Building resilience into our learner journeys, and demanding L&D culture at board level: How and where tech can help?

Louise Rowland, Deputy CEO of UFI VocTech Trust reflects on OEB 2021

In my role as Deputy CEO of Ufi VocTech Trust, I’m continually asking how can tech support people to get the skills they need for work – to get a job and progress in work. So, the annual OEB global cross-sector conference on technology supported learning and training has become an important date in the diary to connect with others and explore this question.

Last week, I had the pleasure and privilege to attend #OEB21 in Berlin in-person. Armed with my paperwork to evidence I was not just ‘2G’ but ‘3G’ geimpft, getestet und genesen (vaccinated, tested and recovered) I could not have been more prepared to explore and debate the conference theme of resilience.

Technology and data will continue to drive change in skills-based learning, so how do we embrace this change, and learn to meet its demands, by becoming truly resilient?

Above and beyond the fact that Berlin does Christmas extremely well (gorgeous festive lights, gluhwein and gemutlichkeit) what were my takeaways from OEB 2021 on this theme?

Panellists at OEB 2021


Luckily, the team at Online Educa Berlin (OEB) nailed it again this year with an excellent programme of keynotes, workshops, presentations and learning cafes all of which centered around the very human aspects of change and resilience.

I was pleased that the Conference recognised that ‘lost learning’ because of the pandemic isn’t just about schools, colleges and Universities.

Employers are facing massive challenges catching up in the context of an economy that was already in transition pre-pandemic.

Learning technology has a lot to offer in meeting the demands of upskilling and reskilling the workforce to meet the needs of the future of work, driven by increased automation, digitisation and continuous change.

It felt very much like the discussion had moved towards one where the humans and machines are in it together.  Learning Tech, done well, can provide the conditions for opening access to learning, improving engagement and catalysing reskilling. But what do we need to facilitate and accelerate this, and how can we go about it?


User-centric design thinking to increase learner engagement 

To be done well, the very human aspects of developing, adopting and deploying learning tech need to be at the heart of the design process to ensure quality, effective and inclusive learning. We need to be alive to our assumptions and how these shape the learning tech developed.

As Marleen Stikker from the Waag Future Lab for technology and society argued in her keynote, humans are biased by default, so tech is not neutral. Our values are “inside” the tech we make, so how the success or effectiveness of a particular learning technology is defined – and by whom – is an important question.

One way of looking at success could be learner experience and engagement, where learners can take ownership of their learning journey or pathway.

In my presentation in the session “Methods & digital Solutions to increase student engagement’ I gave some examples of how user-centric design is shaping our work at Ufi VocTech Trust to support the development of digital solutions which help those who are furthest away from learning to be able to get the skills they need for work. We’ve learnt the importance of gaining a deep understanding of user confidence and motivation is key to understanding barriers to learning and developing solutions that address learner needs.

You can watch the full session back here:

Ufi's insight work (that I mention) on the importance of confidence and motivation in learning is also available for review in our green paper.


L&D Culture & Strategy  

These themes were tackled in lots of different ways across the conference – which served to reinforce their importance in the role of tech in workplace learning and learning to be able to work.

We kicked around some ideas about culture and strategy in the ‘Workplace Learning Opening Conversation’. Wolfgang Hennen provided a perspective from his experience as an executive board member at LIDL. They had built a culture around L&D that was intrinsically linked to the business strategy and led from the top, so that everyone in the organisation understood, and could see, that learning was something that everyone in LIDL does. Why? Because it is the right thing to do for the business, L&D reduces waste, improves customer satisfaction, supports talent development and so on – improving the strength and sustainability of the business. 


It was fascinating to hear what Wolfgang thought L&D leaders should do more to facilitate this kind of culture.

L&D needs to learn the language of the Board, to be able to show the impact on business goals of training – or indeed the opportunity cost of not seeing your people as a key source of competitive advantage.

From my point of view, this is particularly important when you are encouraging innovation in new ways of learning or training. Investment in learning technologies needs to be part of a ‘whole’, embedded in the overall organisational strategy so that the impact and return on investment are visible. The data-rich world of digital learning provides a huge opportunity for this to be strengthened, helping overcome a long-standing issue for L&D around measuring and quantifying the impact of training – we all know that ‘happy sheets’ don’t cut the mustard.


Collaboration and access

The final aspect of culture that I felt came through strongly at OEB was around collaboration and access, in particular the role of open online education, badges & credentials. At Ufi we have been funding innovative projects which are underpinned by open badges for some time (iDEA, Cities of Learning) as we recognise their potential to disrupt how learning happens, putting more control in the hands of the learner and creating new pathways into learning and employment by connecting formal, informal and in-work learning opportunities. So, I was pleased to learn of the newly formed International Council on Badges & Credentials and look forward to catching up with them soon.

Above all I felt privileged to have joined the OEB, doing something that felt ‘normal’ in these uncertain times. It was refreshing, inspiring and fun to be in one place with so many smart people, funny (check out Frons Tromenaar), passionate about the role of tech in learning & training. And for anyone wishing to develop a new idea which builds learner resilience or workplace culture for skills development, do check out our next VocTech Seed grant fund which opens in January.

Bring on OEB 2022!

VocTech Seed opens in January 2022

Find out more about the upcoming grant fund.

  • VocTech Seed

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    Our test bed where the first spark of an idea can be scoped and tested in the supportive environment that Ufi funding provides. Grants of £15,000 to £50,000. Applications close 13 July 2022.