Do our personal learning preferences actually affect how well we learn? And what makes learning new skills - like a programming language - so hard in the first place?
On this week’s episode of Dev Interrupted, we’re joined by Hywel Carver, founder & CEO at Skiller Whale. An expert in the principles and practices behind learning and knowledge retention, Hywel walks us through the best learning techniques for engineers.
He also discusses how engineering leaders can upskill their teams without hiring additional staff, why modern approaches to learning often fall short (think YouTube), and why there is no evidence to support the idea that personal learning styles, such as visual or kinesthetic, impact learning outcomes.
- (2:25) Why is it difficult to learn something new?
- (4:30) Learning types: passive, constructive, interactive
- (12:38) Learning hard skills vs 'power' skills
- (15:00) Do children and adults learn the same?
- (20:15) Problem with how new skills are taught
- (25:24) Upskilling your eng team
- (31:00) Tracking learning success
- (35:42) Best ways for engineers to learn new skills
Conor Bronsdon: Hey everyone. Welcome to Dev Interrupted. This is your co-host, Conor Bronsdon. And today we're joined by Hywel Carver founder and CEO at Skiller Whale. Hywel, welcome to the show.
Hywel Carver: Hi, Conor. I'm very happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Conor Bronsdon: And you're joining us from London today, is that right?
Hywel Carver: I am. I am in North London where it is gray and dull.
Conor Bronsdon: I'm over in the Seattle area same deal here. So it's a pleasure to have you to talk to and dive into some interesting info to, to pride. In both of our days, you've identified a problem that I think everyone in the audience can relate to, that knowledge isn't as sticky as what we'd like it to be.
I'm sure we've all felt this, and there's different statistics on the subject, but it's often noted that a person only remembers about 10% of a book within two weeks of reading. and that can make it difficult to learn and retain new skills, especially when the subject is coding. So that's why we're gonna chat today.
About what it takes to actually learn a new skill, put it into practice, and how if you're an engineering leader, you can build more skills in your existing team without having to hire more people. So let's jump right in. How, why is it so difficult to learn something new and what's going on in the brain when that happens?
Hywel Carver: So the reason it's difficult to learn something new is because the things have to be right in order to learn. We are generally not very good at optimizing the sort of scenario around us for the best learning. So in your entry, you talked about both reading a book and development of skills, which I would say are actually quite separate.
Things like reading a book is a good way of getting knowledge and information, which is necessary to get a skill, but it is not sufficient if you want the skill. Oh, then a base. Exactly. It doesn't get you able to do. It gets you able to maybe understand it best to do the thing, to actually have the skill and to be able to put it into practice.
You need to be doing it, you need to have a go. You need to fail and get feedback on that skill. And if you think about, if you think about any kind of. Critical application where we care about skills a lot. That's pretty much exactly what happens if you're training to be a, an airline pilot.
They don't just have you read the manual and then stick you in a plane. There's thousands of hours in flight simulators, which are constantly giving you feedback and letting you see the results of your actions and putting you in different scenarios and giving you the opportunity to respond to those and improve your skills before they let you actually fly the plane.
I think that is generally emblematic of how we should approach all skill learning. We need the knowledge, but we also need to put it into practice and do the thing, and before we can expect to have the skill. And so this is why to come back to your question, why it's difficult to learn something new is because often we conflate those things together and we think I've read the book, I should be able to do the thing.
And there's actually this gap in between, which is that trial and error and feedback process.
Conor Bronsdon: And to your point, there's also the challenge around the baseline actual learning in order to apply it right, where every human has different conditions around what makes, the right situation for them to learn.
How do you think about the differences that personality? And personal differences play in how quickly someone picks up a new skill or the baseline learning to start putting on a skill in a practice.
Hywel Carver: So this is super interesting because there is a commonly believed myth about people having a kind of a personal type.
So some people believe that they are. Like a kinesthetic learner. Some people believe they're a visual learner. They need to see things in order to learn. And the research, and all of the evidence points to the fact that there is no meaningful effect on learning outcomes. There's no disen discernible impact on how well you learn something.
