Each innovator in this spotlight series illustrates aspects of the New Learning Ecosystem in action. GLEAC (pronounced ‘ “geek with an L” as Sallyann Della Casa would say) focuses on assessing and developing strengths and gaps in human+ skills for current and future jobs with job role and industry specific modular or micropractice learning, in 10 minutes a day.

In November 2017, Sallyann Della Casa launched GLEAC, an artificial-intelligence-driven skills assessment and training tool that fosters individual self-awareness and teaches what she calls “human skills.” Those skills combine 200-plus behavioral elements, such as persuasiveness, thinking on your feet, and altruism, with 10 core workforce skills, such as creativity, collaboration, and decision-making. Each GLEAC learning journey is specific to the user and job role, with a focus on practicing the skills and providing ongoing feedback to make them stick.

GLEAC collaborates with schools, businesses, and governments to identify areas of growth for users tied to specific job roles or industries. It then helps measure and report with ongoing feedback on learner outcomes and overarching organizational impact over time. In designing GLEAC (a word that means “a person who creates their own life path” and an acronym for Della Casa’s foundation, Growing Leaders Entrepreneurship Academy for Creatives, which does similar work offline), she hopes to give others a better pathway to build their strengths and find career opportunities where they can thrive regardless of education or experience.

To Della Casa, one of the chief problems with most learning and development programs focused on human skills is the inability to personalize and measure their long-term impact. Are employers getting a strong return from their training investment? Are learners building relevant skills and getting feedback in real time that is aligned to who they are and where they want to go? GLEAC aims to solve that problem with a targeted and modular or micropractice-based curriculum.

The first step is a baseline individualized behavioral benchmark. This acts like a GPS starting point, giving learners insight into their individual strengths and providing personalized guidelines on what to develop. Next comes the customized microlearning curriculum, which is structured and delivered as a series of daily practices that increase in level of difficulty. Then, learning is supported by ongoing coaching and feedback from peers as users can see how others answered the same questions, anonymously, and how others applied the same skills being practiced. This is where Della Casa feels most online learning falls short. When it comes to human skills, it is critical learners get feedback on how others are applying the same skills in the same job situations. Finally, learners retake the behavioral benchmark every few months to validate skills development and behavior shift. Over time, the learner and employer can assess how the skills are being adopted and better understand the direct impact to the organization.

We spoke with Della Casa to learn more about GLEAC and the way it’s changing skill development for learners and organizations worldwide.

Q: Tell me about the skills that your program focuses on.

Sallyann Della Casa: There are 10 umbrella skills we talk about that are critical to the future of work, such as creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, judgment and decision-making, emotional IQ, mindfulness—these types of skills. We all have different names for these same skills—like SEL (social and emotional learning), soft skills, 21st-century skills, etc.—but they all fall under our main clusters of skills which map to over 200 behaviors relevant in the workplace.

Q: How do you help people identify the skills they need to learn?

Della Casa: We start with a hypothesis as our point of departure. We use a behavioral benchmark, which you take several times on your learning journey to track your shifts in behavior. This benchmark is not a personality test, which tends to be static, and one-and-done. Our benchmark is about 75 to 95 percent accurate as a knee-jerk reflection of how you behave. It’s a hypothesis for us to say, I think this is where you are right now based on a combination of things, but let’s check your hidden areas, blindspots, or behaviors based on your experience etc. These behaviors then get mapped to our 10 umbrella skills. At that point, learners can choose specific industries and sectors of work where those skills would be applied. It’s this combination that underpins the learning journey and micropractice.

Q: How long does it take for someone to learn these skills?

Della Casa: It is different for each person. We are all driven by the same science of habit-building. It can take as little as 30 days or up to eight months, providing there is consistent practice, varying degrees of difficulty, and feedback provided to stay on track. It’s important to know your rate of learning or how long it takes you to shift behaviors, because it helps you  understand how long and how difficult it may be to shift into a new career in an entirely different industry. This self-awareness allows you to make decisions that help you to thrive because you know how you best learn and how long it takes you to adapt, and what you need to do to be successful. Most of the time we are trying to find areas where people are most agile and optimize those behavioral shifts fairly quickly. The power of an employer being able to understand the hidden strengths and/or learning agility of each member of a workforce is priceless in making business strategy decisions in the unpredictable world of work today.

Q: What do you think a learning and development system needs to be effective? 

