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Technologies change but learning is a way of life

27 / 05 / 2021

Janet Donaldson, Mintra’s director of learning and development and recently appointed Fellow of the Learning Performance Institute, looks back on a career spanning 14 years and the rapid pace of change in how and what people working in safety-critical industries learn.

“You should never, ever stop learning. You can learn something from everyone you meet.”

That mantra is one of the reasons why Janet Donaldson has progressed from an instructional designer to the director of learning and development at Mintra, leading up a team of people she describes as being the best in the eLearning business.

To her, learning is a way of life. Just as she believes there are always opportunities to expand knowledge, she also accepts that the way people learn is constantly changing.

“Learning and how we learn has evolved hugely over the years. When I look back at when I started 14 years ago to where we are today, the pace of change has been incredible and it’s exhilarating,” she said.

“Course content and how that’s designed is consistently evolving too. All too often there would be a ‘spray and pray’ approach. Learners were often asked to sit in front of a course for three hours, and everything would be thrown at them in the hope that some of that information would stick.

Janet Donaldson

“I’m happy to say that how content is designed is now much more focussed on effective knowledge retention with the goal of learners applying that knowledge: it is not just a check box exercise.

“We look below the surface and consider what is the purpose of the learning. What do we want to achieve? Are we raising awareness? Are we building skills? Are we looking to change behaviour? Every course we develop is designed to solve a specific challenge or problem.”

Janet, who is based in Mintra’s Aberdeen office, completed her undergraduate degree in international relations and then went on to complete an MSc in digital education. Becoming an instructional designer was never a career that she intended to break into: along with many others in the profession, she simply gravitated towards it.

She originally joined the team at Atlas Knowledge but several years later moved across to the other side of the city to take up the instructional design manager role with Mintra – a company she had admired due to its reputation of creating high quality content. Promotion to the role of content development director followed before she took up her current mantle.

However, in a twist of fate, Mintra then acquired Atlas and Janet found herself working alongside some former colleagues in a much-expanded team.

Janet now manages a team of 15 people located in offices in Norway, Aberdeen, and Cyprus. She explained: “The people I work with are the best in the business. As we have expanded, we have developed into a team that will go above and beyond for colleagues and clients. I can only do what I do because of them and they consistently deliver high-quality, impactful learning solutions.

“We work with a huge variety of clients here at Mintra and while many of them have a good level of understanding about learning, one of the main skills in content design is the ability to communicate and to hear what is not said.

“Often it’s about showing the client that what they think they want is not what they actually need – our job is to guide our clients to allow them to achieve the most effective learning solutions possible.”

Just as the methodologies and techniques used in learning are constantly evolving so too is the type of skill set that employers want to develop. While Janet and her team are responsible for creating a wide range of courses, many of them technical and compliance titles in Mintra’s core customer sectors of energy and maritime, there has been a shift in demand over the past 12 months.

Clients are putting a greater impetus on behavioural courses that are traditionally considered soft skills, for example advising learners on how to travel overseas safely or setting out instructions for effective remote working.

Janet said: “Historically, much of what we do has been focused on safety, technical and operational skills. However, the world has changed so much in the past year and that has also resulted in a change in the type of knowledge that employers want people to have.

“Mintra has been around since 1997 and what we know is that demand is cyclical in its nature. Soft skills may be in high demand now and in the immediate future, but that will change again in the next few years.

“Our clients often want to discuss ‘what’s next’ for digital learning. In recent years, augmented and virtual reality were heralded as the next big thing but for many companies they remain out of reach because of the high-level costs.

“We understand that not everyone has the budget to create training based around these technologies, and what we do incredibly well is to focus on producing high-impact learning solutions that align both with our clients’ budgets and learning goals.”

While Janet’s role is focused on helping others to learn, she understands that growing her own knowledge contributes directly to success in the workplace. As well as holding Tech IOSH and NEBOSH professional status, she is also a Fellow of the Learning Performance Institute (FLPI) – the highest membership status within the organisation.

“The LPI is one of the framework bodies within learning and development and they award membership levels based on CVs, learning and development qualifications and the level of experience in the sector. It was an honour to be awarded FLPI status,” Janet added.