Every company needs to become a software company. That was the message from technology entrepreneur and Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen in his 2011 essay, “Why Software Is Eating the World,” published in The Wall Street Journal.
That same year, entrepreneurs Rephael Sweary and Dan Adika launched their startup, WalkMe, with six employees in a room so small everyone had to get up and move if one had to use the bathroom. In the five years since, their company, an online engagement and user experience platform, has grown to more than 500 employees, and software, as Andreesen predicted, has become increasingly central to not just business but how workers get things done.
WalkMe uses machine learning and analytics to gain insights on user behavior and pinpoint where a company’s systems are causing customers or employees problems. The software guides them through that barrier and helps resolve the problem in a process that Sweary calls “contextual.”
Sweary talked to Chief Learning Officer about this contextual process and what it means for employee learning and development.
Chief Learning Officer: How does contextual learning differ from traditional training?
Rephael Sweary: When we look into how training is shifting and how training needs to shift, we need to look at four phenomena that are changing the way the workplace is working today.
The first force is that employees change. The new employees coming into the workplace do not know how to memorize. They don’t memorize data. They access data.
Another phenomenon is that organizations are digitizing many business processes that used to be [on] paper, for example, asking for vacation time. The third phenomenon is that software moved into the cloud and because it moved into the cloud, the upgrade and changes are very frequent.
The fourth phenomenon is that today technology is conceived differently. In the past, companies would decide what their platform would be and it would be decided by the chief information officer and all the company would have to use that technology. Now the decision is not done in the CIO level, it’s done on the business user level.
In the past, when you had completion training you would do a test and you would say, “This guy is certified, he can work.” But today because of those changes you need to have analytics, not tests.
Contextual learning takes into account: Who is the person in the organization? What is his role? Where is he in the process when he’s finding it difficult? If he’s having difficulty with step seven, you don’t want him to watch a video where’s he listening for four minutes about how to get to step number seven. You want to start at step number seven.
CLO: Why is contextual learning a better investment than typical learning and development programs?
Sweary: Because you’re moving at the aiming target. If you use traditional training, the time it takes to produce all the materials and the amount of money you invest becomes irrelevant the day you finish them. Regulation is changing daily, the capabilities of the software that the employees are using is changing daily. The way that technology is moving — the way the workplace is moving — means the current training is broken.
For companies that want to stay on top of their industry and want to use technology to gain real advantages over their competition, they need to look into new ways of doing training that are more effective, take less time and require less memorizing for the employee. I’ll put it in other words: Train software to work with the employees instead of training employees how to use the software.
Usually, what you would find is that there [are] great analytics but there is no way to action them. You need to go and change something in the process — make it more clear. It could take a few months. By the time you do that, you must have broken something else.
With [contextual learning] you can action that immediately. The next day you can track and see, OK, I got the error rate reduced from 45 percent to 30 percent. You can continue working and keep working on reducing that. With a holistic approach you are looking at … the problems employees are having [and] the cost of the problem. Sometimes, if there’s an error fixing it can take 15 seconds. Sometimes fixing the error can take 15 minutes. You have these analytics, you can action it, you can measure the effect and you can action it again.
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