#BeBetter Podcast with Michael Kurland

How to create a culture of learning with Dr. Robin Sargent

Employee development programs that keep pace with user needs and technology.

Dr. Robin Sargent is the owner and founder of IDOL Courses and IDOL Talent, offering state-of-the-art training programs to next generation employees. In today’s show, Dr. Sargent talks about the importance of creating a culture of learning to meet the demands of and prepare for the future of work.

Robin Sargent portrait

“The industry really is going more towards creating cultures of learning.”

—Dr. Robin Sargent

IDOL Courses

65. How to create a culture of learning with Dr. Robin Sargent

Key Takeaways

  • To prepare for the future, organizations have to upskill and reskill their workforce.
  • Develop a learning management system that is flexible, adaptable and will meet employee needs over time.
  • Improvements to e-learning programs must be based on analytics of user experiences and organizational goals.

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After stints as a training director for a billion dollar company and an assistant dean of students for a large university, Dr. Robin Sargent decided to open IDOL courses to be the leading trade school teaching instructional design and online learning to people of all backgrounds. In her 17 years in the industry, she has delivered creative and dynamic instructional design content for large corporate companies and universities like the Center for Disease Control, Emory University Law School, Boston Consulting Group, the National Parent Teacher Association and Relias. Dr. Sargent holds a Ph.D. in instructional design and online learning from Northcentral University, an MBA in management from Shorter University, and eleven certifications and credentials in instructional design.

“Learning outcomes and learning objectives are supposed to be measurable.”

—Dr. Robin Sargent

IDOL Courses

Podcast Transcription

Hello. I’m Michael Kurland, CEO and co-founder of Branded Group, an award winning facility, maintenance and construction management company that services multi-site commercial properties such as retail, restaurants, health care facilities and educational institutions. Welcome to the BeBetter Podcast. Each week I interview thought leaders from a variety of industries who will share their stories and the lessons they learn as they strive to be better for their clients, partners, employees and their community. Are you ready to be better?

Michael: Hello and welcome to another episode of the BeBetter podcast. I’m your host, Michael Kurland. Joining me today is Dr. Robin Sargent, owner and founder of IDOL Courses. Robin, welcome to the show. Please tell the audience a little bit more about who you are and what you do.

Dr. Sargent: Hi, Michael. Thank you so much for having me. I am excited to be here. I mean, just the title alone of this podcast, BeBetter, it’s definitely something that’s close to my heart and actually a part of one of the programs that I run. So I’m Dr. Robin Sargent, owner and founder of IDOL Courses and IDOL Talent. IDOL Courses is a trade school that also serves learners while basically developing the next generation of creative learning designers. And so what that means is that we run a vocational trade school for instructional designers, learning designers, and training designers. They’re all kind of the same thing. And then we also place some of our vocational students into contract work through IDOL talent, so we train them and place them, that’s kind of how that works.

Michael: That’s great. So from soup to nuts, you have this whole thing where they come in and then you place them in a job. It’s amazing. So it’s good for people to take your courses, I assume, right? Because they’re getting job placement afterward.

Dr. Sargent: Yeah. I mean, well, some of them, you know, if they qualify for job placement, obviously, I mean, I’d love to place everyone, but at this time, just certain ones that qualify. But everybody else, you know, they usually go and get full time roles at the Fortune 500’s.

Michael: Oh, great. So tell the audience a little bit more, like let’s get in-depth on what IDOL stands for and what exactly is a learning designer. Let’s get a little more in-depth in that.

Dr. Sargent: So a learning designer or an instructional designer is another term for it. And what it is, it’s anybody that creates some kind of training or learning solution for an organization. And that could be an organization that’s a government organization, a nonprofit organization, or your typical companies that you would think of, right? The Amazons and so on and so forth. And so any time that there is a knowledge, a skill, an information, or an attitude gap or some type of performance gap at an organization, they usually turn to the learning designers to come up with some kind of solution to solve that performance gap. And so usually that solution might include something like learning materials. It might include something like a full apprenticeship program, it might include instructor-led training, and e-learning development. And so there are a lot of different types of solutions that learning designers design and create, but those are about the typical things that they do.

