3 urban legends about learning in the flow of work

Posted by Julie Hiipakka on March 5, 2019.

The convergence of learning and work has been underway for over a decade. Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP has recently written about the productivity imperative, even going as far to predict that learning would go where the work happens.1 In the last year, this convergence is being described as “where learning is work, and work is learning,” or more popularly, learning in the flow of work.2

While this concept intuitively makes sense, it simultaneously feels hard to execute. This situation is the stuff urban legends are made of. People trying to make sense of what’s difficult to understand come up with a narrative that, because it sounds true, is spread around. While urban legends about learning in the flow of work are less pervasive than sewer alligators or vanishing hitchhikers, they should nevertheless be debunked. Let’s look at the ones we hear most frequently.

Legend 1: Microlearning is learning in the flow of work.

Learning in bite-size chunks has been well received by workers with limited time each week to learn. Microlearning focuses specifically on what people need to know, limits time away from work, and is easier to build and for workers to get through. It is also useful for organizations, as they must update their offerings to align with information that changes constantly. Updating a 2-minute module takes way less time than updating a 15-minute course!

Truth: Microlearning is a method.

Microlearning is brief and gets to the point, but it is in the flow of work only when placed inside the places and tools workers inhabit to do their work. What matters for learning in the flow is knowing the work, the worker, and the work environment so well that you know when, where, and how to best stage and offer the content to be of most and quickest use. If you’re using microlearning already, look for ways to integrate that content into work systems so that workers don’t have to log into a separate learning system. Learning experience platforms are a way to facilitate this.

Legend 2: Learning in the flow of work requires expensive technology.

Elaborate learning ecosystems and the latest cool tools are the only way to get learning to workers where they need it.

Truth: Not everything requires technology—learning in the flow requires understanding your workers’ challenges.

Bersin has written about the contexts for continuous learning: environment, exposure, experiences, and education.3 When combined, almost any of the “4 Es” can be methods for delivering learning in the flow of work. Digital adoption platforms are gaining traction because they can provide efficient guidance on how to do things inside the tools we use every day. Soundly designed tip cards that remind about new, shorter cleaning processes and are placed on a hotel housekeeper’s cart may serve the same purpose. And stretch assignments can be in the flow, too!

Legend 3: Learning in the flow of work will kill off instructor-led training.

Truth: There can still be good reasons to create distance and difference between the learning and performance context.

The opportunity for practice may be required before enabling performance on the job for a risky or sensitive task. Virtual reality and online simulations can provide this, but for those who aren’t ready, or can’t yet make the business case, thoughtful use of facilitated learning experiences can make sense.

Understanding your workforce, their challenges, and what they experience is essential—you can’t bring learning to work if you don’t understand the work!

Our previous High Impact Learning Organization study, combined with deeper exploration into how organizations are making this shift, has led us to identify four practices to embed learning in the flow of work. Our first article in this research series, publishing in the Bersin member library in late February, introduces these practices. Subsequent articles will cover other leading practices in depth, as well as what learning in the flow looks like for specific audiences. If your organization is innovating in these areas, we’d like to speak with you! Contact Julie Hiipakka (jhiipikka@deloitte.com) to arrange an interview.

Julie Hiipakka is vice president and learning research leader with Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

1 Prediction: Learning Will Go to Where Work Happens, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Julie Hiipakka, 2018.
2 “Learning in the flow of work,” Capital H / David Mallon, Meriya Dyble, Michael Griffiths, Josh Haims, and Julie Hiipakka, 2019, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/human-capital/articles/podcast-human-capital-h.html
3 Continuous Learning: A Primer, Bersin Consulting LLP / Dani Johnson, 2015.

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