The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that productivity for U.S. non-farm labor has been on the decline since 2011, and the unemployment rate is 3.7 percent. As a result of these trends, finding ways to attract and retain workers is an imperative. In fact, in a 2018 Conference Board survey (“C-Suite Challenge 2018”), CEOs cited talent acquisition and retention as one of their top challenges.

Clearly, companies need to make the most of the employees they have and provide reasons for them to stay. One way is to help employees hone their skills to not only become better at their jobs — and improve business performance — but feel good about their work. In other words, organizations can retain employees by training them.

However, as Josh Bersin and Marx Zao-Sanders observed in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “The urgency of work invariably trumps the luxury of learning … Learning therefore ends up being relegated — consciously and subconsciously — to the important-but-not-urgent quadrant” of the Eisenhower time management matrix. They say that to “make learning part of the powerful current of the daily workflow,” organizations must encourage “learning in the flow of work.”

“Learning in the flow of work” is well past being slideware for a management consultant. It has taken hold in corporations across the globe, most notably in forms of microlearning, which provides short bursts of learning in a way that does not disrupt an individual’s workflow.

Underscoring the need for and challenge of “learning in the flow of work” is this data point offered by Bersin by Deloitte: Employees focus 1% of their work week on learning. That’s less than five minutes per day. On top of a scarcity of time, let’s not forget that the workforce at most organizations is decidedly millennial. This demographic reality points to the utility of a learning mechanism that appeals to digital natives, who grew up with bite-sized information on demand.

As compelling as “learning in the flow of work” might be, if it doesn’t deliver results, it’s little more than a fad or conversation topic among academics and management consultants.

Personalized Performance Learning

It’s become clear that the way to keep employees engaged in learning in the flow of work is to make the content relevant — not to the department or even the team but to the individual. Optimally, this drive for relevancy and connection, termed personalized performance learning (PPL) uses employee performance and behavioral signals to trigger highly relevant, individualized adaptive microlearning.

Automation engines enable learning professionals to assign and adapt learning paths based on performance data indicators. With exacting precision, they trigger PPL at just the right time or create branches in the overall learning stream. For example, as a salesperson calls on a customer, the platform delivers a microlearning module on the product he or she is about to sell.

PPL Use Cases

Verizon Cellular Service is the largest retailer for the Verizon Wireless. It uses gamified, personalized training to engage its heavily millennial workforce to learn what they need to do, how to do it, what they might do better and what will spell success. For instance, after the launch of a new model of the iPhone, members of the sales team weren’t selling iPhone accessories as well as they could be. PPL provided each team member with highly personalized training, and the company saw an increase of twice as many combination sales (phone plus accessories).

Microsoft’s consumer support operation is a network of contact centers across the globe with thousands of customer service agents. It applied the personalized performance learning approach with an automation engine that delivered relevant, gamified content and yielded a 90% engagement rate. Agents noted that with PPL, they felt empowered to do better work.

For “learning in the flow of work” to truly work, training leaders must appreciate that it’s not simply about implementing a microlearning process. It must be personal. It must be engaging. And it must give the employee feedback in real time in a way that motivates them to apply it to their jobs.