If you learn according to the type that you think you are, you might enjoy it more. You might have that preference for that type, but you might not, it doesn't change how well you learn it. However, at a given time, there might be a situational thing where learning this particular thing, you need to see it visually.
That's just what's gonna be best for you. This other thing you need to hear that's gonna be best for you. Very situational is the thing. It's not about you as an individual. Which all comes back to this idea that you want to give people that the opportunity to learn in different ways.
So I personally, I'm a strong believer of having people be able to listen as well as read and, and when necessary have like access to visuals to help draw their, draw out the map of what they're learning and bring things into place. Stronger than that though, is. The kind of format of the learning itself.
So all of the things I've talked about so far are what you call passive learning and where you are given access to some kind of material and you consume it, which might mean reading a book, watching a video. There's a layer above that, which is what's called active learning. In active learning, you are interacting with the materials themselves.
So with a video, you might be taking like making bookmarks at specific points through the video with a book you might be highlighting passages, those, that's what's called active learning. The layer above that, which gets even better learning outcomes is what's called constructive learning.
And in constructive learning, that's the point where you're putting things into practice. So you are not just absorbing it passively. You're not just interacting with the materials actively. You are building something with the thing that you are learning immediately. And then the best form of learning, the one caps all of the others, is what's called interactive learning, which is that you are, when you are building something, but then you also have the opportunity to discuss it with other humans.
That's the thing that gives us. Strongest effects of learning. I don't know the sort of neurobiology behind it, but I believe what happens is that we get essentially a lot of our learning is tied to emotion. So there's this, it's what's called the affective model of learning. That we remember things and we remember how to do things because of emotions that we experience, like our memories for those are hooked onto in emotional resonance.
And if you think about your experience of. Reading a book or sitting in a lecture or watching a video. For me the most common emotion I would attach to that is boredom. Whereas the idea of building something is like a strongly satisfying feeling, and at least as a, as an engineer, as a software developer, the idea of making something is exciting.
The idea of making something and sharing it with other people. And talking about how we made it is the most emotionally resonant for me. It's the ones with the strongest emotions. And so I think that's why we see interactive learning as getting the best results. But I don't think that's evidenced.
Conor Bronsdon: That's really interesting because I can say for myself I often need to feel that confidence of having read the book first. I enjoy reading. I enjoy like reading about new skills or fantasy novels. I have to admit love a good like Lord the rank, something like that. When I dive into a new subject, I want to read and consume first before I put other into practice.
And that's just more of a, like a mental confidence thing. But I totally agree with you and I think the research really shows what you're saying, which is to actually understand that skill and learn. I have to do the hands on building after the learning, and that part is the fulfilling part afterwards.
But at least mentally, I have this staging thought where I feel like I need to do something one way first in order to feel as confident as I want. . But to your point earlier, it sounds like that's more about my personal viewpoint on what's gonna make me feel good about what, how I'm approaching something versus necessarily what's gonna be most effective.
Hywel Carver: So I actually think you need both. And also on, on the fantasy novels, I've just recently gone into Brendan Sanderson and if you haven't. Very much it's incredible. Like I'm only a few books in, but wow. What are you reading right now from him? it is the third one in the, what's it called?
The Storm Stormlight Archive.
Conor Bronsdon: Stormlight Archive. Oh, great. Yeah. Once you get to Words Over Ance, let me know.
Hywel Carver: That's the second one. I've just finished words. Oh, great. Okay. Yeah. And it was, yeah, lot of bombshells at the end and, but, oh yeah. .
Conor Bronsdon: Sorry, I don't wanna turn this to a book podcast.
Hywel Carver: When you start that second podcast, let me know. And I will be there. You
Conor Bronsdon: should check out Miss Bo by him too. If not another series. Really good.
Hywel Carver: My brother has recommended that to me. They're so much shorter yeah. So you a hundred percent need the passive learning first.
That's what I was gonna say. You need to understand what you're doing before you put it into practice. So I don't disagree with what you're saying at all, like with, because otherwise what you're doing is giving people, you're setting people up to fail. If you're saying go and solve this problem, but you give people none of the kind of knowledge and information they need to do that.
