What we learned from working with 3,000 learners

June 20, 2019

Recently, our innovation and design academy, Skills of the Modern Age, reached a big milestone.

We officially turned one!

In December, I wrote about the experience in our first 6-months and the lessons we had learned along the way.

This article is a follow-on from those comments, with the addition of SoMA hitting another big milestone: 3,000+ participants in our public workshops, corporate programs, and community lunches.

Matt Norman and Nate Strucke from Skills of the Modern Age, innovation & design acadmey

So what have we been up to…?

If our first 6 months was about saying “yes” to every opportunity, then our next 6 months was… saying “yes” to everything as well.

Our recent activity can best be summed up as:

  • ✌️ Launching new and more impactful public skills programs
  • 🚀 Expanding our startup support programs
  • 👋 Welcoming new corporate collaborators
  • 👩🏫 Scaling our impact through a new train-the-trainer program
  • ⚡️ Leaning into our customer insights by developing a new learning platform… more on that later
design toolkit used by Skills of the Modern Age for workshops
Schwaaaaag

Launching more impactful public skills programs

Our publicly-available skills programs have always been at the heart of the SoMA model.

Following the pilot of our future skills workshop series last year — which concluded with a 92% satisfaction rate and an NPS of 73 — we started the new year by focusing on how we can scale the impact of the topics we were facilitating.

A key decision was bringing on a new dedicated Skills Program Manager, Matt Norman, who has a done a great job in working to scale and systemise our public offering.

In March we launched a new 2-day design thinking and innovation program, Design Jam Bootcamp.

This saw participation from 6 social enterprises who put forward their business problems for 20 learners to work on using new design thinking skills and tools.

Six social enterprise design challenges for the first ever Design Jam Bootcamp
Our social enterprise design challenges for Design Jam Bootcamp #1

This year we also launched our free workshop series, SkillGym, as a way to test out new content as well as make our programs accessible to a greater number of people. Already we have held 5 free SkillGyms and the SkillGym community is 800+ strong on Meetup.

Lastly, we have taken our lessons learned from our half-day workshop series and combined the topics into three affordable, day-long bootcamps: Empathy & Research for Innovation; Rapid Prototyping; and Service & Experience Design.

Expanding our startup programs

Following the success of the Leap and Sprint pilot programs last year, Spacecubed’s Plus Eight Academy was excited to receive a grant through the Incubator Support Initiative.

This has allowed a second Perth cohort of the pre-accelerator program to be run already this year, as well as the opportunity to expand Plus Eight to the regions, with Sprint currently running in Geraldton and scheduled for Hedland and Bunbury later this year.

Plus Eight also saw a new partnership developed with the City of Canning to run a 6-week incubation program for their local businesses. Led by Rebecca Prior, 5 businesses went through the intensive program and are pitching their progress at a community demo night next week.

SoMA was also fortunate to partner with Curtin University to deliver its 10-week Accelerate program. We had big shoes to fill in the incumbent program manager, Matthew Macfarlane, so we brought in the cavalry and collaborated with partner-in-crime and StartupWA director, Chloë Constantinides.

A further highlight in the last 6 months was in helping to upskill over 130 members of the UWA community in emerging enterprise and innovation skills through a new IQ Academy program held at IQX. Supported by the Federal Government’s New Industries Fund, this 6-week program saw Chloë and I lead two parallel cohorts of learners through an exploration of the critical skills and mindsets needed for entrepreneurial thinking.

Plus Eight Leap Perth, Plus Eight Sprint City of Canning; Curtin Accelerate 2019, Startup Weekend #13
Top: Plus Eight Leap Perth, Plus Eight Sprint City of Canning; Bottom: Curtin Accelerate 2019, Startup Weekend #13

Welcoming new corporate collaborators

The first half of 2019 has seen us welcome a host of new corporate collaborators into the SoMA community. A couple of notable examples that we’re really proud of are:

  • Running design bootcamps and member codesign events with Scitech to help them uncover themes for their new exhibits.
  • Helping WA Super put their members at the center of everything they do through the delivery of our Member Culture program.
  • Working with Realmark’s family of business owners and agents to uncover differentiated service experiences (hosted in Uluwatu 🏝😎).
  • Partnering with Spacecubed to run an innovation bootcamp for KineticIT. Through the bootcamp, we brought champions from around Australia to learn about how they increase experimentation in their roles through practical design thinking techniques.
  • Achieving 5x improvement on activation rates for GotSkill, through an intensive design sprint process.
    Using a design thinking-based approach to help Western Power’s leadership community develop its 2030 digital aspirations.
  • Hands-on design and innovation learning experiences delivered for the Department of MIRS, Scotch College, P&N Bank and many more!
Corporate teams that have worked with Skills of the Modern Age to use design and innovation to drive results

Scaling our impact through a new train-the-trainer program

In April we worked alongside Meshpoints in launching a new innovation facilitator training program, Masters of the Modern Age.