Michael: Yeah, that’s fascinating to me. That is actually something that we at Branded Group have invested heavily in the last 2 to 3 years. We may be even longer. And we have basically, I like to call it Branded Group College. But it’s not really Branded Group College, it’s our training program. So when the new employees come in, they spend, it used to be two weeks and we’ve actually upped it to three weeks and they spend three weeks in basically our design learning area with our VP of training, who is Kiira. And then, you know, we’ve grown so much in this field because we’re hiring so rapidly and training so often that we brought in a second person underneath Kiira and that’s all they do all day long is train our new hires and then not only train our new hires, but after their three weeks of training and then when they’re on the floor actually performing the tasks that we do at Branded Group, we have ongoing retraining going on and we take certain things each month, whether it’s communication or whether it’s profit margin or things of that nature. And they go in there and they’re kind of making sure that everyone’s up to date with the most current knowledge. And we’re now to your point, we’re starting to work on putting a testing program into place. So this is what you’re talking about, right? I’m on board, right? So we’re putting a testing program into place where if you want to get promoted now at Branded Group, you have to be able to pass the test to show that you’ve got the knowledge to go to the next level. And I think that’s going to be a game-changer for us because we can promote people on feel or on their performance. But if they don’t actually have the knowledge and can’t prove it to us, then we may be promoting the wrong person. So that’s fascinating to me from what you’re doing from our point of view. So let me ask you this. What are you seeing in the B2B world, in the business world with learning going on right now? Like what is the new age, cutting edge stuff that’s out there that the people are doing?

Dr. Sargent: Well, there’s a lot of new age, cutting edge stuff that they’re doing. But I’d actually like to make a comment, Michael, about the fact that you said that essentially you are creating a culture of learning. Not only are you spending more time with them in the onboarding, but then you’re doing follow-ups and then you are retraining and reskilling them and further topics. And so beyond the tech and the tools, I think the industry really is going more towards creating cultures of learning. A lot of even my own graduates are being hired on to do exactly that for organizations that have never had a training designer or an instructional designer in their organization before, and they bring them on to do things like creating a culture of learning. And so that usually could be something that’s based on the different competencies that are found across the roles and an organization, and taking each of those competencies and creating training around them so that everyone who meets these competencies can essentially be moved into other roles so that you can promote from within. And I see a lot of that going across other organizations as far as other things go, as far as what are the new trends. It’s pretty interesting that I think somebody said that and I can’t quote them directly. I don’t remember what their name was. You know, you just read so much and you’re like, where did that come from? I don’t know. But somebody said on the Internet somewhere.

Michael: It happens to me all the time as well.

Dr. Sargent: They said that we’re basically in our next industrial revolution and essentially what that looks like is that a lot of the jobs that we have are being replaced by things like automation and AI. And so we really do have to upskill and reskill our people. And also just to kind of mention what people are talking about the era of where everybody’s like quitting their jobs.

Michael: The Great Resignation.

Dr. Sargent: There you go, the Great Resignation era. And I think a lot of that is also having an impact about why they are bringing in more instructional designers. And then the other thing besides the Great Resignation, right, so reskilling, finding other things that keep people working because right now we find it’s hard to hire people because people a lot of people just don’t want to work at this moment or they want to go work for themselves or the gig economy or whatever that is. But the other thing is too is that we have a skills gap that’s happening, right? So we have these new jobs that are coming up. Some of the other jobs are being replaced by automations or AI or whatever. We have these new jobs, but even these new jobs are people coming out of the universities who are not prepared for these new roles that are being created in our industries. And so that burden is being left to the companies to create their own corporate universities or, like you said, your own college at your company to basically close these skill gaps. So, for instance, somebody graduates with their computer programming degree, right? And they come out with their computer programming degree, but they have no actual experience or practice in coding anything. They just know theory. And so it’s up to the actual companies to create the training to get these people ready to program and to actually work in their company. And so that plus COVID and everything moving online, 80% of all training before 2020 was instructor-led training. That means that these companies will just have people fly out and do instructor-led training which is costing tons of money. And of course it was something that they could do before. But now it’s just, you know, with surges or whatever or fears of COVID, they just want e-learning and they want to be prepared for e-learning. And so if you think about all the training that’s in the companies that now has to be converted to some type of e-learning, it’s huge. And so for the industry, it’s growing to solve the skills gap. It’s growing to convert all this instructor-led training to e-learning. And then also just to create this culture of learning, well, that requires more learning opportunities for employees. And so I didn’t really talk about the tech and tools. I have to say, I think some of those things are just perishable. You know, like VR, AR. What really matters is, did we solve the real performance problem for the company? That’s what matters. How we deliver it doesn’t really matter as much. And in some ways, these new technologies, in my opinion, like virtual reality, they’re not that useful. You’re really going to take all of your employees and be like, you’re going to go to a room, we only got two or three headsets, you’re going to take turns, you’re going to put them on your head or whatever, and we can only do a couple people at a time. And it’s a one-time thing. What if you have to update that VR course, you know what I mean? And so things like that, like, yeah, they’re cool, right? They’re kind of fun to play with, but I don’t think that they are realistic for where we are with those technologies at this moment. What is interesting and pretty cool to me as far as if we would go down the tech road has to be things like the learning record stores. So most of what e-learning is housed on is a learning management system. You can build that in the back of a WordPress website, right? There’s a ton of them. But the learning record store is what’s really interesting about them and the different things that we can do as far as what’s called xAPI is that we can track all the things that a learner does and e-learning and get real analytics and meaningful analytics about what that means as far as like what are learners clicking on and what is it that they spend more time with and what are the exact questions that they get wrong and are they pulling out the resources? Right, just knowing where your learners are actually going. I think that kind of data as far as tech goes, is more interesting to me than some of the AR VR types of tools.

