Thirty Under 30: Thomas van Kerkhof

headshot of thomas van kerkhof

The Learning Guild released their Thirty Under 30 in Learning selection for 2020, containing some of the top minds in the industry. These people are changemakers, and to celebrate that we took some time to interview these talented individuals to hear, in their own words, what it takes to be a leader in learning.

We spoke with Thomas van Kerkhof, the Senior Learning and Performance Consultant for Xprtise, a learning solutions company dedicated to modernizing learning so that L&D departments can adopt a strategy in which they make learning really happen in the flow of work, from a 5 Moments of Need perspective. He had a lot of wisdom to share when it came to learning strategy and solutions, so let’s dive in.

Tell us about your company and your role within it?

I’m a Learning and Performance Consultant at Xprtise, a Learning-consulting and -technology company that develops innovative learning and performance solutions in the Netherlands, U.S and UK. Xprtise works with learning and business professionals at organizations to identify the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities each employee needs to excel in their role; we deliver a full solution with a mix of strategies and technologies they can then use to solve their learning challenges, with a focus on “learning in the flow of work.”

In my work, I advise on learning and performance solutions across industries, like companies and organizations in healthcare, manufacturing, infrastructure, electricity and gas and government.

Tell me about some of the things you’re doing to stay current in the world of learning? Any people or companies you’re watching in the industry?

I find that in my role I have to be on top of the latest industry trends so I can advise my clients on the best tactics to meet their L&D challenges. I also learn quite a bit from taking on new projects and working on them collaboratively with my colleagues.

When a project has different people approaching it with their own experiences and perspectives, it’s easier to achieve the right mix of recommendations for a client. My colleagues have great insight on creative approaches with regards to strategy and the technical structures for projects—I’m constantly improving my skills by just being in the same room as them.

Attending conferences and joining learning-communities over the years has helped me to stay current, as well. Especially those with an international reach like the Thirty Under 30 cohort and being able to keep up with my fellow members after the Learning 2020 conference. We’ve developed a community together and we regularly keep each other up-to-date on things we’re hearing in the industry.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the learning industry?

I’m really a learning enthusiast. I really enjoy facilitating learning & performance for others—observing how people learn, thinking about how people learn best, and seeing the results at an organization when learning is done well.

At my company, the methodology we use with our clients helps us (and them) understand what people actually do in the workplace by interviewing key employees. We’re then able to interpret that information for our clients, identify what types of learning they (the employees and the organization itself) would benefit most from, and figure out how to support them in their next steps. It’s great that people in this industry are pragmatic and are always willing to try something new with a positive, “can-do” attitude.

What makes a good learning experience? How do you evaluate a good learning experience?

The qualitative answer is when someone learns something they didn’t originally think they were capable of. And that shows when they’re able to do their work better than they were before the learning experience. Sometimes that can be a very qualitative metric of measure.

It depends on the goals of the individual project though, and asking that question in the beginning: “How can we evaluate and measure the impact of our investment” Example goals for any project could be to increase productivity, to reduce the costs of formal training, or to have the team spend less time out of their daily workflow. We first talk about goals with clients at the organizational level and work with them to figure out how learning and development contributes to those goals. From there, we know what behavior the company wants to improve or support, and we’ll interview employees to identify areas of improvement in their daily workflows.

There are also classic models of evaluation, like the Kirkpatrick Model. First, looking at the reaction of the learners, then seeing if there’s a behavior change in them over time (i.e. Do they keep learning?), and analyzing if the long-term behavior changes in employees matches up with the organization’s goals. We also use different methods for evaluation at different levels of our process.

What’s the last thing you Googled about learning?

I think the last thing I searched for was related to developments in the healthcare field—looking for inspiration for a current project to make it more innovative instead of it adhering strictly to traditional learning theory.

What KPIs/metrics matter when it comes to good learning? What are the metrics you track or wish you could? How do you know that you’ve met those characteristics/qualities in your own work?

My goal in most of my projects is to look at Performance KPI’s. How can I create a workflow learning solution that improves both the Performance metrics of the individual performer as also the organizations own KPI’s on for example effectiveness, sales, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, higher productivity and more. A comparison between the metrics of the organization and the metrics of the learning is most valuable.

For example, at a manufacturing and production company you could compare the results from your learning with downtime of the organizational production equipment. If the goal of the organization was to reduce downtime in production, and that wasn’t a result of improving learning for the team, then maybe the learning didn’t do what it needed to.

That being said, comparing data usually brings up more questions for an organization on where to go from there once they’ve implemented a solution. But just because you don’t see your hypothesized results in one comparison doesn’t mean the learning was completely unsuccessful. Your team members could experience more moments of joy because they feel more confident on-the-job. Again, that’s a qualitative metric, but it still means the learning has contributed to the organization.

Tell me about your favorite learning projects you’ve ever worked on? What were the most successful parts of them? Why?

My favorite learning project in my career is a recent one. It was a project for a hospital in the Netherlands redesigning their education and training structure. One role this project specifically affected was the nurses taking care of children with cancer. Their jobs are demanding and it’s critical they’re treating their patients as accurately as they can.

We worked with them to adjust the strategy of their academy. The goal wasn’t to change the actual training material for the nurses, but to reinforce that material and their current practices with more on-the-job support. And with training that adapts to the learner. We provided the hospital the methodology and informed them on how to develop the training, supporting the hospital’s learning and development department to be able to develop the content from there.

On a scale of 1-10, how important are the visual design and overall aesthetic of learning content (10 is high)? Why?

8—In my opinion, content is what leads for learning. The learning content should connect with the flow of work and the design should do that as well.  The visual design has to enhance that material, making it more intuitive, attractive, and approachable. We’ve seen that in the content we’ve developed—making it more visually appealing has made people more enthusiastic to take it. A design that corresponds with the corporate identity also makes it more recognizable.  We’re seeing they’re more engaged because they’re spending quality time on the content.

Where do you see the learning industry going in a post-covid world?

I hope everyone learns to take their time choosing the learning ecosystem that’s right for their business, and the time to adapt to their own tools, too. At the moment, it’s a frenzy of people choosing any and every learning solution without being as informed as they could be on the right fit for their organizational needs.

People aren’t necessarily looking at learning and its tools for long term use, instead they’re being reactionary and trying to meet their team’s needs ASAP. Hopefully, in a less demanding, post-covid world, people learn that taking the time to properly vet content, platforms, programs, tools, and the like for their learning is worth the investment. And I also hope that they understand that choosing the right design and development methodology is as important as choosing the learning technology.

What excites you about the future of learning? What’s missing in the learning industry today?

It’s an industry that will never go away, and its developments are helping people to keep learning beyond the initial training in new ways. We’ve seen eLearning surpass what we thought was capable in digital environments, and it’s exciting to anticipate what its next evolution will be.

A lot of learning is still designed based on identifying content themes and structure first, but there should be an evaluation stage at the beginning of a learning project to identify what’s really needed to support employees.

If you think about it, the knowledge employees need to do their jobs changes every day, so observing how a team works or a “day in the life” exercise could tell you how to best improve competency, personal growth, or community among your team via learning better than an assumption about the support needed ever could.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to companies when it comes to learning?

The ROI is important, and a reason to focus on competency for the job itself. Even though, we should also pay attention to the learning culture and personal growth of your employees, for example when it comes to knowledge sharing and qualitative, soft skills. Companies tend to pay attention to results and efficiency more often than these aspects. When they’re combined, the results will be even better.

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We hope you found this interview as inspirational as we did! Want to keep in touch with Thomas van Kerkhof? Find him on LinkedIn.

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