It was 2010, right after the 2008 economic bust, and I began interviewing for various roles in Bay Area technology companies. Having taught K-12 and higher education with little experience in corporate America, I sought advice from professionals who had a similar background to me and had successfully transitioned into the roles I was seeking. Each person I spoke with offered various insightful tidbits on how to make this leap, but the overwhelming consensus was this:
Don’t rely too heavily on your teaching background in K-12 or higher education. The corporate world is results focused, which can be hard to quantify through your experience in the traditional educational institutions.
This advice scared me. I thought I could easily translate my teaching skills to marketing, communications or training organizations, but apparently these “experts” I spoke with suggested that I shouldn’t emphasize these skills in my job search. What would I do now that my bubble has been deflated?
I ended up persevering and continuing to find opportunities to grow professionally. After several years of searching to no avail, I finally joined an early startup, Little Dipper, as a founding team member leading and scaling their marketing and technology efforts. In addition to significantly growing my professional skillset, this experience opened my eyes to the tremendous value I already could bring to the company with my background in teaching.
As most professional educators know, teaching is not easy, and effective teachers constantly use a large repertoire of skills, both consciously and unconsciously. Some of these skills, as explained below, can set educators apart from others job seekers in the business world.
Learning Experts Can Make Knowledge Stick
In our fast-paced world, making your message stick with learners, employees and potential customers is a mix of art and science. An experienced teacher must incorporate various techniques that encourage retention of information so that students can demonstrate what they have learned through assessments.
In fact, many times teachers are evaluated on how their students perform on standardized exams. Teachers have a strong extrinsic motivator to make their lessons stick, which incorporates the same skills marketers, advertisers and trainers (to name a few business roles) utilize in their roles.
Making lessons stick is not something that only learning and development professionals use. This is a key skill that separates mediocre from great organizational leaders.
For example, Jeanne Tari, the Head of Global Educational Programs at Facebook and recently awarded one of top 50 Learning and Development leaders in 2019, constantly makes her messaging stick when communicating and training her multi-cultural team.
As her team leads presentations and trainings at large-scale industry events, she identified an opportunity to coach her team on demonstrating confidence under high-stakes situations, which is no easy task. As an experienced leader, she knew that in order to instill this, she had to make her message simple to apply and easy to remember. To do this, she cleverly devised a short training that included a set of action-focused steps incorporating both verbal and physical modalities to teach her team how to demonstrate confidence during high pressure situations.
To this day, her team perform parts of one of Jeanne’s signature lessons through the power pose. This is a great example of how leaders within corporate organizations are using the same skills that teachers use to empower their students.
Learning Experts Create Content for Lasting Skill Acquisition
As a learning expert, you know that skill development rarely happens from just telling learners what to do. Even if learners are nodding their heads and smiling, you don’t actually know if they can apply these skills either in the moment, or on the job.
In the classroom, teachers create environments where learners are challenged to apply content within a controlled situation through incorporating problem solving skills either independently or in a group. Do they make mistakes? Yes! Is that acceptable? Of course! Making mistakes is an important part of the learning process.
How is skill acquisition theory implemented in corporate training? Here’s an example from my experience creating training interventions at YouTube.
As YouTube has a worldwide team of content reviewers, the company needed a strong multi-cultural training program to ensure employees could correctly identify and remove violative content. This task might seem simple enough, but don’t be fooled. When you take into account how one’s personal and cultural biases unconsciously impact decision-making, ensuring consistent performance from one person to another is quite a challenge.
To design the content for this program, we developed clear and simple steps to follow when reviewing content for each community standard. In more detail, these steps included instructions on what parts of the content to examine, and best practices on what to observe. While identifying these steps were an important first step, this was just the very beginning of what we trained them on.
Next, learners reviewed videos together to identify common situations they would encounter and then discuss the best action to take. The sequence of the videos started with clear, cut-and-dry examples that were easy to identify if a violation occurred (or not). Soon after, learners reviewed videos that challenged their biases and presented fine distinctions needed to determine if a violation had occurred. The wide range of videos and the discussions learners had were essential building blocks for developing this nuanced and unfamiliar skill.
For the final part of the trainings, learners reflected on what they learned after each video reviewed. This helped bridge the gap between what we were learning in training and how to apply these skills to their job. Without explicitly discussing how to apply these lessons to one’s job, learners might not make the connection to job performance.
The value of this program was seen in comparing employee content flagging against the policy experts flags on the same content. This program showed success in improving consistency and accuracy across these content reviewers. While this training took 25% longer than the previous version, the content reviewers significantly improved their accuracy and consistency across the board.
The value a learning expert brings to a training program is the ability to scaffold content to ensure learners are building skills within their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, anyone?). When learners are asked to develop skills outside of this zone, many times confusion and inconsistent learning takes place. This causes significant time and money wasted and lack of results. Unfortunately, many times this happens because content is presented without regard for learner’s background skills and actual application to their job.
Learning Experts Build Upon Learners’ Background Experience
Have you ever sat through a training on something you either already knew or could easily figure out on your own? At one of my previous jobs, I had to take a required 6-hour training on how to use Powerpoint. This training went through every single thing you would need to do within the tool, from creating a new document to selecting fun fonts like the dreaded Papyrus, Comic Sans or Times New Roman. In the last 15 minutes of the training, we finally learned something useful for me: how to create advanced animations and transitions. The problem was that I had already zoned-out and couldn’t focus on learning this new skill.
As a millennial who grew up creating school presentations in high school, the skills gap this training was designed for was not for someone like me. I already had the background knowledge and skills this training taught.
Why did I lose focus? People quickly lose motivation to learn when presented with content they don’t need.
As a learning expert, we analyze the audience’s background to identify:
- what learners can already achieve at a high competency
- what learners can achieve but need further proficiency with
- what learners can’t achieve
The way you design trainings depends on learners’ current competency and their motivators + feelings towards the skills. For example, if learners need to gain further competency in business writing, but they internally haven’t identified the need to improve this skill, one of the learning objectives for the training would focus on learners being able to identify the need for developing this skill. Without getting learners’ buy in, no content will be able to fill a gap for lack of motivation.
The value teachers can bring to corporate environments is numerous, so if you are trying to get into corporate training as a first entry point out of K-12 or higher ed, please know that your skills are in high demand. Going back to the advice I received in 2010, I think the point these professionals were stating was that you can’t communicate about your skills the same way as you do in your high school’s teachers lounge. Instead of talking about what grades you taught and how many students you had in your classes, focus on the results you achieved on the job.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.