They are gonna fail. That's the equivalent of putting the pilot in the flight simulation, not telling them what the controls do. It's not gonna work for anyone. And you are gonna harm people's confidence. I would think of it more as about cycle time. So we think about cycle timing development as, like between a thing being requested, scheduled to be worked on, and then we get it into, to prod and that's like roughly our cycle time definition.
With learning. I think the cycle time is about how long it is before we get the information of what we're. Put it into practice of the skill and then get feedback on that skill. if you think about the read a book, watch a video, typically what happens is people do that often in their spare time, is how it's set up, as part of their work.
And then they might get the opportunity to put that into practice maybe a week later, two weeks later, maybe a day later, at which point they're far away from the learning environment anytime already lost a chunk of that learning. You've already lost a junk. You don't have anyone to go to for help and in unless you can't stack overflow.
But I don't really believe in learning by copy and paste. And so I don't think you're gonna learn from that. You might have worked out, you might now know the right terms to Google for and therefore you find a better stack overflow answer. I dunno that. I think you are learning a skill by finding that stack overflow answer.
I think really effective learning makes that feedback happen almost instantaneously. So it's. Not even you think about if you go on a course, if you go on a training course, often what they'll do is they'll give you like six or seven hours of, material, and then there's a kind of two hour long session at the end where you put it into practice.
I think you can do better than that. I think you can, in the course of an hour, tell people a small bit of the passive information, the first couple of paragraphs from the chapter of the book, if you like, and then give people a problem to solve and put it into practice and have them do that. And then you give them the next level of kind of complexity there.
We didn't tell you this before, but there's this other kind of layer to what you're learning that we've not talked about. Here's how that works. Now go and solve this problem with it. And so you are reducing that cycle time of learning from The sort of the go read a book model, which is like maybe a week, maybe two weeks long.
So the course model, which is maybe six hours long to the live coaching model, which is maybe five minutes long. So you still get that opportunity to read, understand, ask questions, and then you immediately get the opportunity to solve a problem with it, at which point you're ready to learn the next layer of complexity of the thing that you're trying to learn.
Conor Bronsdon: That definitely resonates with me because that coaching piece of having a media feedback, getting to put the skill in a practice and then go, oh, here's how I tweak it. That's certainly been my best experiences with learning. My question is, does this apply equally across all disciplines? for example, would a manager who's trying to learn new communication skills, forget those skills, the same rate as an engineer, might forget a new programming language they don't practice?
Or is there differentiation between, what people colloquially call like hard and soft skills.?
Hywel Carver: That's interesting. So I dunno about the full off of the kind of retention of the skill. My, my own experience has always been that with. Skills are like riding a bike in that, riding a bike is a skill and it's the kind of thing where if you don't do it for a while, I dunno when I last rode a bike actually, but I reckon I'd get back on a bike and I'd remember how to ride.
Sure, yeah. I also haven't written any, I don't know, c plus for a good few years, but I think give me a day of riding in c plus and I recognize be not far off the level I was when I stopped And I think it's the same with soft skills. I'm trying to think of, so I have this like lifelong mission to rebrand them as power skills.
Cause I think they're soft undersells them. So I'm gonna call 'em power skills. And I think, I can't think of power skills that I don't really use anymore, but my feeling is that it would be the same kind of a thing of returning to the skill. Slowly getting back into it and being roughly where I was before.
Conor Bronsdon: Yeah, I think I agree. I like the example I'm thinking of maybe would be something like selling or fundraising where it's something that maybe you'd only do every couple years if you're a startup leader, or maybe you don't do after you stop being a founder and you go work in another role, but coming back to it, you'd still retain a lot of that skill, but, okay, how do I approach this?
How do I. . And to be fair, you're probably doing selling day-to-day. Even if you're not selling to customers, maybe you are pitching other internal teams to support initiatives. So maybe part of that is these power skills you are using often in your day-to-day because they just relate to human interaction.
Hywel Carver: Yeah, I think that's true actually. I think that's a fair point. Like I am amazed at how much overlap there. And in managing and leading teams and companies and like being in a band the nu the number of kind of HR problems that come up in like a small space of time when you're in a Oh totally.