Michael: Yeah, I think you just brought up a lot right there. So let me go back. I made a bunch of notes. So first thing is, you know, speaking about the Great Resignation, which is a hot button topic, the pandemic showed a lot of people things they already knew which is they hated their jobs and they didn’t want to be where they were and they wanted to go do whatever they wanted to do differently, which I’m summing it up terribly. But that’s pretty much how I assess it, right? Like, you know, life is short. I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. Let me either get the career I want or just leave here. So one of the things that you brought up initially was your onboarding and your retention rate. And I think they’re all linked together. And I think at Branded Group, if I can relate to what you said, is our retention rate post now that we’re I don’t want to say post-pandemic, right. Because we’re still, it’s an endemic or whatever it is now I really don’t call it that anymore. But now that everything’s opened up again, we have a retention rate of 98%. And for us as a company, that’s a boon. We want to invest in the people that come in our doors because if you know, the cost to hire, train and then fire someone within a year is almost a salary of an entry-level person. And it’s upwards of $30,000. And to get that person onboarded and to keep them and to continuously develop them, you know, for us, we don’t have that sunk cost. We are investing in the person and we want them to be a part of the culture and part of the family and our clients. We’re investing in our clients because that person is now on our team, learns our processes and can handle our processes seamlessly. And then that carries over to how they interact with and service our clients and our clients are happy because they don’t get a bunch of turnover and people that have to relearn their selected company. So that to me is very important and it’s actually what drove us to start Branded Group College so long ago and invest into the people and keep them on is exactly what I just said just keeping our retention rate high so 98% and during the pandemic it dropped down to 72% because we had furloughed some people, wasn’t what we wanted to do, but it was what we had to do to make sure that we were able to continue servicing our clients and to pay bills and all that thing. And now that we’re at, back up to 98% in less than two years is great. So what you said there, I thought was very, very important. And I think you made some really good points. I do think that VR at the point where I am right now is more of a novelty. Yes, I totally agree with you, but I think that it can in the future be utilized for practical exams like especially for the tradesmen. Hey, this is the plumbing right here. Go in and show us how you’re doing this in the VR and turn this wrench and do this and do that. And I think that that’s going to be able to get more people trained and out in the field sooner in the, I don’t know, near future, but hopefully in the next 15 to 20 years, I think that may be something that it can be applicable to.

Dr. Sargent: Oh, yeah. For sure. Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely excellent use cases for VR and just think about things like medical doctors, flight simulators and just like you said, like the trades and things like that. I guess I’m more thinking like, you know, like the Branded Group, you want to put on a VR course and like to have your employees go and sit with their headsets.

Michael: Yeah, it would be absolutely useless for us to do VR to train our employees. It’s all real life on the phone. And maybe we have a dummy phone and we’re making dummy calls to the teacher in the class. But VR would not be worthwhile. But you brought up basically data analysis of what they’re clicking on and what they’re looking to learn. So let’s get more in-depth to that because I love talking about analytics and I think that so much can be learned from the analytics. So what can we learn from e-learning analytics? What are those trends that they’re telling you?

