Many employees only engage directly with learning and development (L&D) whenever the need arises. During these periods, it’s normally a scramble to equip everyone with the tools they need in time to meet the challenges.

The fact is that people learn by performing tasks and learning from their mistakes until they finally get it right. This is the natural way to learn, so why is it that more organizations don’t adopt this approach? Many are simply caught up in a rigid, inflexible traditional training approach.

Disruptive technologies, empowered employees and a workforce used to self-directed approaches have changed the learning landscape. Learning is a personal task and employers must meet their workforce’s training needs. Learning in the flow of work is the way of the future.

Why Learning in the Flow of Work?

Learning in the flow of work is the process of developing training that is incorporated into an employee’s normal workday by creating content that that is easily accessed.

Similarly, in the marketing world we prefer in-context help such as hovering over a “fee” button to see the fee breakdown instead of referring to another document. We prefer a 15-second demonstration in context of the website when our favorite e-stores re-do their site layout, rather than watching a long video about the entire site refresh, navigation and all the new features. In short, we want our experiences easy and seamless.

Effective workplace learning strategy is similar to a marketer’s strategy in this regard. Learning content must be easily available to an employee when they need it.

Learning in the flow of work is a better learning experience because it involves putting new information into practice while the employee is doing their job. As we all know, experience trumps memorization. With traditional training, employees memorize information and then have to recall it during their moment of need, which could occur weeks after the time they learned it. Learning in the flow of work training has the employee learning the information as they need it. Which method do you think is the most useful?

This training must engage the employee while also being relevant to their job. The content consists of four characteristics — seamless, accessible, relevant and engaging. Active learners are more engaged with their job and tend to have greater confidence in their skills.

The Challenge is Too Much Information

The main challenge to creating the proper system for workforce learning is making sure employees have access to the right information at the right times. Traditionally, businesses would have a content library or other learning resource to meet this need but that creates more work when employees have to sift through cumbersome manuals, training binders, hard-to-search online resources, training classes, eLearning or other means of obtaining information to support their work. That is why we need a more modern approach.

There’s an overwhelming amount of information available within a company, so it’s not possible to know everything — thus the key to overcoming these challenges is to create easy access points. This provides employees with the tools to readily connect to the information they need when they need it. For example, these could be anything from concise job aids, an easily searchable repository of clear procedures, the “help” icon to chat bots and in-context digital adoption platforms.

Of course, there’s some critical information that’s needed in the moment that cannot be learned instantaneously — there are foundational skills that an employee needs to do their job or information that must be memorized to make split-second decisions. These are generally included as part of a comprehensive training package outside the flow of work. But for situations where information can be “looked up,” workflow learning can be effective.

Where L&D Meets Workflow Learning

Time is always a limiting factor. The key is to help workers find the information they need to perform their job without providing excess information. We know that no one has the time to commit to hours of regular training. However, most people can find a few minutes to spare in the context of their work.

We must take advantage of these moments by providing access to targeted resources that will benefit both the business and employee. This reimagining of the learning experience won’t negatively affect a learner’s productivity but rather focuses on key moments with short blasts of concise, relevant information.

Applying Workflow Learning into Practical Applications

Workflow learning requires a different approach from traditional training. It must reach the learner in the moment of need and relay the right information. This not only takes time during the initial design, but it also requires careful governance. L&D must develop processes that ensure the content is kept relevant, so workers do not obtain outdated information.

With that said, the first step is to lay out the overall framework so that it meets the learner’s everyday needs.

There are five distinctive moments of need that L&D must curate learning content for and they are as follows:

  • Employees who are learning for the first time.
  • Employees who want to learn more.
  • During the work process when workers are applying the information.
  • During the work process when something goes wrong.
  • Changes to either essential tools or the work process itself.

There are specific principles that L&D utilizes to deliver information in the moment of need. In most cases, the information is embedded into a work process so that it’s readily available. Some tasks might require different access points though. The key principle is to only provide the minimum amount of information needed to effectively perform the business process. This information must also be delivered with as little disruption as possible.

The ideal delivery method is through interactivity embedded into the work process itself. It answers a specific question within the process when needed. Interactive guidance will walk a user through a process step-by-step on screen as they interact with it. Animations and voice-overs can also be added into this delivery method.

Of course, not every process can use embedded technology, so that’s where social collaboration tools come into play. This is generally achieved through workplace instant messaging or live chats. The key is to make sure that the system is set up in a way that will get a quick response.

Incorporating L&D into the Modern Work Environment

We’ve seen a transformation in the way businesses support their employees’ performance. Flexibility is a critical aspect of learning in the flow of work.

Traditional training is still seen by some organizations as distracting and irrelevant to the job. That is, until the lack of training starts to affect performance. Why wait until it affects performance? Looking at the big picture, supporting performance in the flow of work isn’t a distraction from the normal flow of work. It’s an integral part of it.

L&D blends just-in-time information with performance to provide workers with the ability to solve problems while doing their job. Rather than be disrupted or distracted from their work, employees can retain their productivity and get immediate solutions.

The Bottom Line

Learning in the flow of work isn’t exactly a new concept. However, technology allows us to take it to the next level. It’s time for organizations to up their game and reconsider their training approach. Start focusing on the day-to-day workforce and find ways to incorporate learning in the flow of work.

Go ahead and pull the lever. If you’re waiting for the right time, it’s already here. Make sure your organization’s greatest assets, the people, are effective in their roles.