And you're just like, okay. Like I've got a know now. I was in a band before the pandemic and then I moved away from Central London. It became unsustainable to traveling for practices. All right. The people in that band, they know who they are. They know I'm talking about them. Okay. Okay. .
Conor Bronsdon: before the call, you had mentioned that you have children, and I know you have some thoughts around the applications of how children learn to understanding the way adults learn. What have your children taught you about what it means to learn a new skill and how intuitive or what kind of process they use?
Hywel Carver: Yeah, and what amazes me is that it is exactly the same. It's not something I bring up often cuz I think it feels condescending. Like I think most adults don't want to hear that the way that they would learn to write software is very similar to the way that children learn. But I think it really is. I have a, so I have a one and three quarter year old.
Daughter and a nearly five year old son. And they are both, they're both talking now, which is wonderful. There is nothing I love more than hearing them talk at you. It's great, but you really see the way they pick up both vocabulary, which is a form of knowledge and information, and skills, which is the kind of how-to of stuff.
So vocabulary my son will hear us talking about three weeks ago, he will bring up the word. Now today, having not heard it for ages. And that's because knowledge, you can learn passively. You can learn knowledge just by absorption. And one of the best ways to learn knowledge is, what's called, oh, I'm gonna forget the way it's like phased recall, but one of those words is slightly wrong.
But essentially you get, you basically get tested on the same thing again and again. Increasing intervals of time between each test unless you get it wrong, in which case the interval gets smaller. Really efficient way to learn knowledge. And that is essentially, School works for my son is they, he's learning to, to read and they will essentially do that kind of like regular drill of the different sounds in words.
And then they just absorb that passively. The skill is in the doing. And so the skill of actually being able to read is then putting those phonics into the practice, those sounds that he's learned so that when he reads a word, he is like associating what he sees with the word. And you see how quickly.
They go around that feedback loop like a child is incredibly fast. It's a machine optimized for learning and going around this loop of I tried something, I failed, someone told me the right thing to do and now I'm getting better. And that in, in walking. And there, there is a strong feedback loop when they fall over and get hurt while walking around.
That in speech when they get corrected or when they've misunderstood, a word and. A grownup says, this is actually what that thing means, or you meant to say this. You can see sometimes in real time. Like my son will start a sentence and then will correct himself partway through.
And so you can see I don't think he's consciously doing that, but some, a sort of mechanism inside his brain is putting that feedback loop into action. So yeah, to me the parallels feel really clear, but I worry that it sounds like infantilizing to people, to be told that they learn in the same way as children, but I think they do.
I think we all.
Conor Bronsdon: And I would say children have some advantages too around feedback loops to your point where as an adult with small children you're probably very aware of, oh this piece of vocabulary is wrong. They have a coach who is there who is helping them a lot, and they, so they get those tight feedback loops that really help them learn aggressively.
And you also see less masking behavior usually of oh I'm not confident. Skill me avoid it because they're. I wanna say they don't know better, but they're just going into it. They're building up skills. And I think once you hit a certain, I dunno about a certain age, but as you transform through society, you get, you have to like, have different behaviors to try to show confidence in skills.
Whereas a children are often just trying to approach and say, Hey, I'm just trying to learn. I don't have any of that exterior stuff to worry.
Hywel Carver: And I think that's one of the things that we are generally good at creating for children is that environment where failure is safe and encouraged.
And not every environment is like that for adults. In, in some companies, there's, it's very clear that it's okay to fail, it's okay to try things and for them to not work. And in other companies if you try things and they don't work, then you will have no chance of advancement.
You'll have no. No chance of promotion or even get fired.
Conor Bronsdon: How do you think engineering leaders should create that kind of environment for their teams where it's okay to fail and learn?
Hywel Carver: So I think that is a, that is really about working culture and the things that you value, in your company culture.
There's this theory of, it's called the fifth discipline. The learning organization, an organization that is really well adapted for learning. And part of that is that learning has to happen on all kinds of levels, right? The best companies are ones that are actively learning and understanding more about the customers they're selling to, but also about the ways that they need to build their product.
