Perspectives 2019: The 20th Anniversary of Skillsoft and Todd’s Top Takeaways!

On April 15 – 17, 2019, I attended Skillsoft’s Perspectives 2019 in Orlando, Florida. Last year was spectacular, and I was not sure if Skillsoft could outdo last year, but they did!

The conference opened with a keynote from the Executive Chairman, Ron Hovsepian, who reminded the audience that this was Skillsoft’s 20th Anniversary as a company. He also discussed the significant progress made in the last year including expansion of Skillsoft’s Aspire Learning Journeys in the Technology, Developer and Certification Solutions, mobile experiences for Skillsoft Compliance, expanded localization,  Business Skills development, and much more. Ron also defined an aggressive roadmap for the coming year. This was followed by two interesting panel discussions with customers and was topped off by a fascinating presentation by Daniel Pink on the influence of time and mood on judgment, decision-making and performance. I am writing this in the morning, while my “analytic” mind is at its best!

I attended a number of presentations, client panels and had several one-off conversations with customers. One-off conversations with customers are always my favorite. Customers don’t pull any punches! I had a number of one-on-one meetings with Skillsoft executives. I really enjoy the one-on-one meetings because I enjoy seeing the genuine passion and excitement that Skillsoft’s executives display. To me this is one of the major strengths of Skillsoft. Their leadership is “down to earth”, they are passionate about their mission, and they are eager to meet, and exceed, their goals. Thanks to Heide Abelli, Mike Hendrickson, Tara O’Sullivan, Norm Ford, and Mark Onisk for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with me, and thanks to the ever diligent, Tom Francoeur for keeping the trains running on time.

There were many announcements at Perspectives, and I could provide a list in the blog, but instead, I would like to highlight the topics that I found most interesting. Acknowledging up front that these topics reflect my personal biases, here goes.

The Importance of People (aka Soft) Skills Continues to Grow and is Reflected in Skillsoft’s Offering

People (aka soft) skills are behavioral skills. They are about what we do, how we do it and our intent. It is one thing to know “what” to do, but something completely different (and mediated by distinct learning systems in the brain) to know “how” to do it. People skills include showing empathy, effective communication, listening, collaboration, embracing diversity, and being inclusive.

Simply put, Skillsoft “gets it”. Skillsoft has been following the workplace research showing the importance of people skills and are listening to their clients about the importance of people skills in their workplace. Skillsoft emphasizes people skills training in all of their content areas. Sure, people skills are critical in leadership development, and Skillsoft’s Leadership Development Program emphasizes people skills, but people skills are also central in Skillsoft’s Technology and Development offerings, in Compliance, and in Digital Skills to name a few. [As an aside, if you have not met Ken who is featured in Skillsoft’s harassment awareness training content, get a demo! The subtleties of harassment and the relevant people skills that you will learn from Ken and the rest are memorable.]

The modern workplace needs to develop the “T-shaped” employee. This employee has depth of knowledge (the vertical segment of the T), but also has breadth of knowledge (the horizontal piece). It is one thing to receive effective training and depth of knowledge in data science or DevOps. It is another to simultaneously receive people skills training on effective communication, collaboration or team building. This is a critically important combination that can make the difference between an organization with a positive workplace environment and an efficient software development lifecycle, and an organization that is dysfunctional. Skillsoft is committed to emphasizing people skills in all of their offerings.

A Partnership with IBM Watson and the Promise of Personalized Learning

Ron Hovsepian announced a partnership between Skillsoft and IBM Watson Talent. This is an exciting development and one that will be groundbreaking for a number of reasons. First, talent assessment, which has generally been restricted to employee recruitment, can add significant value in Learning and Development. In fact, I make this case in a recent report entitled “Assessment in Talent and Human Capital Management: A Psychological Science Evaluation” (available upon request). Talent assessment can facilitate the identification of strengths and weaknesses in a candidate and can be used to curate personalize learning paths.

Second, by leveraging the power of IBM Watson Talent, career paths can be recommended to employees in an objective manner. As those of you who have read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”, or know Brene Brown, and others work, you know that (on average) women are much less likely to pursue careers or apply for jobs if they believe that they fulfill 60% of the qualifications, whereas men are likely to pursue the career or job with the same qualifications. IBM Watson Talent can neutralize these biases by applying a fixed recommendation criterion regardless of gender. Women and men with equivalent skill sets will be “tapped on the shoulder” to pursue promotions or to pursue new career paths. This will level the playing field and democratize learning.

Finally, the “big data” that will be generated from the partnership between Skillsoft and IBM Watson Talent can be analyzed and explored in a number of ways. More than likely these data will suggest new and emerging career and learning paths that have not been considered. It will uncover overlap and relationships between career aspirations that were previously thought of as non-overlapping, but that may in actuality overlap in interesting ways. The Talent, Career and Learning landscapes that will emerge from analysis of these large data sets will be exciting to explore.

Skillsoft’s Aspire: Meeting Employee’s Desire for Continuous Learning and Employer’s Desire to Retain Talent

Skillsoft has been developing Aspire Learning Journeys at a rapid pace. Organizations desperately need to retain talent. Too often talented employees leave a job because they see no avenue for enhancing their capabilities. When talent leaves, employers must find new high-quality talent and start from scratch. Skillsoft’s Aspire Learning Paths address these needs by offering a sequenced path of instruction, training and credentials that allow employees to aspire to new heights and allow employers to keep talent.

If you are a data analyst with expertise in spreadsheets and typically work with siloed data sources, but want to aspire to become a data scientist, then Skillsoft’s Aspire is for you. If you are an employer with a talented data analyst in your organization and you want to make sure to keep them by suggesting that they “aspire” toward being a data scientist, then Skillsoft’s Aspire is for you. Aspire offers a combination of course, multimodal content, hands-on practice labs, and certification preparation and assessment that can take a learner along the journey from data analyst to data wrangler, to data ops and finally to data science. Aspire learning journeys in cybersecurity, cloud computing, software development, and many other areas have been developed, with many more in the works. With the cost of a University education skyrocketing, and employers finding value in upskilling their current employees, I fully expect Aspire to continue its grow in its reach.

Closing Remarks

Skillsoft is a leader in developing and delivering engaging learning content that drives business impact for businesses and organizations across the globe and in nearly every industry. Check it out yourself by requesting a demo of the Leadership Development program or the Harassment Training content. It is high-quality, well-designed, engaging and compelling. Content delivery is solid. Percipio’s multi-modal “watch”, “read”, “listen” delivery offers learners choice, and the 24/7 access on any platform approach is a must. The new “practice” offering in Percipio is an exciting addition as well. As with any offering more work could be done and optimized delivery that effectively engages the task appropriate learning systems in the brain is a work in progress. The ultimate goal of any L&D platform is to speed initial learning, enhance long-term retention, and prime the learner for behavior change. Although no platform meets all of these goals, Skillsoft is working hard and has their eye on the prize.

Skillsoft’s progress in the last year is impressive, and the roadmap for the coming year is ambitious. I look forward to following Skillsoft on its journey toward excellence, and to talking with the Skillsoft team over the coming months. Most importantly, I look forward to Perspective 2020. Perspectives 2019 will be hard to beat–then again, that is what I said last year.