Dr. Sargent: Yeah. So a lot of what we do as instructional designers, I think a lot of people focus on the actual development side of creating training and learning materials. Well, that and a lot of people find that to be the fun part of the job. But the majority of our time is actually spent in analysis and design. And so what that looks like is actually looking at what, you know, at the very beginning starts with what are the metrics? What’s the performance score? What is a quantifiable verb or adjective or whatever that we can use to determine what is our goal for creating training? And that’s where we’ve captured our first metric, right? Like increasing retention rates. We’ll just kind of go with this example, right? That’s our first thing. And so if we’re going to say, all right, that’s our performance goal is to increase retention rates. Well, what does that mean? How do we actually solve for this performance goal? And then we look at data galore, right? What are the current retention rates? What are their current exit interviews saying? What’s all the data that we can get a hold of before ever designing any type of solutions? And then we, each and every one of our learning outcomes and our learning objectives are supposed to be measurable things that we can tie actual numbers and things that can be observed in our learners in order to realize like, oh, they’ve actually increased. Whatever it is. So if we say we like to increase their leads for sales. So what are these things that are actually measurable that’s going to get us to that performance goal of increasing sales leads? And so from the very beginning, it’s all about what is the data, what are we going to be measuring at the end? And that starts at the very beginning. And then even in the design, what are those things that are measurable that we can capture and train throughout the course? And then at the end, we go right back to what it was that we designed this entire training for? What were those analytics that we were building towards, and it’s like backwards design is another way to kind of describe it as well. What’s the end goal, work backwards to design the solution and then the next thing to do after the whole time we were actually, before we even ship it out to all of the learners, we’re actually testing it and piloting to make sure that we are moving some kind of metric that we had identified in the very beginning of our analysis. And then of course, once it was rolled out, then we went through another four levels of evaluation. It’s called the Kirkpatrick model. And the levels of evaluation, of course, include things like did they like the course, like their smile sheets and then the assessments. That gives us some kind of data about what they learned. You know, can they pass whatever types of assessments? And I’m not always, of course, talking about assessments that are multiple-choice, but if, for instance, it’s something like you said, like getting somebody to get on the phone as a salesperson. Well, are you giving them a real-life assessment? Like how do they do right whenever they do a role-playing of getting on the phone with the client, for example. And then after that we go and look at the job behavior. That’s our next level of evaluation. And we talk to the supervisors, we look at what the employees are doing and we kind of get data from there. And then our fourth and final level of evaluation is, is there any real data like did we actually increase sales based on the training that they took? Did we actually increase retention rates? And can you tie it back to what we designed? And so there’s a lot that we look at as far as data and there’s a lot that we care about from the beginning and all the way to the end. And so that’s learner data, that’s business data. And then of course, and training data that comes out of the final learning solution.

Michael: Yeah. And I think what you just mentioned there, all that data is what me as a potential client, business owner is going to want to see that ROI. Right? Like did we get more leads? Did we increase retention rate? Did we have employees learn more functions faster and the ability to perform those functions on the job site? So all great information. And I think what you’re doing is really great in the industry, obviously. So, Doctor Sargent, I did want to ask you, though, you mentioned earlier you’ve got a book coming out in August, so let’s talk about that. What’s the title of the book? What’s it about?