And that comes right back down to the actions of individual software developers that they need to be getting feedback, on what they're doing and learning from it and improving, which I imagine is something that's very relevant to, to what LinearB B does.
Conor Bronsdon: Absolutely. do you see. Sounds like you see problems with how new skills are often taught today and the environmental approach for a lot of teams in how they enable skill.
Hywel Carver: So I, I think I would twist that slightly on its head. I think people don't try and learn, have their team learn skills, because they. Their experience has led them to believe that it is not possible to effectively learn skills on the job, which honestly, for the sort of standard ways of learning, I think is true.
If you look at the kind of learning landscape, I think there's a very big bucket of learning, which I would call e-learning. It's the kind of online access to libraries of videos and content that you can access, which is really well optimized for people to go and. Understand new things, research things, broaden their horizons, investigate things they're interested in or passionate about that aren't really related to their work.
You're probably not gonna get a new skill that way unless you have the time to put it into practice in, in your spare time. Or maybe your work gives you like 20% time to spend a day a week trying that thing out, but you're not gonna get an actionable skill from that content. And then there's a, another kind of broad part of the market, which is classroom-based learning.
So this is the kind of, let's go on a course for a few days. We're all gonna be in the same room
Conor Bronsdon: with our whole teams, take a scrum course or something.
Hywel Carver: Exactly. So we're all gonna go, we've got our kind of prints to certified person at the front, trainer at the front of the room.
They're gonna take us through a course of five days of scrum training. Which is not, again, not well optimized for people to actually learn new skills from. It's well optimized to give you access to an expert to get understanding, to potentially try things out. But again, The tho those models are really great for the trainer.
Honestly, that's such an amazing model to be a trainer in, because you can bring everyone together. You're often charging by the head, although, yep that's not gonna be true in every case. And so to get everyone in a room, you've got a book of space as a bit of admin, but the margins as a trainer are
Conor Bronsdon: amazing.
Great business model, not necessarily great for
Hywel Carver: students. Not great. Yeah. I don't think it gets the best learning outcomes. And that's because by necessity, that model requires you to be generic. I can't specialize to each person in the room, because there are so many of them. If you are a trainer standing at the front of that room, I don't wanna take away from those trainers.
I think they are. Often highly skilled people are really expert in what they're doing with very good intentions, but the standard model for learning that they essentially get pushed into is not one that gets great outcomes. And I think if you are an engineering leader looking around at this landscape, why would you think that there is great learning available that is gonna change the shape of what your team can actually do?
There's learning available that's gonna give your team the opportunity to explore their interests and their kind of ho coding as a hobby side of their lives. And there's learning which I think is great for compliance personally, like that kind of classroom training. If I have a tick box exercise that says everyone needs to be.
Trained in GDPR or HIPAA or ISO 27, or maybe that's a bad example, some kind of security compliance say that kind of course is perfect for that. I can just pay my fee, get everyone certified at the end that they completed the course. And then I have proven that we are now, we have ticked the box on our compliance regime that says we have to provide that
Conor Bronsdon: training.
It's not necessarily developing great skills.
Hywel Carver: It isn't. So I think you can do the course for the kind of security compliance, but then you also need to get the skills in the team, which is an or orthogonal task. If you want to actually have a secure web application, leave the course behind, come to the course when you need the compliance tick box.
If you want your, web app to be. Invest in people's skills or invest in people. The typical model we go for is not invest in people's skills, but invest in new people who already have those skills. We look for the person who's already spent 10 years securing web apps, and we bring them into the company rather than take our existing people, and give them the kind of security skills that they need.
Do you see that as the right approach? It's not a cost effective approach, but again, in a world where you don't have great effective learning, It probably is the right approach. It's probably the best way to do that. Otherwise, and this was one of the impetus for me starting Skill Whale, otherwise the way that you solve that problem is if you're not gonna hire, you have to take it on.
You have to be the one who sits with your team and coaches them and upskills them in the stuff that you know, or you have to rely on your network to come and. I don't know, either find freelancers or consultants or agencies who can come in and do a kind of fix up job for you that you can then try and maintain over time in, in a world without learning that solves that problem with your existing people.
