in a recent interview with People Matters.
Learning has to be purposeful: Irwin Anand, MD, Udemy India

As per, a latest Global Skills Gap Report by Udemy, 86 percent confirm that their employer provides professional development while 61 percent say they would leave their current job if that was not the case. The findings of the report reiterate what we already know: Investing in continuous learning can no longer be ignored. Whether it is to retain the top talent or creating a stronger talent pipeline for rapid business disruptions. 

Success in today’s rapidly changing world requires new skills and a focus on continuous learning. In a recent interview, we discuss this evolving landscape of learning and development in the post-pandemic world of work with Irwin Anand, MD, Udemy India. 

The pandemic has brought learning & development to the forefront and has opened a plethora of new age learning opportunities, not only for the employees but also for the organizations. How do you see the larger picture of L&D and skilling initiatives across organizations shaping up? 

From our vantage point, the larger picture has remained the same. We have experienced a steep growth as people during the time of pandemic. This follows a continuing growth trend, which we had been seeing for a while now. 

Individuals and organizations understand the importance of continuous learning and they are investing in it as well. This is, of course, latching on to existing trends: digital transformation, AI, and automation, they are disrupting the way we work. Upskilling is the only key to stay competitive in this fast changing world. Of course, COVID-19 outbreak further accelerated these trends. Companies and employees had to transition to a new way of working and doing business. And all of that happened practically overnight. 

It happened for us as well. But as an online learning marketplace, just because we operate at mass and scale, we have had a front row seat for seeing how people are interacting with online education during this time. And it's not really a surprise for us that we have seen a significant surge in enrollments, purchases, and consumption across both consumer as well enterprise business. 

So for us, these trends illustrate that not only is there a need for learning, but a need for learning that is accessible and flexible. 

It is clear that in order to be effective, education must be dynamic and meet individuals where they are. Which is their time, their place, and their pace of change. In this big moment of need, gone are the times when you used to herd people into a classroom to get them trained. 

Now is the time when, when learning and skill training needs to go to people, where they are in their time of need. Hence, at Udemy we focused on delivering aspects like affordability, accessibility and relevance of skills to maximize the potential of individuals. 

COVID-19 has surfaced various skill gaps such as digitization skills and digital leadership that will need filling both in the short term as people return to work, and later, beyond the pandemic. It has also highlighted the importance of behavioral skills. Which skills have you observed to be most in demand?

For organizations to have business continuity and employees to be effective at work, they definitely need to invest in learning. Change is a constant and is happening very fast. And the only way in which the organizations can make use of the opportunities created by the rapid change is only through the culture of learning. 

Building a learning culture means that irrespective of where the employees are, the organization needs to ensure that they're able to create an access to learning tools, which can be utilized by their employees, and economically employed within the organization to skill themselves on subjects which help them compete, be stronger leaders, be stronger collaborators, and also have the necessary hard skills to be able to drive innovation and disruption. 

From our vantage point, as an organization, we see a mix of demand happening on both sides of these skills. 

I think for an organization to remain competitive, it needs to drive that curiosity amongst their employees to continue to learn and adapt. The pandemic has driven change, but this is not a one off change.

The curiosity to learn needs to stay for organizations to transform themselves and remain competitive. So on one end, there is a need for hard skills, including automation, AI, coding, software development, on the business side, skills like financial modeling, design, Product Management, agile thinking and so on and so forth. So there's always been a need for hard skills, and and those continuous right and and and natural ability Before an employee or a user is a potential to engage in sub skills. And these skills keep on changing with time. But more often than not, one also realizes that everybody needs the necessary soft skills to become stronger leaders, better collaborators, and, and operate at a higher level of productivity. 

Now look at for instance, what the pandemic has led to is this new world where we need to collaborate remotely. So whether it is geared around working remotely, or managing kids and work at the same time and managing your time as part of the process.

So from our perspective, it's the curiosity to learn, engage, and be better organized to continue to disrupt. And in that context, both hard skills as well as soft skills are relevant for the future leaders to be innovators.

You talked about creating a learning culture. How can leaders drive the curiosity amongst their employees to continue to learn and adapt? If you can share anything that has worked for you at Udemy?

Let me share with you about DREAL experience we created at Udemy. DREAL stands for Drop Everything and Learn.  

Now, the core objective is to make learning accessible within the organization and establishing that continuous learning is an ongoing game. 

So we dedicated fixed times where everybody within the organization takes time off from the normal day to day tasks, and dedicates at least an hour to learning. 

Now, why do we do it? 

It fosters a culture of continuous learning by creating a learning habit that empowers employees to feel that they can learn on their own. It is a self-paced and personalized learning model where employees take the ownership of their own learning and development. 

The DREAL experience is also effective because it is driven by the top leadership as well. And to create any culture leadership buy-in is critical. 

The top leadership should be willing to empower their teams to carve out time for learning. 

A trend, which I have observed is, in the past, L&D professionals were considered to be the backbone of the organization. But they may have been working in the background. But now their role has evolved and now have so much more visibility. It is important that they themselves realize that they have so much more responsibility for creating a strong talent pipeline for the business. 

For us, what we believe is that it's critical that L&D professionals acknowledge the criticality of their role and start triggering interventions on top, which signal to the entire workforce that learning is something which is desired and valued. And something which is imperative for the organization to continue to innovate and stay relevant. They also have to work on ensuring that the workforce has all the relevant tools and resources to learn and grow. 

How can organizations fill the skill gaps when their priority is business continuity and employee well-being? What is your advice for L&D leaders and people managers who face challenges to skill and re-skill their employees including cost and other bottlenecks?

Financial crunch is a real challenge for many during the pandemic. One could say it’s hard for us to deploy learning because our revenues are low, our profits are low. And this is not really the right time for us to take money from our profits. But my counter is that today, there are great options for upskilling that don't require people to essentially have to break the bank. Traditional classroom learning vs self-driven learning is much more affordable. 

At the same time, if we are talking about costs, it is all the more important to invest in upskilling, as the learnt skills when applied to work directly impacts the business, both top line and bottom line. 

Professional development doesn’t have to be expensive. It has to be purposeful. 

It has to be relevant to the business and career aspirations, in tandem with the skills in demand.

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Topics: Learning & Development, #ReimagineLearning

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