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Getting Started with Learning in the Flow of Work: Make Learning a Part of Your Everyday

Learning & Development in Today’s Environment

The shift to virtual learning over the past decade, and especially in 2020, has transformed the way businesses conduct training. It’s no secret that learning organizations are required to be more agile now than ever before. Gone are the days of browsing endless course catalogs or designing classroom-centered curricula. Instead of in-person learning, we use an LMS, LXP, and social platforms to interact with content. Instead of live workshops, we have virtual sessions on Zoom or Teams. Technology, the great enabler, has given us a wealth of resources to use, and businesses are diving in. But the results can be mixed. While these digital tools were (and are) necessary changes to the way training is delivered, there are other elements to consider in the broader learner experience.

Innovative delivery aside, training is often still viewed as separate from work. At its worst, training is considered distracting, irrelevant to learners’ jobs, and can negatively affect productivity. But in reality, learning typically isn’t separate from work at all.

According to the 70-20-10 learning model (McCall, Lombardo, and Eichinger), learning happens in three ways. Up to 70% of the best, most effective learning happens directly on the job, whether informally or through self-directed practice and experience. Another 20% of effective learning occurs through social collaboration, or learning through others, and just 10% of learning happens in a formal, structured setting like a conference or within an LMS. This makes it clear: in order to make learning more effective, more resources should be dedicated to the 90% that makes up on-the-job and collaborative training. Companies should consider capitalizing on the informal and experiential learning that happens organically.

Looking Beyond the LMS, LXP, and Video Conferencing

It’s important to consider some of the challenges that may arise when transitioning away from formal learning. Research conducted by LinkedIn indicates that time is the #1 reason employees feel held back from learning. Yet while organizations feel employees need to make more time to learn, 58% of learners want to do it at their own pace, and 49% want to learn in the flow of work, or at the point of need. The average learner struggles to set aside just 1% of a typical work week for formal learning. This suggests that it’s not just when we learn, but the way we learn, that makes a difference. It’s become critical to learn both “on the job” and “in the job.”

Compounding the issue of time, there are often many systems for employees to navigate through to access learning. Multiple platforms and training portals can be overwhelming, forcing the learner to search through endless content. Sifting through a collection of web-based trainings, courses, and exams doesn’t deliver the just-in-time training needed. Even microlearning can leave employees lacking if the content is buried among bells and whistles. It’s essential to create a connected learning environment, with the tools employees know and use on a regular basis. A learning technology ecosystem can offer the structure and integration learners need.

Finally, virtual learning can isolate employees as they train on their own. Tools like Zoom and MS Teams can help with collaboration and engagement, but they don’t guarantee feedback. Some LXPs and LMSs also have social tools, but they aren’t usually viewed as an integral part of training.  As a result, the opportunity for connection is missed; relegated to the background of the learning experience. There is a better way.

“For learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives.” – Bersin

Why Learn in the Flow of Work?

“Learning in the flow of work,” a phrase coined by Josh Bersin, is an evolution of the paradigms in L&D that used to include online universities, talent management, and continuous learning. It involves seamlessly incorporating learning into the employee workday, with content that is accessible, relevant, and engaging. It’s crucial to focus on the descriptors here: seamless, accessible, relevant, engaging. They aren’t just ways to describe the training – they are key to making learning in the flow of work, work. Content must be easily searchable and available at all times. It must be personal. It must meet the moment of need.

Adopting this method has several benefits at the micro and macro level. First, it ensures what employees learn is applicable to their work. It improves knowledge retention by being easy to consume. Learning in the flow of work also enables learners to be more productive as they receive the right information at the right time. Active learners are also shown to be happier and more engaged. They have greater confidence, are more likely to take on additional responsibilities at work, and are more likely to know where they want to go in their careers. It’s not just beneficial for the individual, but for the company as well.

Obstacles to Learning in the Flow of Work

The primary challenge of learning in the flow of work is delivering the right piece of information at the right time. Succeeding in this serves both individual and business goals. But the traditional approach of creating a content library or curated resources creates extra work for employees. They need to invest more time and resources in understanding the tool, which poses a risk of abandoning the platform if learners become frustrated or discouraged. If the content is outdated or irrelevant, the risk is even greater.

Shifting the Focus Inward

It’s clear that not everything an employee needs can be found in an LMS, LXP, or knowledge management system. Much of the time, employees turn to the informal learning, or the 90% referenced above. They can almost always find answers or solutions to their questions and challenges from other people in the company. The richest, most relevant source of information in an organization is not hidden inside the training content but resides within its people. The key, then, to creating learning in the flow of work is delivering the right information, at the right time, from the right person.

Consider leveraging the many tools within the learning technology landscape to connect people with their organization’s experts. Simple lookup directories could highlight areas of expertise for easy searching. Consultation scheduling and management software, and commercial apps and platforms can all meet this need in some way. With this approach, employees receive answers and help on what they need, when they need it, and the experts have an opportunity to showcase their value. Capitalizing on your organization’s internal expertise can translate to real business outcomes and results.

A Roadmap for Change

Other solutions may be a better fit for your organization, so companies should take a strategic approach to implement changes at both the personal and organizational level. Your corporate knowledge systems should be up-to-date and centered around ease of access for the learner. Carefully curated content is paramount, with intentional rollouts of information to employees. Content should also be shared internally (perhaps within in a specific social channel), especially the tribal knowledge and organic learning that can remain siloed in one part of the organization. Integrating external content into the flow of work is also easier than ever, thanks to APIs and system integrations that are practically an industry standard.

Pulling the lever of learning in the flow of work has been a long time coming, but it’s not too late to adopt this new model. Make sure you and your company are benefitting from it, and don’t forget to leverage your organization’s most valuable asset–your people.

About the Authors

Greta Gatzke
Greta Gatzke is a Learning Technology Specialist with GP Strategies Corporation. She works with clients to align business strategy with the ever-changing technology landscape. Her expertise centers in leading platform onboarding and implementation, as well as business and operational change management support. Greta has over 15 years’ experience in the automotive, life sciences, professional services and hospitality industries, working for and with Fortune 500 organizations.

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