Dr. Sargent: Okay. So the title of the book is “The Do It Messy Approach, A Step by Step Guide for Instructional Designers and Online Learning Developers.” And of course, IDOL stands for instructional designer and online learning. So that’s where IDOL came from, coined the term. And so basically the book is “The Do It Messy Approach.” And in the IDOL Courses Academy, which is the vocational school that I mentioned, I have a part of the program called “Do It Messy.” And a lot of what I found over the years of training people to become corporate instructional designers, is that yes, I’m training them on the deliberate practice of instructional design and e-learning development. Right. But so much of what gets in the way of them building skills and doing the practice of learning design is their own stuff. It’s their own imposter syndrome, self-doubt, mindset, you know, the opposite of growth, thinking, perfectionism. So one of the things that we kind of brought up is the Great Resignation. And I bring it up now because one of our number one types of students or customers, whatever you want to call them, that role in the IDOL Courses Academy are teachers, teachers that are trying to get the heck out of the classroom. And I say that in a very nice way. They have much more colorful language to describe what you know, how they want it, how bad they want to get out of the classroom. And so I say that because since my number one students are usually teachers, what I have found through teaching teachers is that the majority of them seem to have this perfectionist thing like in their way, it’s just in their way. They think, Oh, I got to get this job right before I can show it to anybody for feedback. And so what I did was I, you know, after going through like a year of dealing with my perfectionist teachers and I loved them because really that same kind of thing, when you kind of flip the mindset a little bit, it works out really well, right? Because they care about details, they care about the end product and all those kinds of things. But we all got time for that. We need you to do it messy and get your crappy first draft out there and start getting your feedback because design thinking is an iterative process. And so the only way to get them into that iterative process is to get them out of their own way. And so basically what I did is I designed a part of it, and It’s called “Do It Messy”. And so I give them a welcome and then I just drop them in there and I say, All right, you’re going to design your website right frickin now. And I give them step by step by step, do this. Get your Google site, do this, do this, pick your colors. And I just tell them what to do and I tell them to do it messy and then just post in the community and get your feedback and dare to share. And I just give them a whole spiel about progress, not perfection. And so much of that mindset is the same kind of mindset. Just like I said, it’s the same about design thinking, right? Where you empathize with your learners and you iterate and you iterate and you did a new idea, right? And so it really just changed what the outcomes I saw for my learners, the fact that they were dropped in there, they’re told to throw away their perfection. Just everybody’s doing it messy. Everybody’s grown up, they’re crappy websites, they’re crappy, you know, learning materials, they’re crappy scripts, they’re crappy e-learnings and just taking a stab at it. I saw people land jobs in two weeks, three weeks. And I mean, they had no experience as a corporate instructional designer. And so it was like, Aha. And so I know that so much for my learners and anybody who’s trying to make that transition really to any field, but especially instructional design, you know, my audience is they got to get over the perfectionism, the self-doubt, whatever, that like nagging, asking voices and just do the work and get feedback. And they grow as they do deliberate practice, which is to give feedback from an expert and keep moving forward. Yeah, I think that’s why they’re all books on step-by-step design.

Michael: I love it. And I think you really thought this differently because coming from schooling, right, it’s a very competitive place where you do want to put your best final draft out to get your grade right. And so it’s such a change in thought process to say, no, you’re going to put your rough draft out and then we’re going to crowdsource how to get to the final draft. And then the final draft will come from so many different minds. And that’s such a new-age way of thinking. So I love it. I love the idea. So the book comes out when exactly?

Dr. Sargent: August 19th.

Michael: August 19th. And it’s called “The Do It Messy Approach.”

Dr. Sargent: Yup that’s the official title, “The Do It Messy Approach”.  And then the subtitle is “A Step-By-Step Guide For Instructional Designers And Online Developers.” And really it’s a step-by-step guide where you could take 20 minutes a day and follow my instructions and write a full course prototype or script on any course topic for a corporate setting.

Michael: That’s amazing and is it going to be available on Amazon or where can they get this book?

Dr. Sargent: Yeah, definitely on Amazon. And then all the other places you can self-publish.

Michael: That’s amazing. That’s exciting. I’m so excited for you. Well, Dr.Sargent, it’s been great having you on the show. If the audience wants to get a hold of you, how can they do so?

Dr. Sargent: Yeah. Definitely, IDOLcourses.com is our main website. You can also find me on LinkedIn. Robin Sargent. We also are on LinkedIn as IDOL courses and IDOL Courses Academy and you can find me on Instagram and Facebook, and on Facebook we have become an IDOL Facebook group for anyone who’s interested in becoming an instructional designer.

Michael: Amazing. Thank you so much for all that information and best of luck with the book. Audience, make sure August 19th you’re going out there and picking it up and audience, until next time.

Michael: Thank you for tuning in. I hope that today’s episode inspired you to become a purpose driven leader in your career or your community. There is no doubt that when we lead with purpose, we can change lives. If you enjoyed today’s show, I’d be grateful if you would take a moment to rate us on your preferred listening platform. To learn more about Branded-Group’s be better experience and how we provide industry leading on demand, facility maintenance, construction management and special project implementation, visit us at www.branded-group.com Be sure to follow us on social media and you can also reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. Until next time, be better.

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