You need outside help.
Conor Bronsdon: So let's use a thought exercise to frame how you would approach the building a skillset across a team. If I approached you and asked you to help my team learn something, let's say learning React native as an example, where would you start?
Hywel Carver: Excellent question. So I talked a bit about the, different models of learning I see out in the.
At Skill? We developed a new one for exactly this reason, because honestly, I was I just wanted a way of getting my existing people to have the skills that I needed to see in the team and live team coaching is the way that we do that, which is not the same as e-learning. It's not the same as the kind of training course approach.
The idea is firstly, we want to make sure that you are not gonna spend any time on learning that isn't relevant to the company's strategy. So I think learning should be targeted to individual skill gaps, but get the team level outcome that's required. So if you want to learn if you want your team to learn react native, I would start by working out which areas of React native matter to you.
And I would also start by working out the individual skill. Of each person in your team, so maybe you are so
Conor Bronsdon: customize approach per person on the.
Hywel Carver: Yes. And per company, right? That's the other thing is people there's existing organizations that will customize per person that will say, ah, we, we've looked at your skillset and you are in the intermediate group.
So you go into bucket number two, and then there's, a bucket either side of you, and we're gonna take each of those buckets through the same. Each person in the beginner group goes through this generic course, each and the intermediate goes through that generic course, which is a little bit of an optimization for the company, but it means some tedium for the learners.
And I think boredom is the opposite of learning, right? And I think that in order to learn effectively, you want to be very granular. So I don't wanna know. Do you know type script? Do you know React, but you dunno. React Native grape will start on React native day one. I wanna know which bits of react don't, do you know?
Text component, which is like really core part of React native. Great. We're gonna start there with you. The person next to you is completely different, and so that's how I would target individual skill gaps for that team level outcome. I would then have you solve problems that are specific to the current area that we're working on.
So that example of the text component, I would start by giving you an app to work on. I would tell you some stuff about the text component, tell you some of the properties it has, the ways you can style the text. And then I'd have you go and solve those, solve a problem in the app. Like here is a, some text on the screen.
We want this text to be read and bold. And then I'll tell you about the way that those things nest. So the way text components work in React Native is that, an in a text component you can put a text component inside another one, which means it then inherits all of those style properties. If you don't do that, like two sibling text components will render on.
Separate lines from each other. And so I'll say, now go and make one of those words italic as well. For example, slight, a slightly boring example. We, I'd like to think we'd come up with a more fun one, something a bit more realistic to an application. But the problem, the point is you're gonna be solving problems.
And while you're doing that, we're gonna give you a live coach who is there not just to answer your questions. And not just to check that you've understood, but also to help you debug your code. You are quite new to react the feedback loop we talked about earlier, right? So they're gonna be able to see your code live every time you save the file, and they'll be able to say, ah, just so you know, the way that you've defined that style will work.
But if you want to be more future-proof, you might choose to do it this way instead. And then lastly, I think the, a really key component is that all of that learning is gonna. in working hours. It's not something that's left to be a kind of hobby in your spare time, but it's also gonna be in small time units because you are a working developer.
You've got a lot of other stuff to be getting on with, but also you need an opportunity to put in place what you've learned. So I think a lot of existing learning basic, if you think about the e-learning model, it's very much like on demand. Next time you have a free hour come back and we'll show you the next video.
The classroom course is the opposite. It's like here is a fire hose of new information and at some point you're gonna go and put that stuff into to practice. I think there is a sweet spot in the middle where you get that kind of 60 to 90 minutes of new ideas, live feedback, and you come away with, now I know this thing.
I didn't even understand anything about the text component before. Didn't know what it was, didn't know how to use it, and now that is a thing that I very concretely and. Understand and I can go and start using that. And then when you've had a week or two weeks of feeling like the master of the text component, that's when you learn the next thing.
And that's when you take the next step on that journey. That's how you would optimize learning to get you very deeply. Skilled at a thing that you didn't know before, really confident in it because you've had that constant, ability to get feedback and you've had the chance to put it into practice before any more complexity was added.
