employee learning program

How Coursera Encourages Its Millennial Employees to Keep Learning

Training and development are crucial to an organization’s growth and success. Employees need professional development to grow and be promoted to roles requiring more responsibility. Millennials are looking for more learning opportunities at work. This may be one reason that corporate training and development spending rose in 2017.

One company, Coursera, has achieved success by offering online courses to help people develop the skills they need to be successful at work. Coursera’s own workforce is relatively young, and Ian Stuart, Director of Learning and Development, explains how the company provides useful professional development for a millennial workforce.

Focus on the Big Picture

The amount of time a typical employee spends on learning development is decreasing over time. “In fact, one survey by Josh Bersin found that the typical employee spends 24 minutes per week (1% of their time) on their own development, which is a significant decrease over time,” Stuart says.

He doesn’t think that employees don’t want to learn; it’s just hard for them to find time to learn. “That’s why you need a targeted approach to learning,” Stuart says. “Connecting it to something that’s bigger, something that’s more important for the entire company, is really important for motivating people to learn.”

Stuart’s approach is connecting learning with the broader organizational goals, using company-level initiatives as drivers for developing learning platforms.

For example, when the organization was focused on rolling out a new performance-management system with 360 feedback, he created a series of learning resources and a workshop on feedback. “People needed to learn some best practices for giving and receiving feedback, so they could be tactful while sharing constructive feedback,” Stuart says. However, instead of just teaching them the process, he was also clear in explaining why feedback was important for their culture and how it connects to Coursera’s values as a company.

Learn to Lead

Many of Coursera’s senior employees are between 8 and 12 years into their careers, while the majority of employees are in their mid-to-late 20s. As a result, a lot of the training is foundational , because for some of the workers, this is their first job out of college.

Stuart says the company is encouraging their employees to take charge and bring ideas to fruition. “Culturally, we’re just trying to help people understand that they can get involved, they can have an idea and they can mobilize people to see that the idea is a good one, or they see a problem and they can mobilize people to solve it.”

Thriving at this level of autonomy and self-direction has to be taught. “There’s still a tendency for a lot of young people to look to the hierarchy for permission, or to look to people who are in positions of formal authority when things aren’t going well, rather than trying to solve the problem themselves,” he says. But the company wants to give employees concrete avenues for solving problems. “We need people to take charge and act like leaders at every level, so that’s another part of the culture that we’re trying to build,” Stuart says.

Prepare for the Future

Coursera is a customer of their own enterprise learning product, Coursera for Business, and the company has created Coursera for Coursera, a series of online courses focused on specific skills. There’s a collection for core business skills, a collection for leadership and management, a collection for technical skills for people in technical roles and technical skills for people in nontechnical roles. “I’ve curated the content in our program to match the broader skill areas that people need to build,” Stuart says.

He’s also working with the company’s more senior engineers — including Jon Wong, who is spearheading this project — to give junior engineers a broad understanding of how the different technologies they use at Coursera work, exposing people to different programming languages, tools, and platforms. “We’re trying to give all of our engineers a common baseline of knowledge. It’s a leadership opportunity for our more senior engineers, and eventually I’m hoping it leads to more internal mobility.”