Alex Hamdy, B2B marketing manager, meets ustwo, a global digital product studio, and finds out how their London team did a FutureLearn course using blended learning.
In the first of two blog posts, Alex Hamdy, FutureLearn’s B2B Marketing Manager, meets ustwo, a global digital product studio, and finds out how their London team did a FutureLearn course using blended learning.
I’m a firm believer that learning together is always more fun, be it with your colleagues, friends or other professionals around the world. Earlier this month, a group of professionals from ustwo did just that and completed their first FutureLearn course, Developing Cultural Intelligence for Leadership.
I got in touch with them and spoke to Heather Taylor Portmann, the Learning and Development Lead, to understand how they went about doing the course and what they learnt.
Who are ustwo?
ustwo is a global independent digital product studio, founded in 2004.
It builds award-winning digital services and businesses for some of the world’s biggest brands including Google, Sky, Ford, Adidas and DeepMind.
With 300 people spread across four studios around the world – in London, New York, Malmö and Sydney – ustwo brings creative design and product thinking to a range of projects, from apps and interfaces to service design. ustwo also develops its own products and joint ventures, incubating and investing to create standalone businesses.
Why did they use FutureLearn?
Learning about cultural leadership was important for ustwo as they have studios in four very different countries, collaborate with clients from all sorts of organisations, and develop products for diverse customer groups.
Heather explained to me:
“ustwo is a flat yet complex organisation and so, while we don’t have managers, we do want all ‘ustwobies’ to develop their personal leadership skills. To have everyone go on a face-to-face executive training course would be great but far too traditional for ustwo, and no doubt really expensive. Doing an online course, like one from FutureLearn is a smart way for anyone in our studio to fit learning around their day-to-day work.”
And, of course, they wanted to use a reputable provider:
“With so many online learning platforms out there, it is hard to work out what makes a good investment of time and energy. Many of the courses are probably not worth putting on your CV, and it is hard to determine quality before you begin. Having personally completed a FutureLearn course before, and knowing the reputation of the lead educator on the course, Julia Middleton, it was a great opportunity to be able to participate. The fact it is free to participate means everyone can get involved.”
How did they approach the course?
The ustwo team decided that using blended learning was the best way for them to do the course, this meant using Slack and regular meet-ups.
When I asked about why they chose blended learning, Heather explained:
“The main reason for trying this approach was a bit of an experiment to see how we can make an online course feel real for staff, keep the topic interesting and for the knowledge learnt to stay with them longer. Sharing is such an important part of learning, in person or online. Particularly on this course about cultural differences, you need to experience how people see things in a different way to you. For a topic like leadership, the discussions and interaction is where you find out the real answers and where the course really comes to life. Just studying it on-demand online, you lose this whole dimension.”
They also found that commitment to the course was greater because they were doing it together.
“Having a couple of dedicated people pulled the rest of us through and kept us going, especially towards the end of the course.”
How did they get started?
Heather initially shared the link to the course on the Learning and Development Slack channel, allowing staff to openly volunteer to join the course. For those who signed up, a new Slack channel was created using the course hashtag (#FLdevelopCQ) and the group were told in more detail about how blended learning would work.
How did they keep going?
The team at ustwo decided to meet on a fortnightly basis for about an hour to share thoughts and findings from the course, any difficulties they may have experienced and how they had answered the assessments.
Ahead of each meetup, whichever team member was ahead would share the key exercises for that week on Slack and the responses to the exercise would be discussed at the meetup that week.
I was pleased to hear from Heather about how well it worked.
“The first discussion was amazing – everyone had read the material and done the activities in advance for week one. Each of us shared our interpretation of the activities and what we thought was most interesting. We realised quite quickly, though, that with the amount of course content to consume and preparation for each week we had to push our weekly meetups to every two weeks and give everyone the opportunity to properly engage with the course material and personally reflect.”
Each staff member involved could decide how they wanted to learn at their convenience, be it at work during non-billable hours, using their annual training allocation, or at home.
How did the team find social learning?
To get the most out of the course the team at ustwo were encouraged to participate socially on the platform, on Slack and in person.
“The social learning element is the missing piece of the puzzle that gets learning to stick with people and to help with completion rates. By being able to share your thoughts, ideas and be exposed to people from all over the world sharing their own ideas, this meant we could connect the dots and gain greater understanding.”
At times however, some team members found it tricky to share their personal thoughts on the platform, as they felt too vulnerable. This is where the meetups came in handy:
“ustwo has a very open culture in the office and everyone is willing to share their thoughts and ideas. The meetups allowed for tricky conversations about unconscious biases to be easily addressed within a safe environment and without judgement.”
Where appropriate, highlights from these meetups were also shared on the internal Slack channel and with other learners on FutureLearn, using the discussion steps or comment areas on the course.
Michelle, a User Experience Designer who took part in the course said, “Being able to progress through the course alongside my work colleagues was extremely beneficial for me. Having the opportunity to talk through and explore the content in a safe space with others has helped me to gain more understanding and really cement what I’ve learned.”
So what are ustwo doing next?
At the end of the course the London team explained how interesting they found examining cultural differences, and how useful it was. They’re big fans of giving feedback at ustwo but cultural differences can be a challenge, so the course has helped the team be more aware of when people might have different preferences.
ustwo are now going global with their blending learning: promoting the Cultural Intelligence for Leadership course to more of their colleagues in London and hoping ‘ustwobies’ in their NYC and Malmo studios might take part. They’re even including the FutureLearn Cultural Intelligence course as a recommended resource to all staff following an internal training program on unconscious bias.
“I really enjoyed taking part in the cultural leadership course. The structure allowed me to slot the lessons into my working week and still felt like I was progressing at a good pace. I found the content to be really impactful and it has stayed with me since completing the course. I’ve inspired a few of my friends to sign up!” – Michelle, UX Designer
If you’re feeling inspired by the team at ustwo – find out more how you could use FutureLearn at work. Or you can join the Cultural Intelligence for Leadership course that ustwo did.