And we've ensured that it's targeted to what you need and what your team needs you to know.
Conor Bronsdon: How would you track success and say, okay, great, this project is done, we've succeeded, or, we have more
Hywel Carver: Yeah. Interesting. So I think learning has success in multiple levels. So the standard approach is what's often in the industry called the Happy Sheet.
At the end of learning, we give you the happy sheet, and if you're happy, we call that a success. That is generally a good first step. That's a good proxy towards long-term impact, and it seems to be the best short-term measure you can get of the impact of learning. What gets exciting is the sort of medium-term measures.
So I, I think of learning as is always a means to a noncommercial, like a not. Commercial end, the question is what that end should be. So if you think about, the kind of video library type learning, the e-learning that has the end of reducing the churn of my employees, that's the kind of the most commercial thing.
We can tie that to learning that makes your team more skilled. We'll have a goal for you learning React native. That might be, we want to be able to support fewer code bases. We want to be able to close down our, like our old Java and objective C code bases and just have a single unified ath on two different platforms.
It might be that you are already a back end developer and a front end developer, and we want you to be able to work. Mobile app as well. So the actual medium term outcome from you learning React native might be really different depending on what the overall commercial goal is. But I think good learning is about looking at that and keeping that aim in mind and tracking it.
It's not enough to just say Conor came to the sessions, all the Happy Sheets says that Conor was really delighted to be learning about React native. But at the end of the day, The apps haven't changed. We're still supporting two apps. Like Conor's not confident in working React native in his work.
He's still sticking to, I don't know, the backend, Kubernetes and Ruby. And in that case, I think that's a failure of learning. I think you have to see. That impact
Conor Bronsdon: in, I like that you're aligning this to the goals of the enterprise, right? So you see this in individual life too, right? Or maybe I am learning carpentry to, to build a table because I want to, custom build a table and I need to build some skills for it, but I may not need all these other pieces of skills cause I'm trying to do a certain task or achieve a certain goal.
And so that alignment to what I should spend time. As far as what's gonna be efficient for me, learning wise and successful outcomes is really crucial. So I think there's a lot of time that gets spent, especially in these e-learning courses you've talked about where maybe I am just reviewing material that I'm never gonna put into practice and it's not actually going to help achieve the goals.
Just conte contextual. And that can be important at times, but it's often overdone
Hywel Carver: or worse, even worse than that. Like I agree that. Bullshit and a waste of your time. Worse than that is stuff that you've already know. Yes. Because so many of these things are set up to be like, okay, you are on this path now.
Greatly is, we found the path for you. The first three hours are just stuff that, there might be a nugget in there that
Conor Bronsdon: you didn't already. Am I listening? By the time it gets to the stuff that I don't know.
Hywel Carver: Did you even bother sitting through it or did you just Yeah. Skip to the end of the videos?
Yeah. It's just a waste, it is just a waste of people's time. And yeah. To your point about aligning two company goals, I think. So I think that the vast majority of training that exists is second order away from cost reduction. So the kind of compliance training that we need to tick this box helps us reduce the risk being told we're what's the word in breach of contract.
We are not keeping up with our, the regime we're meant to be compliant with. It's that kind of legal risk reduction. The e-learning is about reducing the cost of churn, the cost of people leaving the company, and therefore having to be replaced. Live team coaching is second order away from increasing revenue.
We think we can increase revenue by having an app where we can ship features faster, and we are gonna do that by having more people, including this team over here, be very good at React Native. And that's the way that live team coaching works is to look at improv. Improving revenue and therefore profitability through learning rather than decreasing costs through learning.
Conor Bronsdon: So I'd love to close out this conversation by talking a bit about explicitly applying these techniques to an engineering team. This thought exercise has been really helpful and I've loved the info you kinda in the background. But let's be explicit. What's the best way for engineers to learn new?
Hywel Carver: The best way for engineers to learn new skills is to have the opportunity to learn the base knowledge, put it into practice, and get immediate feedback from an expert. So this is one of the things we do at Skill or well. This is, we're a company that's entirely set up for this live team coaching, targeted,Problem based, experiential feedback based approach to learning.
