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What I’ve learned from nearly three months of delivering digital confidence and skills training for Helpful Technology

I can’t believe it’s nearly three months since I started working as product lead for Helpful Technology’s Digital Action Plan.

Since joining Helpful, my work has been focused on how best to give people the confidence and skills to use digital at work. This has involved delivering face-to-face training, producing engaging online resources and offering ongoing support to participants.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about how to approach improving people’s  confidence and skills with digital. While I am talking about digital, hopefully these lessons will also be helpful for anyone trying to bring change in other areas.

1. Never make assumptions about a person’s existing skills and confidence

It’s easy to assume a participant will have broadly similar digital skills and confidence as his or her peers. However, now that I have worked with several cohorts from across different organisations and levels of seniority, I have come to realise this is not the case.

For example, I discovered that one participant had started his career as a programmer at IBM before joining the civil service and had actively made the case for embracing digital. This person’s requirements from the Digital Action were very different from someone who had little experience or confidence in using digital at work.

2. Take a holistic approach to people’s learning

Although the Digital Action Plan is focused on giving people the skills and confidence to use digital at work, I’ve found people are more motivated to complete the training when we can link it to their needs and preferences beyond the workplace.

For example, after doing some initial research I discovered that one of our participants, Jonathan Aldridge, is a published author and has blogged about his experiences as a writer. By knowing this, we were able to tailor his learning goals so that he was able to both apply his existing skills to in-work projects and develop new skills that would benefit both his employer and his creative pursuits.

While not every participant will be a published author, by taking the time to talk to participants and regularly reviewing their learning goals with them , it is nearly always possible to link digital to both work and more personal objectives.

Another participant, for example, thought she didn’t really do much with digital but after talking to her, it turns out she has blogged about shoes in her. Knowing this, we were able to encourage her to use this outside interest to create a ‘safe space’ where she could experiment with new digital channels such as Pinterest, before applying them to a work project.

3. Connect training with real-life projects

While it can be very helpful to get participants to think about how they use digital outside of work, ultimately we want people to be using digital in their everyday job roles.

For every goal, participants are asked to apply what they are learning to a project or area of their work. For example, when learning how to use the Hootsuite dashboard to conduct a social listening exercise, policy officers are asked to ‘listen in’ on what people are saying about their policy officer.

Going forward, I am exploring ways of strengthening the connections between a participant’s learning plan and their work priorities.

Earlier this week, for example, Guy Poppy, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Food Standards Agency, explained to me his ambitions to develop a collaborative open data project to improve food safety.

We are now working together to ensure Guy’s learning plan reflects this ambition, for example relating a goal on developing blogging skills to the task of persuading stakeholders to support the open data project.

4. Always be nice (but not too nice)

Finding time for learning and development can be really difficult, particularly when many of the organisations we work with at Helpful are under pressure to ‘do more with less’. This means it’s important to strike the right balance between being supportive and firm when encouraging participants to complete their Digital Actions Plans.

I have found  that putting time in early on to build relationships with participants and course patrons makes it easier to get people through the course. By doing so I have been able to identify and take action to overcome potential barriers to learning, whether that be a participant’s workload, a lack of confidence or how useful a participant perceives their learning goals to be.

Putting in this initial effort means I am able to be firm where required. For example, having worked with a participant to tailor their learning goals or extend a deadline, I am in a strong position to hold them to account, should they not be making sufficient progress.

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