Masters of the Modern Age is a structured, 6-month program that arms innovation champions with new tools, skills and support to becoming leading innovation facilitators.

Inaugural Team of Masters of the Modern Age six month program
Our inaugural Masters of the Modern Age cohort


With support from the federal government’s Expert in Residence program, our initial cohort of Masters started with a 2-day intensive skills program with innovation and community leaders from Peel, Port Hedland, Geraldton, Bunbury and Albany.

We’re super excited to see what the group achieve over the 6-month program, and how we can co-develop and design new innovation and business growth programs in the regions.

Moving forward, we’ll be offering a Masters of the Modern Age innovation facilitator program for corporate innovation champions and intrapreneurs. If that tickles your fancy — keep your eyes peeled in the next month or so!

Where are we heading?

Our first-year simultaneously feels like it went for an eternity and in the blink of an eye.

Whilst our offering has grown significantly, our mission has remained the same: getting people excited and ready for the future of work through impactful learning experiences.

SoMA was founded on the belief that the value of lifelong learning is at the heart of a successful and happy life.

After 100+ programs, hundreds of hours of facilitation and 3000+ learners, we saw a common trend be repeated again and again: we learn better together.

We’re social creatures and we learn best from each other — not through isolated, self-paced content.

This is backed up by data, with MIT finding that massive online open courses (MOOCs) had online dropout rates of 96%.

We believe the best learning outcomes are achieved through cohort-based experiences that blend facilitator instruction, mentorship and peer learning with practical projects.

Technology is an enabler to learning, not the vehicle. It is the thing that should make learning easier, better and more enjoyable, not worse or more isolated.

Introducing SkillSocial

SkillSocial online facilitation platform homepage

Since February, we’ve been working on a skunkworks project that has grown from an interesting side-hustle to a critical part of the future vision for SoMA.

Through a co-design process with our friends at Perth Web Girls, we’ve developed SkillSocial: an online learning platform tailor-made for cohort-based, blended learning programs.

SkillSocial is a web-based platform that helps program managers and facilitators run impactful experiences through centralised resource management, administration automation and attendee engagement tracking.

SkillSocial facilitation platform sreen
MVP? More like Maximum Viable Product … 😅

It is designed specifically for the type of learning programs that combine facilitated learning experiences such as in-person workshops, with self-paced learning, project-based assignments and mentoring.

As an example, our friends at Perth Web Girls will be using the platform to support their newly announced Plus program, which will see 20 female coders develop work-ready software development skills over a 6-month program.

In its closed-beta phase, SkillSocial has also been used to coordinate the Plus Eight Academy programs for Perth, Canning, and Geraldton; deliver a self-paced innovation toolkit for Kinetic IT’s Hack4Time program; and, serve as a train-the-trainer resource hub for the Masters of the Modern Age program mentioned above.

As you might be able to tell, we’re pretty excited about it 😅.

As we exit our closed-beta, we’re looking forward to working with new program managers, facilitators, and educators looking to support their existing programs with a beautiful, easy-to-use learning management platform.

So what’s next?

As we close out the financial year, we’re excited about our path ahead.

The next 6 months will see us continue to focus on delivering learning experiences that exceed the expectations of our learners, and help them adapt to the ever-shifting nature of work.

We’ll be focussing on embedding our existing public programs, as well as scaling our existing offerings, including the Future of Work Index, Elevator Pitch icebreaker (which has just about sold out of its first production run) and of course, SkillSocial.

Personally, I’m particularly excited about the Masters of the Modern Age program and how we can scale our impact through a new, community-powered train-the-trainer model.

A huge thank you to all those who have supported SoMA so far. We are a community-based organisation and recognise that it’s the passionate support and belief of individuals supporting a collective cause that allows real change to happen.

Onwards and upwards,

Nate & the SoMA team.

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