The concept of “learning in the flow of work” has gained considerable traction over the past few years. Coined by Josh Bersin, this idea pushes the boundaries on how employers think about and implement training initiatives. Traditionally, learning at work meant that employees had to rush through their daily routines as they knew their days would be interrupted by old-school, classroom-style training sessions.
This is not unlike what Brazilian educator Paulo Freire referred to as the “Banking Model” of education, where students are treated as empty vessels waiting to be filled by the instructor’s unquestionable knowledge. But Freire and most modern educators want to throw this model directly into the trashcan, and for good reason, mainly because it doesn’t work. Research consistently demonstrates that more integrative educational approaches achieve much higher learning outcomes.
This point can’t be understated because, as Bersin’s recent research demonstrates, “Employees who spend time at work learning are 47% less likely to be stressed and 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, 23% more ready to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy.”
In short, learning in the flow of work matters.
Adding fuel to the fire, the more that modern Western culture evolves, the less viable traditional workplace training initiatives become. The quickest way to grasp this idea is to simply think about where learning happens in your own life: everywhere, all the time. In other words, the walls of the traditional classroom have been blown apart by our technological era. So if this is the nature of 21st-century learning, then corporations would be smart to adapt.
How Employers Can Facilitate Learning in the Flow of Work
Whether you’re just discovering this concept for the first time or in need of a refresher, here are three key areas where you can double down on flow-of-work learning and start increasing employee engagement and satisfaction.
1. Understand the competencies employees need to do their jobs effectively.
It’s often helpful to start at the end and work your way backward. Before any sort of learning program can begin, you’ve got to know what employees actually need in order to feel and be successful. What are those core competencies they must master to be at their best on the job? By discovering these things fist by conducting a needs analysis, you’ll then have a clear direction regarding the kinds of information they really need and want. You might even be surprised to find that what they need isn’t at all what you originally assumed.
To get to the bottom of this, begin by defining each role and identifying the measures of success. In other words, what are the outcomes that each role must achieve, and what are their important milestones? Once you understand that, you can then build out the core competencies needed to arrive at those outcomes.
2. Make information easily accessible.
Once you have a clear picture of what information employees actually need in order to achieve success, making it accessible becomes an absolute must. And with the vast array of information systems available today, there’s really no excuse. It’s important to remember that we’ve grown to expect quick and easy access to information. If we want to know something, we just pull out our phones and are a few clicks away from the information we need. Not meeting this expectation for on demand, easily absorbable information, will only serve to further frustrate your learners. The information your employees need should be available at their fingertips and in a variety of short forms (i.e., videos, podcasts, one-sheeters, etc.).
3. Provide regular skills assessments and coaching without ignoring core problems.
Following easy access to core information comes the more nuanced, personalized and interactive kind of learning: skills assessment and coaching. And there’s a method to the madness here. For instance, in the sales world deal coaching provides interventions related to active opportunities that sellers are working. For many sales managers, it’s where they’re most comfortable – in the sales zone, strategizing how to close deals. Meanwhile, developmental coaching concerns itself with the skills and mindsets that could derail productivity.
No matter what approach you take, it’s vital to avoid inadvertently sidelining the problem at hand. Managers often find themselves focusing so hard on the tactical aspects of deal coaching that they miss the real root of the problem, like a skills or competency issue. No amount of superficial interventions will work if the root problem isn’t addressed first.
Good employees, the ones you desperately want to keep, want to improve their own outcomes; they want to be more effective. But if your in-house learning opportunities miss the mark even at the most basic levels, then these employees will almost certainly feel under-supported. And that has a huge negative cultural impact in the office, an impact directly tied to low retention rates. According to Bersin’s research, employees ranked the ability to learn and grow at their organization as roughly twice as important as getting a raise, and neglect in this area was a strong reason for leaving their job.
Learning in the flow of work isn’t a fad; it’s here to stay. That’s because unlike other models, it remains nimble and responsive to the current shifts regarding knowledge, discovery and personal growth. Ultimately, its effectiveness comes down to how it empowers employees to take charge of their own problem solving and success. Employees who feel empowered, confident and supported are much more likely to stick around and achieve great things for your organization.