What motivates adults to learn new skills? To find out, we need to experiment.

Three people around laptop

Written by Jack Orlik, Programme Manager, Open Jobs @ Nesta UK

In my previous blog post, I argued that the transformation of jobs as a result of technological change is likely to have a negative impact on people who don’t learn new skills. Everyone needs to adapt to the changing world of work; therefore, it is vital that everyone has access to training that helps them to do so.

This presents a key challenge for policymakers, who must design policies that support a wide range of people to overcome the barriers that stand in their way to training. Too often, though, they do so with a poor understanding of the lived reality of the citizens they want to help. For this reason, Nesta’s Digital Frontrunners (covered in Apolitical) programme recommends that governments invest to improve civil servants’ capabilities in user-centred design and research techniques.

But we can’t simply assume that a well-designed policy or service for skills will translate into increased uptake of training. Research into training participation for adults shows that intrinsic motivation and a sense of self-efficacy and autonomy are important to drive sustained engagement with learning.

As a result, policies which simply improve access to training, and even those which provide incentives or other extrinsic motivators to learn, will fall short unless individuals are confident in their own reasons and abilities to upskill or reskill.

Some evidence exists for interventions that cultivate intrinsic motivation and successfully increase participation in learning among working adults, and Nesta has recently commissioned a rapid evidence review to synthesise this information.

However, early scans of the research literature have shown that there is still limited experimental evidence for what works. With this in mind, we believe that governments should invest in experimentation to uncover, develop and promote interventions which foster intrinsic motivation to learn.

Among the Digital Frontrunner countries, the Netherlands and Finland stand out as pioneers in this type of experimentation.

The Netherlands: A behavioural approach to fostering motivation

The field of behavioural science provides many insights into what motivates people to change their behaviour. It reveals that a person’s decision to act is dependent on many factors; for example, social influence, or the way a request is communicated.

By exploring these factors and experimenting through structured methods such as randomised control trials, policymakers can begin to identify how to foster workers’ intrinsic motivation to learn.

We can learn from an example given by the Dutch Behavioural Insights Network (BIN NL) in their report, A Wealth of Behavioural Insights: 2017 Edition. Based on behavioural science literature that highlights the value of setting goals to drive motivation, a service was developed for UWV (the Dutch public employment service) that allowed jobseekers “to draw up a personal work plan and set concrete goals for their jobseeking behaviour”.

A randomised control trial with 10,075 jobseekers found that those who were offered this service reported that they conducted 8% more jobseeking activities and were invited to job interviews 13% more often in the three months following the treatment than the rest of the group. BIN NL is currently testing another intervention that encourages jobseekers with a low probability of returning to work to look for different kinds of jobs.

Finland: Experimentation for a “learning government”

Experimentation in policy contributes additional benefits by cultivating a “learning government”. By investing in robust evaluation and iteration, governments improve their capacity to adapt policies in response to changes over time and differences in context. This is particularly relevant for skills policies in the digital age, which will need to be regularly revised in response to the rapid transformation of the labour market.

The value of iteration has been recognised by the Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, whose 2015 strategic government programme called for the development of “a culture of experimentation” in Finland to help anticipate and solve social challenges in the digital age.

And so Experimental Finland was initiated by the Prime Minister’s Office together with the think-tank Demos Helsinki and Aalto University. The programme supports the culture and practice of experimentation across government and society through training, funding and public engagement.

One of its strategic aims is to support employment in the regions of Finland by testing approaches to make business and employment services more user-focused — significant for building an inclusive and adaptable labour market. More specifically relating to skills, Experimental Finland has recently funded 17 small-scale pilot projects which aim to improve the digital skills of workers in the social welfare and healthcare sector.

It is often difficult to convince stakeholders of the value of experimentation — particularly in risk-averse government circles. For this reason, examples such as those uncovered through the Digital Frontrunners programme are a valuable resource.

Throughout 2019, we will continue to look for case studies of experiments that can help policymakers understand what works for lifelong learning. In the meantime, I recommend reading section 5 in Nesta’s new Compendium of Innovation Methods to gain further insights and inspiration on the use of experimentation as a way to innovate.

This post is adapted from the 2018 report, “Digital Frontrunners: Designing inclusive skills policy for the digital age”. For full case-studies and references, download it here.

Originally posted here

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