Tip #781: Learning in the Flow of Work

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“Work is learning and learning is the work.” Harold Jarche

The latest learning and development concept is learning in the flow of work.

Learning in the Flow of Work

What are we talking about? As employees do their jobs, a question or problem may arise. Then, the same way many of us turn to Google or Youtube for answers, the employee accesses some knowledge base or subject matter expert for a quick answer or solution. This happens while the employee is still engaged in his or her work, so the work progresses as the employee receives the answers s/he needs.

It’s a wonderful idea. I imagine learning and development folks building a knowledge hub replete with frequently asked questions or videos of subject matter experts expounding on a solution or demonstrating how to perform a certain procedure. What an excellent resource this would be for employees as they tackle tasks that are difficult or infrequent.

Learning in the flow of work moves the work forward without taking the employee away from the task at hand. There is no problem of transfer, since the learning occurs during the work. The work proceeds with minimal disruption.

Training Programs

What learning in the flow of work does not do is provide training that builds new skill sets that will change behavior. For this truly new learning, we still need to rely on scheduled training programs that do take employees away from their jobs for a time. The challenge here is to make that training so similar to the work environment that transfer is automatic. This requires the training to be specific and job relevant rather than generic. It also requires that the training program incorporate sufficient practice so that the employees feel confident in their competence when they leave the classroom.

Learning in the flow of work also cannot anticipate all possible challenges that occur during a work process. This requires a third option.

Peer Learning Groups

Peer learning groups bridge learning in the flow of work and skill-building new learning. In these groups, employees with a similar challenge share their knowledge and expertise and learn new information and skills. It is a form of social sharing that is performed face-to-face following a structured agenda and using targeted training materials that address the challenge. The groups meet no longer than 90 minutes and then dive directly back into their work, applying their new learning.

What peer learning groups additionally offer that neither learning in the flow of work nor skill-building training sessions provide is a chance to reflect on what has been learned, to consolidate the learning into new behavior going forward. They accomplish this during a second 90-minute session that occurs after a month of practice with new behaviors.

Focus on Performance

All forms of learning and development, be they learning in the flow of work, skill-building training or peer learning groups, are concerned with ensuring effective work performance and results. Learning in the flow of work maintains the pace of performance. Skill-building training improves performance. Peer learning groups do both. That is why the title trainer is obsolete. These days, we call ourselves workplace learning and performance improvement specialists, because that is our focus and concern.

Whether the learning occurs in the flow of work, a scheduled training program or a peer learning group, follow up support is necessary. In our next Tip, we’ll tackle the challenge of training reinforcement.

May your learning be sweet.


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