Professional training no longer requires taking employees away from their work, thanks to an innovative new approach: workflow-enabled learning. At the most basic level, workflow-enabled learning is a training strategy that empowers your team by incorporating learning into their daily workflow with convenient and intuitive online tools that help them address job challenges in real time. The result is greatly expedited task completion.

Eisha Armstrong, partner and co-founder of Vecteris, and Tracy Cyr, senior vice president of learning at Ariel, have extensive experience with workflow-enabled learning. Here’s a few of their thoughts about this new approach:

Eisha: Workflow-enabled learning is just-in-time learning employers provide that takes place in the flow of people’s day-to-day jobs. It puts relevant and easily understood information in front of employees in different modalities at the exact moment they need it to complete a task. The information is typically delivered in a short video and/or written format in order to appeal to the different ways people learn and [today’s employees’] ever-shorter attention spans.

Tracy: To add to your great description Eisha, I think workflow-enabled learning’s power lies in its ability to enable employees to instantly pull information to themselves regarding tasks they need to complete, when they need it. They are in the driver’s seat regarding their learning, which research shows makes them more likely to retain information.

Eisha: I believe workflow-enabled learning is a tremendous game-changer for businesses for a variety of reasons. One of the challenges I regularly see employers having is their employees turning to the internet to find information they need to complete a task at work. In this situation, employers cannot ensure that the content employees are using is high-quality, which can result in things being done incorrectly. In addition, employees have to spend a lot of time sifting through material that isn’t relevant to find what they are looking for — time they could have been using to complete [other] tasks instead.

Workflow-enabled learning enables employers to ensure that the information employees need to do their work can be instantly accessed, is tailored to the job they must do, is in an easily consumable format, is delivered within a consistent framework and is in the brand[’s] voice. It provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect the brand well and is a competitive differentiator. In addition, workflow-enabled learning tends to be more social. People can go on to a discussion board or crowdsource from a network. 

Tracy: I totally agree. In addition, workflow-enabled learning provides individualized support directly to whomever needs it. It appeals to everyone who is used to instant access to information. Adults also tend to retain relevant information better when it is presented to them in a short and engaging format. As Eisha mentioned earlier, the collaboration piece is very important. People can share information via Slack, Yammer or team chat lines.

Eisha: Also, workflow-enabled learning focuses on giving employees a competency [when] they need to immediately address a real-time task, whereas traditional training focuses on teaching employees a competency or group of competencies they will be able to use to advance in their careers.

Tracy: Yes. Traditional training also takes employees out of their seats and requires a dedicated time frame to be set aside. With workflow-enabled learning, however, targeted learning that helps employees to address a task in real time is delivered to them at their desk.

Eisha: I feel the incredibly fast pace of change in corporate America is the driving force behind workflow-enabled learning. Something you learned in a classroom 12 months ago may become quickly outdated. Workflow-enabled learning keeps pace with changes since content can be easily updated. Resources can be delivered to employees when they need them without their even searching for it using the power of AI, which uses data that employees used recently, data they are collecting about a certain topic, etc., to determine what information they need. 

Tracy: In addition to having to keep pace with change, peak performance in less time is the goal of many companies. Workflow-enabled learning eliminates the time and cost of someone having to go learn something off-site, whether in a classroom or conference room. It is designed to increase efficiency around work people are doing. Most people would rather be doing their work than sitting in a class. 

Eisha: Perhaps the best way to get a feel for how transformative workflow-enabled learning can be is to understand how it can be implemented. Imagine how much better reviews by managers would be if they were provided with checklists, videos and the opportunity to practice delivering the reviews prior to conducting them; or how much more effective sales teams would be if they were sent a sales preparation list prior to pitching [to] a client.

Tracy: Yes, and imagine if someone was given an hour to prepare a quick update on the status of next steps for a project, and they could access a checklist for how to sum it up in 15 minutes; or if they came across a process they were unfamiliar with, that they could immediately find information about it and move forward with completing their task. The ability of workflow-enabled learning to drive efficacy and superior performance is unlimited.

Eisha: For companies thinking of implementing a workflow-enabled learning program, my advice is to start small and to expand and improve upon the program over time. The first step is to catalog the tasks teams need the most help with. It’s a good idea to get input from employees in order to determine what tasks to focus on. I recommend putting together a group of networks consisting of people you want to use your workflow-enabled learning and having them be part of the development process. I also suggest investing in the back-end and outsourcing the content creation to recognized experts. For example, if you wanted content around how to use stories to sell or how to write a powerful speech, you’d outsource the content to a highly regarded communications training company.

Tracy: I agree. From what I’ve observed, I’d add that prioritizing areas where consistency and high-quality [content] is needed is key when it comes to implementing a workflow-enabled learning program. Imagine everyone writing in your brand’s voice, everyone using the same sales method, everyone presenting in the same impactful way. It can happen with effective workflow-enabled learning. Once your workflow-enabled learning program is ready, I suggest having a targeted group of high potentials be the initial users since others will follow their lead.

Eisha: Workflow-enabled learning, in general, has so many benefits. However, when it comes to traditional training versus workflow-enabled learning, I feel that traditional training is more effective for addressing any lack in competencies and behavior. It provides employees with real-time feedback regarding what is working and what isn’t, as well as with a framework to apply their training in their day-to-day work environments. In addition, bonding among team members often takes place during traditional training because they stretched and struggled together while learning essential skills.

Tracy: I agree with Eisha. I also feel that in-person training provides the ideal opportunity to practice new and softer leadership skills in a safe environment. In addition, it provides an opportunity to build trust with other participants who can support each other’s growth and a change of habits. When it comes to sustaining the development process and bonding that Eisha referenced, which is a key factor in the effectiveness of this social learning approach, one-on-one or small group coaching is ideal. There is a greater commitment and accountability with peer support. 

The Future of Workflow-Enabled Learning 

There is no doubt that workflow-enabled learning will increasingly become an integral part of many companies. In fact, Towards Maturity research found that 78% of workers use technology to network and learn from each other, 57% of workers want to learn at the moment of need and 94% of workers prefer to learn at their own pace.   

How Workflow-enabled Learning is Delivered 

Workflow-enabled learning can be delivered through a single method, or through a variety of methods. However, each delivery method’s objective is the same: To create a manageable, accessible and intuitive learning environment that enables employees to complete tasks quickly and accurately. The following are popular delivery methods for workflow-enabled learning: 

  • Electronic performance support systems (EPSSs): AnEPSS takes employees’ input and provides them with task-specific assistance.
  • Knowledge bases: A knowledge base is a database of information focused on a specific industry or professional role. Using artificial intelligence (AI), it can help employees quickly find what they need and suggest related content. EPSSs also allow learners to send comments and interact with each other.
  • Social collaboration platforms: Social collaboration platforms like Yammer and Slack connect groups of people who are working on the same projects.

Why Invest in Workflow-enabled Learning?

A constantly improving workforce gives your company a strong competitive advantage. With workflow-enabled learning, the learning process is so immersive and intuitive that, at times, employees may not even realize they’re learning. They will be both trained and supported in their moment of need, resulting in a happier corporate culture — and an improved bottom-line. 

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