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It’s Time to Consider a New Way of Looking at the Learning Journey

Roberta Gogos
Jan 26 2022

2021 was a watershed year for L&D professionals: you need only look at LinkedIn’s 5th Annual Workplace Learning Report to understand the monumental shift and opportunity ripe for the picking.

The research-driven report shows that L&D leaders have moved strategically into the driver’s seat as change-makers, with 66% of L&D pros globally agreeing that their department became focused on rebuilding or reshaping their organisation in 2021. Beyond this, more than 64% of L&D leaders surveyed for the report agreed that 2021 was the year where L&D shifted from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have.’ 

The report also identified the top areas of priority for L&D leaders, with upskilling and reskilling winning the top spot. 

So, let me ask you this: after a year where L&D climbed the corporate ladder and finally made it to the top, and after everyone recognising just how important L&D is, why are so many enterprises still getting learning entirely wrong? 

Our own research, released in December, shows that as many as 40% of organisations are still leading with a course-led learning approach for learning and development, while just 4% are leading with real-time learning on the job. This is despite 92% of respondents agreeing that access to knowledge on demand is a key driver for business performance.

Given the widely recognised opportunity that L&D has, shouldn’t 2022 be the year companies finally get learning right - one where they can measure its value in terms of performance? 

To do this, L&D leaders are going to have to face some hard truths when analysing their current approach, and many will have to accept that it’s time to move away from a majority course-led approach. If companies want to enable the type of learning that creates less cost and greater competence of every employee, they will have to truly understand what goes into designing learning for performance. 

This article is the first of several in a series where we take you through the fundamentals of how to approach learning and knowledge with performance-first design. It’s an article for L&D leaders who want to seize the opportunity to improve employee performance, and to get better, more measurable outcomes from their L&D programmes. 

When It Comes To L&D, It’s Time To Go With The Flow

Think about it: regardless of our roles at any given organisation, we’ve all had to become extremely adaptive, flexible and proactive in our approach to work over the past two years. With unplanned mass disruption at the forefront of mind, most companies have deployed a hybrid in-person and remote working model, and L&D has had to follow suit to make learning work whenever, and wherever it needs to. 

In many ways, it has highlighted the need to flip the traditional approach to corporate learning on its head. Employees are often at home, in comparatively unsupported working environments where now more than ever, they need knowledge in the flow of work. 

The need for this knowledge at the point of need, in the flow of work, while doing work highlights a marked change in the way companies have begun to design learning, which is moving to what is known as ‘workflow learning’, learning in the flow of work, or simply in-flow learning. It’s a new way of looking at the learning journey, where the shift to performance support and using knowledge at the point of need is fuelled by an entirely different approach altogether. 

Establishing The Fundamental Need For Workflow Learning

Ever heard of Bob Mosher? Previously Director of Learning Strategy and Evangelism at Microsoft, Bob has been an active and influential leader in the learning and development industry for well over 23 years. 

Together, Bob and his colleague Conrad Gottfreson have developed an ethos and approach to learning in the enterprise that are renowned globally because of the great results they’ve helped many companies to achieve when they challenge traditional, classroom-led approaches to learning. They’ve helped these companies achieve outstanding results because of their focus on organisational performance versus training. 

Their approach isn’t built on guesswork. Rather, it’s been built on seeing a training or course-led approach come up short in the enterprise over the past few decades, and seeing instructors and course attendees alike struggle through 1000 slide, 5-day Powerpoint training sessions. 

You know the kind, right? Where the instructor has to present a slide every 1.8 minutes, and you as the attendee begin to suffer the typical death curve of knowledge that creeps in almost instantly? It’s an assault on the senses by way of content dump, where 80% of the effort is focused on presenters presenting, 10% is focused on discussion, and only 10% total is spent on the combined and crucial activities of showing how and practising with feedback. It’s an approach that leaves no time for review. 

Seeing this predicament time and time again was enough to make Bob recognise the need for a different approach to learning based on learning on the job, which would require companies to approach their learning journeys differently. 

Today, Bob is a big proponent of what he calls ‘workflow learning.’ He defines workflow learning as “embedded learning and support in the workflow, while doing the work.”

It means shifting from a majority training or formal course-led approach, and getting into the workflow more intentionally with knowledge and learning efforts - both in the approach we use, and the tools we use to facilitate that learning. 

Not coincidentally, it’s exactly the approach we use at Fuse, and over the years, we’ve developed our platform to be a great enabler of workflow learning. 

It’s Time To Consider A New Way of Looking At The Content Journey

In workflow learning design, learners are no longer distanced from the place where performance occurs: it’s an embedded approach that helps learners learn while they do their work, so that they have completed and accomplished their tasks in the flow of work. 

As Bob says, when you flip learning on its head like this and move the emphasis to doing rather than training, you’re effectively offering tools to learners to self-sustain and grow to go beyond what they have initially learned. In this approach, training, on average, is reduced by half, because if you shift to an applied workflow design approach, you don't have to train or teach every single little thing. People just get on with it - learning, applying and practising in the flow of work. 

This approach also highlights a new key performance indicator that every enterprise should be measuring: time-to-competency. In workflow learning, time-to-competency is often halved because learners are enabled to practice and learn in the flow of work, rather than getting pummelled with content that they struggle to absorb and apply. 

Let’s Make A Big Impact

Executing on workflow design may sound daunting, but don’t worry, we’re here to help explain it in detail. The ultimate goal of every L&D programme should be to drive employee performance in a measurable way, and rest assured that this approach is the best way. In the next few parts of this series, we’ll take you through examples of how Fuse customers are achieving great performance results with the approach, and how our technology is helping them to get there. 

Bottom line: we’re at a pivotal moment in the industry, and one where learning has taken centre stage as the only way organisations will develop the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in the future of work. The opportunity to embrace and capitalise on the benefits of performance-based design is yours for the taking. 

Don’t believe us? Take a feather from the cap of Leena Nair, CHRO of Unilever who said it best at the LinkedIn Virtual Summit in October 2021:

This is the time to ask those big questions and create change - and to disrupt and pioneer and take risks; you need to have that confidence.

"You need to have that swagger that says, ‘I know my function and I can make that difference.’ That is why my biggest advice is: lead! Don’t wait for someone else to tell you to lead. Lead! Lead proactively! Grab the spotlight! If not now, when? If not us, then who? This is our time. Let’s make a big impact.” 

If you’d like to have a discussion to discuss how we can help your move to workflow design to boost your learning based outcomes and performance, get in touch today

Stay tuned - in the next post in this series, we’re going to look at how workflow learning and Fuse can work together to satisfy the 5 Moments of Need.

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