Della Casa: There are four stages to any kind of intervention or training. There are inputs, outputs, outcomes, and impact. Most of us forget outcomes and impacts. And this is what happens in the upskilling space a lot of times and why the learning doesn’t stick or provide much ROI—there needs to be a focus on outcomes and impact. From very early on with my foundation work, we tracked learners for up to five-plus years and kept an eye on what was happening across schools and corporations with regards to their training and development in human skills. Consistently, the skills were not being demonstrated as outcomes, nor was there any lasting impact for the learner or employers.

Q: Why is it so important for upskilling training programs to focus on outcomes?

Della Casa: I’ve always been a data nerd. Data tells stories and learning requires practice. Both are tangible and measurable. You should have the ability to see how and when learning is happening and take action on that data in real time versus waiting for some report to come out at the end of the quarter or the end of the year. When you look at what happens the minute an intervention stops, that is where you get to see outcomes and impact. It is well known that learning retention drops to under 20 percent if not applied within seven days after an intervention. It was tracking the data that gave me hints of this black hole into which employers have been throwing dollars. Most upskilling as we do it today is not working. The ROI is not strong. And if I’m going to invest the time and effort, the outcome and the impact of that is where the gold is. Sadly, I think most HR departments are still thinking in terms of “I’m supposed to give my employees learning. I have an LMS platform. OK I have checked the box.” It’s not yet, “How is/should upskilling be driving the business and the bottom line with a metric I can measure, and how do I actually give individual learning to each person based on their needs? The same applies to educators who are still delivering one-size-fits-all education.

Q: How do you help employers see the benefit of GLEAC’s approach?

Della Casa: If I speak to them in the language they know, which is how it impacts the bottom line, then I have a chance to shift the needle. I learned this while heading People for Careem, the ride–hailing app which was recently purchased by Uber. There was a major attrition issue in 2016 for them. On my first week on the job, I asked for a data scientist to work with me on spotting patterns. We were able to spot exactly the months where attrition and burnout were happening and tie it to performance indicators and patterns of behavior. From there, it was easy to come up with a targeted plan to solve the issue. The data spoke to the Careem founders in their language, being both tangible and measurable. It was eye-opening and exciting work. If you just look at the last three years of something like the LinkedIn Learning Report, you will see most of the learning spend is on behavioral or soft skills. That was not the case five years ago. We’re finally riding a human skills wave right now. Companies finally recognize that these skills matter. Now the big question is how to develop them and measure them against business KPIs in the short and long term.

Q: How do you design your training programs to make sure that these skills stick?

Della Casa: As much as we all want to learn, we’re just lazy. So we have to come up with ingenious ways to make sure the investment in any kind of training or learning stays with you and tattoos your brain. We are constantly working on this at GLEAC. In the future, we hope everyone will be able to turn on GLEAC profiles for employers/projects so that you can demonstrate how you learn and how you apply human skills to workplace situations. Employers can say, “Hey, Jane over there has some killer creative abilities coupled with a unique combination of decision-making and critical-thinking skills in the IT sector. Let’s get her in for an interview!” Jane could be 14, 40, or 65 years old, with or without a degree. We believe that people will access the skill library based on the GLEAC datasets to search, prepare, and signal readiness for a specific job. We also believe we will plug into every job portal, learning experience platform, and learning management system platform out there to provide the missing link, which is the application of human skills to workplace situations.

Human skills have to be made mindless. When they become mindless, then you actually don’t have to think when you practice them. It should be a reflex. For habits to be formed, someone needs to come to it fairly consistently. It’s about 10 minutes. If I can bring you to something for 10 minutes every day, I have a fair enough chance of making it stick.

Q: How can developing these skills create better career opportunities?

Della Casa: My competitor could be a 14- or 60-year-old. I am a big believer in inclusion. Everyone has a right to be at the table. With GLEAC, it doesn’t matter what kind of resume or degree you have or what kind of experience you have, you are able to show up and showcase what you can do in any particular role demonstrating your human skills and behaviors. You are able to show your ingenuity, your critical thinking, your judgment and decision-making, which are the things that truly matter in a world headed towards automation. There’s a million-and-one places you can and do learn. But if I see you show up and demonstrate that you are a fast learner coupled with the behaviors for the role, I pretty much know I can put you anywhere where you are a good fit, and you will succeed.