But we're also completely transparent about how we do it all. And so if people want to go and recreate it themselves, you absolutely can. So if you want a team to learn new skills really effectively, you firstly need to identify and break down the skill that's to be learned. So we talked a bit about React native.
Here's what the idea of a prop is in React. Here's the idea of the text component in React native. Then you want to assess whether each person in a group already can do that thing or not. That's really critical for being able to target the learning and best ways of doing that look like questionnaires, like quizzes, ideally ones that where possible ask people to write some code or answer a code-based question.
From that, you can then work out exactly which bits of learning are required, which bits of those technologies do we care about on our team, and which bits of what we care about. Does each individual still need to. And then you can run sessions on those smaller targeted modular areas. Invite just the people who need to learn that area, give them the information they need, and a problem to solve, ideally, in these very kind of tight feedback loops.
So that you are building up the ideas across that hour, maybe five or six iterations between, here's an idea, and now write some code, solve a problem in those five layers across the session. And then what you'll see is people are learning the skills that you need them to have that they don't already have.
And they are learning them in a very actionable, translatable way, as in they translate to work readily.
Conor Bronsdon: What about learning attitudes? How can leaders promote learning on their teams and actually get people excited about it?
Hywel Carver: My experience is, has always been that people are very excited about learning and not at all excited about training.
And I think that's because the default model, the model that we are used to prioritize the time of the trainer. So if I'm a trainer, I can record a video and then I can give it to a million people, each of whom pays me a buck. And good news is I'm a millionaire. Bad news is everyone had to watch my video about stuff they already knew potentially.
Th those things still have value. They're just not the kind of skill-based learning that we're talking about. But that's why if we say, oh, we're undertaking this training exercise, your head will go to, Ugh. I signed up for that course and it was like 40 hours and there were the three hours of videos that went relevant to me.
And then there were the 36 hours of videos that were like way beyond where I'm currently at. And there was like one hour of, there was one like hour of nugget in there that I had to really dig around. It's extremely passive as well. It's just a, an approach that lends itself to boredom. I th I think this is why those companies really struggle for engagement, right?
It's why it's such a key measure of the MOOCs and the video libraries is because it is quite hard to get people to, to keep coming back. It requires a lot of motivation. I think actual good learning. Is in itself feels very rewarding because you immediately are like, I didn't know that thing before, and now I feel like the world's fucking expert at it.
I've solved all these problems. I incent it really deeply. Someone who really knows their stuff is has answered all of my questions and made the thing click for me so that now I rock it and like I'm ready to go and solve problems with it. So I think actually the hurdle to overcome though I see is much more about methodology than about learning itself because people like learning and people learn by accident.
Even people have conversations about TV programs they watched last night, right? We are good at learning stuff and recalling it and being able to talk about it over a matter of a 12 hour cycle, even when it's completely irrelevant to the thing. We spend eight hours a day. If you could make learning that was enjoyable and targeted, which is like you look at research about what people say they want from learning, I think it's 97%, certainly 90 plus percent of people say they want learning that is highly targeted to what they actually need, which suggests that's not what they're getting already.
I think as soon as you do that, you are a huge step towards it being enjoyable. As soon as you. About doing something rather than just absorbing information. You are another massive step closer. And so it might just be the case of getting people on board with the way that you're going to learn first, and then actually you won't face any friction at all with getting people to want to learn.
Because ultimately I think people do want to learn. They just don't wanna be trained.
Conor Bronsdon: Well said. Hywel, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. If you enjoyed this conversation, you can find Hywel on Twitter, h underscore Carver, or as the host of his own podcast for Tech Leaders. The POD presents primarily context-based.
Thanks for listening, and thanks for coming on the show.
Hywel Carver: Thank you so much. I've really enjoyed it.
Conor Bronsdon: Fantastic. Everyone, we will see you next week. And don't forget if you haven't already, We are trying to get more, reviews on Apple Podcasts. So take two minutes, give us a quick review on iTunes or Apple Podcasts. Two sentences, five stars means the world to us. And thanks so much for listening.
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