Transforming work into a curriculum as we search for skills and meaning

Tracy Brown
6 min readJan 16, 2022

The past two years have forced us into entirely new ways of navigating the world around us. We have found it terrifying, invigorating and nullifying in equal measure, having to balance the sameness of life in lockdown with the unpredictability of social upheaval. As 2022 begins, one thing is likely to be true; we are going to have to continue to change the way we think about ourselves, the world around us and work itself.

Change has always been inevitable, but how we respond to it is not. To prepare for what is likely to be another year of economic, social and technological changes, we are going to have to be OK with perpetual learning. In this way, Learning Experience (LX) has never been more important, not just because we are experiencing global multi-industry skills shortages but because we need to find a way to help people feel a part of the change and not the victims of it.

As people begin this year looking for meaning and growth, what if they could feel enriched by their work, not constrained by it?

Work as a curriculum

A curriculum is a series of planned learning experiences that are intended to lead to proficiency, with evaluations attached to determine if you are meeting the standards required. However, work doesn’t tend to operate this way.

Firstly, very few organisations think about the activities and tasks they want people to perform in terms of their learnability.

Secondly, the way we evaluate proficiency is somewhat murky. Future of Doing participants reveal that career progression is often based on a multitude of factors that have little to do with ability or proficiency. Instead, managing up, having the self-esteem to demand more, relationships with influential people and having the freedom and fortitude to work long hours often determines who gets a promotion, and there is also evidence to show that 360 or peer reviews are rarely accurate or fair. These practices hugely alienate workers, particularly those from marginalised demographics.

Thirdly, leaders are not typically incentivised or even qualified to impart skills effectively. When leaders are under pressure to both manage and be practitioners themselves, effective training falls by the wayside, and it takes real skill to be a good trainer.

With this in mind, it is becoming increasingly important for each organisation to think about how to make their work learnable, how to evaluate that learning and how to empower leaders to train.

1. Making work learnable

To begin, you need to be clear about the actual tasks and activities you perform across every department and function, articulating the following:

  • Overview. What does this task or activity consist of and why do we do it?
  • Outcome. What does an ideal deliverable or result look like?
  • Target audience. Who should learn this activity?
  • Learner requirements. What pre-existing skills do learners need to be able to learn this?
  • Content sources. Who are the SMEs and where will we get supporting content from?

Just doing this will be extremely helpful to your teams, particularly if you have an effective wiki or Intranet that can be maintained by content strategists or instructional designers.

Once you have this information, you are ready for the next step, which is employing instructional designers to work with your SMEs, converting your activities into a dynamic, ever-changing syllabus of mini-courses. They will be able to design blended learning experiences, like in-person ‘lunch and learn’ sessions supported by online videos or instructions. LMSs and authoring tools are becoming more effective and simpler to use, making it much easier for practitioners to quickly record and share their expertise, interspersed with live discussions and working sessions to help their teams learn. However, content must be created thoughtfully and with learning outcomes in mind, guided by a learning strategist, instead of a brain dump adding to the noise.

Most importantly, when activities are articulated and explained in this way, learning becomes accessible to everyone, instead of only being accessible to those lucky enough to have generous leaders with training skills. It also allows neurodiverse, CALD and introverted workers to learn at their own pace with transparent written instructions.

2. Evaluating learning

One of the greatest benefits of treating work as a learning experience is that all learning experiences require clear evaluation structures; how will you measure if someone has learned? This is hugely beneficial for diversity and inclusion. It forces organisations to be clear about how the ability to perform a task is measured in very transparent terms. If behavioural skills are required, they must also be learnable or teachable. In fact, if any skills appear in a job description there should be a way to articulate how to attain those skills — even if it is through an external institution or experience — and how those skills will be evaluated.

The most common way to judge whether people are learning is to have a combination of formative assessments (checking their progress) and summative assessments (evaluating the final result). The conditions of both need to be clear. While some are as simple as a multiple choice test, complex work often requires the ability to interpret and apply, which means creating a rubric connected to a real project-based outcome. A rubric is a scoring tool that clearly identifies the criteria, including the aspects or levels of the performance required.

When organisations create rubrics, they can also evaluate whether equality of opportunity actually exists, or if personal preference is actually the primary way people are assessed.

3. Empowering leaders to be trainers

Expert practitioners often voice their dissatisfaction with management being the only path to more money and influence. It seems counterintuitive for organisations to block experts from being even better practitioners because employers can only justify a pay increase and a promotion if experts change their practice area (and management is a separate practice area, requiring specific but not superior skills).

Although training as a manager should be an option, consider the benefits of training expert practitioners to impart their skills, giving them time and significant rewards to do so. Not only does this allow expert practitioners to improve their own skillset by having to consciously think about the purpose and quality of their work, but it also allows organisations to upskill their people in a faster and in a more relevant way.

Rethinking the role of leadership

Over time, organisations could even move to a skills-based structure where leaders are mostly responsible for imparting knowledge and collaborating to build skillsets, instead of a political or silo-based structure that encourages leaders to compete for resources. If all activities and their associated learning paths are clear, imagine how much talent could be unlocked, simply by being able to hire people for their underlying capabilities instead of hiring them into a confined role.

And now is the time to do it. Delivering competitive digital experiences has been a non-negotiable aspect of doing business for quite some time now, yet we never seem to have enough capable and happy designers, developers, strategists and SMEs to make those experiences a reality. We know there is an issue with workplace readiness as we watch graduates of a variety of courses struggle to apply their knowledge to real work. Most organisations also rely on limited training budgets and employees have to choose what to learn from a menu of formal courses, often without understanding their own knowledge gaps or which courses will result in applicable skills. We can’t entirely rely on the education sector or the market to bail us out.

So, it’s time for organisations to think of the work they do as a curriculum. They won’t regret it and neither will the people who choose to work with them as a consequence.



Tracy Brown

Experience strategist and author, using insights about human behaviour to fix broken experiences for customers and employees.