By Ian Stuart, Director of Learning & Development at Coursera
Coursera is the world’s learning platform, and education is in our DNA. Our employees are life-long learners who share a passion for our mission to transform lives with access to the world’s best learning experience. For these reasons alone, you might expect Courserians to complete courses like they’re binge watching the latest season of Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. As a fast-growing Silicon Valley start-up, we faced many of the same challenges as other companies do with making time for learning. We knew we needed to turn this around and make learning a top priority.
At the start of 2018, we set out to drive deeper learning engagement amongst Courserians. In the past, we’d challenged the company to reach learning goals, but at best we’d only reached a 25% completion rate. With varying degrees of success, we tried everything from study groups and friendly competitions to marketing campaigns and regular email reminders. Like other companies, we were challenged by time constraints and competing priorities. Although they highly value learning, some of our executives even voiced concern that learning programs might divert energy away from important initiatives. We knew were going to have to up our game in order to move the needle past a 25% completion rate.
For 2018, we decided our approach needed to be aggressive and ambitious if we were going to make this shift happen. We put a stake in the ground by setting an aggressive goal for 90% of employees to complete at least one course on Coursera by the end of 2018. To back this up, our CEO became the ultimate champion of the goal, advocating for learning across the company and getting the leadership team onboard.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. To hit our ambitious targets, we had to put the right engagement strategy in place. Below are a few of the most successful strategies we utilized:
- Curated Course Collections — We met with each executive to understand near- and long-term learning needs in their organizations and mapped course collections to those needs. This gave employees a clear path to select courses that would build important skills for their roles. By aligning learning to organizational goals, leaders were able to see the value in making time for learning.
- Executive Sponsorship and Accountability — Our executives bought in and became leading advocates who inspired their teams to learn. Each leader shot a launch video highlighting course collections, committed to completing courses themselves, and communicated progress updates within their organization and at the company-wide All Hands. At the end of the year, every executive had completed at least one course.
- Learning Champions — Each organization appointed a Learning Champion, who became a source of expertise and helped others to learn by organizing learning groups, sharing updates and data, and holding everyone accountable. Learning Champions also met regularly with each other to share key learnings and best practices.
- Communication, Communication and more Communication — The company All Hands became a forum to inspire learning. As noted, leaders and Learning Champions shared progress updates at All Hands. Additionally, learners shared inspirational stories about how they applied their new skills in their roles. The L&D team inspired healthy competition across organizations through regular performance updates across teams.
We didn’t just hit our learning goal of 90% completion — we knocked it out of the park by achieving 100% completion! We were also building critical role-relevant skills: over 50% of course completions came from courses in collections curated by our leaders. Most importantly, we achieved a true culture of learning where our employees weren’t just advocates and believers in our product, but regular users. We also created a successful and repeatable learning engagement model that can be built upon in 2019 because employees value it. As a matter of fact, when it came time to prepare our 2019 learning program, our executive team was ready to go and it took very little effort to assemble a group of new Learning Champions. Employees knew what the role was, it’s importance to the company and understood the unique leadership opportunity it provided. We’re now well on our way to repeating our feat of 100% completion, and more importantly, strengthening our learning DNA.