The VIP meeting room on the top floor of Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki, was bustling with anticipation. A group of company representatives, university coaches, and one university student (me) were about to start a co-creation workshop on skills gaps and needs for autonomous learning in the field of international marketing and intercultural communication.
Autonomous learning skills help tackle future change
To foster one’s employability in the rapidly changing global market, everyone must take responsibility for constantly updating their skills and knowledge. Autonomous learning can be defined as
- an entrepreneurial and self-directed approach to learning
- a set of skills that “individuals require to pursue, organize, and evaluate their own learning, in accordance with their own needs, in a self-directed and self-regulated manner”, making use of “multiple and diverse sources, both far and near.” (Council of Europe 2018)
To move towards greater learner autonomy both in education and in the world of work, we need new learning strategies and methods that are motivational and inspirational not only for students and employees but also for coaches, experts, and supervisors.
Co-creation engages people with different points of view
Our co-creation workshop marked a preliminary step in a research and development project focused on planning and creating coaching-based online resources for autonomous learning (Dec 2019 – Jun 2022). By definition, a co-creation workshop is a design session that seeks to engage a group of invested participants representing different points of view to focus on a shared development need. Having just spent several months doing my work placement as part of an international marketing team in Lisbon, I was very pleased to join in and offer a communication and marketing student’s point of view to continuous learning.
The atmosphere was beaming with inspiration: the session participants were eager to get the co-creation process started.
The participants and their points-of-view:
- Marketing Associations and Companies: CEO Riikka-Maria Lemminki, Marketing Finland
- Marketing Service Providers: Chief HR Officer Mari Svahn, Salomaa Group
- Media: Key Account Manager Olavi Kajantie and Inbound Manager Tanja Kaikkonen, Routa (part of Sanoma Group)
- University Coaches: communication and marketing teachers Tarja Autio and Tanja Vesala-Varttala, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
- University Students: communication and marketing student Nita Joutsen, Haaga-Helia Creative Agency Krea
Key qualities of an autonomous learner of international marketing
The marketing industry is facing major changes, locally and globally. Now the industry needs to start training and preparing its workforce to be agile enough to tackle change. We began the co-creation session by brainstorming the qualities of an ideal autonomous learner in an international communications team. We ended up with heaps of qualities, which were then organized under five general themes:
An autonomous learner in international marketing and communications
- creates networks across cultures and actively develops his/her language skills
- has an urge to continuously search for new cultural and professional information
- is not afraid to tackle big challenges and experiment with disruptive solutions
- is an empathetic team player focused on sharing his/her knowledge
- keeps up to date with international industry trends and digital developments.
One quality kept coming up – the ability and curiosity to search for new information continuously, according to diverse needs and using various sources. As one workshop participant put it: you will need to be a passionate Googler and a proactive researcher.
Another important quality of an autonomous learner was the ability to work actively and flexibly in cross-cultural teams and networks. It is important to ask for help and share knowledge with others. You must stay curious towards different cultures and their ways of doing things. Working with people from other cultures can help bring out skills in you that you didn’t even know you had.
Challenges in international marketing and communication
Conversation was flowing energetically throughout the two-and-a-half-hour co-creation session, especially when the focus was on the many challenges that the industry faces with internationalization. Once again, the discussion helped expand our perspectives and gave us all new insights.
We identified the following challenges of international marketing as requiring continuous and autonomous learning urgently:
- Insufficient knowledge of cultural differences and languages. It is notoriously difficult to know, understand, and communicate the needs of local markets. In addition, misunderstandings occur due to the lack of a common language. In the worst-case scenario, international customer experience suffers and marketing budgets are wasted.
- When reaching out for a new market, or creating a partnership in another country, the first challenge is the lack of strategic networks and knowledge of all the right partners. Autonomous learners need models and tools to support them in their efforts to build and make use of networks.
- Established and culture-specific workplace hierarchies and ways of doing things. Clinging to old habits slows down cross-cultural decision-making. Sometimes the ways of working may be decided by CMOs alone, instead of focusing on the power of teamwork and on everyone’s ability to review old processes and invent new ones. Autonomous learners need to be able to communicate efficiently in collaborative multicultural teams.
- Challenges in making efficient use of data analytics, marketing technologies, and global and local digital platforms to improve international customer insight, enhance H2H interaction, and positively disrupt customer experience.
- Difficulties in accepting failure and learning from it. With marketing and communication, you’ll never stay ahead of your competitors if you always look before you leap.
The transformation of the industry will affect everyone, no matter what position you hold. The people in entry-level positions need to be continuously learning and developing themselves, and so do CMOs and seasoned experts. In addition, we must make sure everyone gets the kind of coaching they need to unleash their full potential as skilled autonomous learners of international marketing.
The workshops continue in the spring 2020 – stay tuned for the co-creation of autonomous learning models, methods, and tools next!
Read more about our Erasmus+ funded RDI project on Coaching-Based Autonomous Learning
Text: Nita Joutsen and Tanja Vesala-Varttala
Photos: Nita Joutsen and Tarja Autio
Haaga-Helia marketing students’ Creative Agency Krea provides students and their coaches, companies and university partners with a multidisciplinary and international platform for co-creation, research, development, and innovation. Together we produce disruptive branding solutions and collaborative methods of continuous learning to meet rapidly changing business needs.