Learning & Development, Talent

How to Find the ‘Explainers’ and Turn Them into Your L&D Warriors

There’s lots of noise out there around which skills people should gain in order to get good jobs and have successful careers. If nothing else, the debate has yielded one irrefutable conclusion: We all need to be lifelong learners. We all need to get good at adapting and maintaining our skill sets to stay relevant in an ever-changing work environment.


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How will all of these lifelong learners connect with new knowledge and skills? They could take an online course, read a book or watch a video, attend a bootcamp, do an internship, or go back to school for another degree. It’s a great time to embrace lifelong learning because there are more ways than ever to learn where, when, and however you prefer.
But someone still needs to create the educational content that fuels those learning moments—someone who possesses knowledge, wants to share it, and has a channel for reaching would-be students. In traditional education, this someone would be called a teacher, but for people out in the business world, the best teacher might be that more experienced coworker sitting a few desks over.

Identify Them

To paraphrase Mr. Rogers, when you see uncertainty in the workplace, look for the explainers. You will always find people who are helping by teaching.
The instructors active in my company’s teaching and learning marketplace are, by and large, these types of teachers. One of the most popular instructors in my company’s marketplace, for example, told us he was always that person in the office everyone else went to with questions. He discovered he really enjoyed helping people learn and improve their skills, and by creating an online course, he’s now able to reach hundreds of thousands of students around the world.
I’d venture to say that every company has its own resident “explainers,” and if you haven’t taken steps to harness their potential, you’re missing an opportunity to enrich your company culture and boost employee engagement.
Explainers are empathizers, and they tend to be lifelong learners, too. That’s why coworkers seek them out. They understand what it’s like to struggle with learning something new, and they derive real joy from interacting with students, watching them gain mastery over new skills, and seeing what they’re able to do on their own.
By instilling confidence in their teammates, explainers help people get better at their jobs and feel more positive about your organization.

Maximize Their Talents

Given the accelerating pace of workplace transformation, the need for continual upskilling will surely increase, too. To keep up, companies have to do much more than roll out additional training programs. Instead, they need to nurture a true learning culture, where learning is woven into employees’ daily routine, not a one-off activity that interrupts “real” work.
Your explainers can go a long way in helping you establish and promote a learning culture—as long as they welcome the opportunity and don’t see it as an added responsibility that takes them away from work they’d rather be doing (aka, “no good deed goes unpunished”). So, first, confirm they relish their role as teachers, and gauge their interest in growing further. You want to be sure your explainers are well taken care of so they don’t burn themselves out in service to others.
Once they’ve shown interest in extending their natural teaching skills to more people in your organization, you can experiment with having them lead training sessions or host “office hours” and study groups where employees can get extra help.

Recognize and Reward Them

Anyone who goes above and beyond their job description deserves a round of applause during the next all-hands meeting, at the very least. But you can do better than that. Your explainers deserve more meaningful rewards.
It could be something fun like special t-shirts or other swag identifying them as your resident explainers. You could pay their way to attend a conference, workshop, or bootcamp of their choice or let them stock a company library so they can work toward their own learning goals, too. Maybe your company can underwrite a quarterly dinner at a nice restaurant or an activity like seeing a sporting event for the whole group. For some, it could be as simple as a few more vacation days or a gift card.
Workplace learning has never been more critical than it is right now. Employees need to embrace learning in order to maintain the skills their jobs require, and employers need to foster a culture where learning is encouraged and accessible.
Explainers are the perfect bridge between employees who need to learn and employers having trouble keeping up with quickly evolving tools and technologies. Companies would be wise to take proactive steps to make sure their explainers are being recognized, rewarded, and maximized so everyone gets full value from their contributions.

Shelley Osborne is Head of L&D at Udemy, where she leads and executes the learning strategy for Udemy employees. She has 14 years of experience in the education sector and in corporate learning and development. Previously, Osborne was VP of Learning & Development at Farside HR Solutions.Connect with Shelley on LinkedIn and on Twitter.