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Learning on the Job
Darryn King
Darryn King
Freelance Writer
min read

Workers are upskilling. Companies need to upskill too.

Last year, Anthony Klotz, the associate professor of management at Texas A&M University credited with coining the term the "Great Resignation," partly attributed the phenomenon to "pandemic epiphanies" — workers experiencing major shifts in identity and purpose, leading them to reevaluate their working lives, pursue new careers, and even start their own businesses.

According to Zach Sims, CEO and cofounder of online learning platform Codecademy, workers' feelings of restlessness aren't going away any time soon.

"People are forging new career paths," he said. "They're becoming more independent. They're bouncing from job to job more often."

As the pandemic peaked, Codecademy, which offers 150-plus courses in areas such as data science, web development, and mobile development, saw a 70-plus percent increase in sign-ups.

To Sims, the takeaway lesson is clear: If you're looking for a career upgrade, you need to be constantly developing new skills.

"Workers are leveling up and staying on top of current trends through online learning. Because learning shouldn't end when you're 22. It should continue over the course of your career."

But how might companies retain their most skillful and ambitious workers?

"Companies need to actively invest in upskilling their employees to attract and retain them," said Sims, adding that it's not just about retention, but superior business results. "Company-wide upskilling is the only way to keep pace with innovation and succeed in the digital economy."

At its best, in Sims' view, work is an opportunity for continued learning, picking up where college left off. Judging by the surge in popularity of programs like Codecademy for Business, companies are starting to cotton on.

"Companies should be providing workers with education, and community, and direction. The companies that are on course to retain more employees are the companies that are investing in their employees. That's a trend that's not going away."

Everyone wants schedule flexibility.

When Sims co-founded Codecademy in 2011, he had three core product principles in mind that would dramatically set the learning experience apart from college or grad school.

He envisioned a platform that was engaging — so users would be excited to keep on learning; and accessible — so users could could keep on learning for free or at little cost.

Codecademy also needed to be flexible. In Sims' view, anyone interested in picking up new skills shouldn't be required to remodel their entire lives around that fact, quitting their job and enrolling in a full-time program. With Codecademy, anyone can learn "on demand" — anywhere at any time.

"Most people are busy," said Sims. "Signing up for a class three nights a week at 5 p.m. is too hard for most people. Unlike college or a lot of cohort-based learning programs, we encourage people to learn async, whenever it fits into their life. That was a key channel of the business from day one."

It's not just aspiring coders who want to dictate their own schedules. Increasingly, workers have the freedom to work where they want and when they want. Sims believes the future — of learning and work alike — is one of more schedule flexibility.

"The value employees place on 'hour independence' is right up there with location independence. Lots of folks are looking to not just work from nine to five, and to work around a schedule that works for them. People's learning schedules fit into that philosophy too."

Async doesn't mean anti-sync.

To date, Codecademy has had 50 million users from 190+ countries.

And while the essential work of learning is done async, there are plenty of opportunities for users to engage with other users in real-time.

Learners can get immediate assistance in real-time on the Codecademy Forums, and hang out with their fellow learners on the Codecademy Discord server, chatting about coding as well as non-coding-related topics.

There's also Codecademy Chapters, a network of community-led groups who host virtual meetups to help learners stay motivated and get support on their learning journey. The meetups take many forms: from study groups and focus sessions to seminars and hackathons.

As Sims explains, while the essential work of learning is best done async, real-time interactions are useful when it comes to fostering a sense of community.

It's a principle that applies to the virtual classroom as well as the virtual workplace.

"The key to async work is that what can be done independently should be done independently. And then you can sync when you need to, for the sense of camaraderie, togetherness, and motivation."

Sims continued: "Coding, and online learning more broadly, is often thought of as something that’s solitary, though we think there’s real value in learning collaboratively. It helps with engagement, motivation, accountability, and comprehension, and can also lead to networking and mentorship opportunities. That’s why community is bigger than just an added feature or experience here at Codecademy — it’s integral to our success."

People sharing the same physical space naturally creates a sense of community. This, Sims has said, is really what you're paying for when you shell out for a college education. But it's possible — and important — to recreate that sense of community virtually.

It's a concept that applies as much to the virtual classroom as to the virtual workplace.

"Especially in a remote work environment, we’ve seen many of our customers use Codecademy as a way to build culture and facilitate collaboration across their teams," said Sims.

"Community is essential to learning and work. With intentionality, you can create a community experience that even exceeds what you might be able to get in person."

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