‘Learning in the Flow of Work’ Is Just a Fad…If It Doesn’t Work
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says productivity for U.S. nonfarm labor has been slowing down since 2011. It also reports the unemployment rate for that group of workers sits at 3.7 percent. And, by extension, finding ways to attract and retain workers is an imperative. A Conference Board survey found CEO’s list as one of their top challenges getting and keeping talent.
Clearly, companies need to make the most of the employees they have, and provide reasons for them to stay. One way to do that is to help employees hone their skills to not only become better at their jobs – and conceivably improve their employers’ business performance – but feel really good about what they’re doing.
In a word, that’s training. However, as management experts Josh Bersin and Marx Zao-Sanders observe “…the urgency of work invariably trumps the luxury of learning…Learning therefore ends up being relegated…to the important-but-not-urgent quadrant…”
To their own observation, they ask: “How can we make learning part of the powerful current of the daily workflow?” Bersin answers with a term he coined: “learning in the flow of work.”
He explains it “recognizes that for learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives.” “Learning in the flow of work” is well past being slideware for a management consultant. It has very much taken hold in corporations across the globe, most notably in various forms of microlearning, which allows for, as its name implies, short bursts of learning effected in a way that does not impact, an individual’s workflow.
To underscore both the need for and challenge of “learning in the flow of work” is this data point offered by Deloitte: “employees have 1 percent of their typical work week to focus on training and development.” That’s less than 5 minutes a day in a five-day work week. One top of a scarcity of time for training, let us not forget the fact the workforce of most organizations is decidedly millennial. It points to the utility of a learning mechanism that takes advantage of this demographic group being digital natives who grew up with information on demand given in bite-sized pieces.
As compelling as “learning in the flow of work” might be, it’s little more than a fad or conversation topic among academics and management consultants, if it doesn’t deliver results.
In my work in this area it’s become clear to me that a crucial way to get and keep employees engaged in a “learning in the flow of work” process is to make it relevant. Not by the department or even the team. By the individual. Make the content to which they are being exposed as personally relevant as possible.
Optimally, this drive for relevancy and connection, which I term Personalized Performance Learning, or PPL, uses employee performance and behavioral signals to trigger highly relevant, individualized adaptive learning which is then combined with an automation engine to serve up that which needs to be learned or improved upon.
Further, PPL allows for the creation of modularity. Think of Lego pieces. Microlearning is the collection of Lego blocks, and they can be used to build different learning paths. Or, if it makes sense, a single Lego piece can be used to serve a certain purpose. An example: a reminder to take a repetition retrieval session to ensure knowledge is retained.
The automation engine lets you assign and adapt learning paths based on performance data indicators. With exacting precision, PPL can be triggered at just the right time or used to create branches in the overall learning stream. It works like this: just as a salesperson calls on a customer a microlearning activity is delivered that deals with the product about to be sold. Looking at a group situation, it allows for different levels of learning to be assigned to different people. The person doing well gets fewer learning exercise blocks about the topic than a less knowledgeable colleague. As it relates to this and other factors, in my view artificial intelligence (AI) can be used with PPL to further optimize learning streams as well as reduce the manual work needed to create them.
For ‘learning in the flow of work” to truly work, those directing a company’s training must come to appreciate that it’s not simply about implementing a microlearning process. It must be personal. It must be engaging. It must give the employee feedback in real-time in a way that motivates them to get at it, and, then, apply it to their jobs.