Conrad Gottfredson
Training & Learning

What Is Workflow Learning, Really? Insights From Conrad Gottfredson

Workflow Learning. Learning in the flow of work. Learning at the point of work.

Whatever you want to call it, guidance and support at the moment learners need it is a sure-fire way of gaining employee engagement and retention. 

In this L&D Podcast recap post, I talk to Conrad Gottfredson, pioneer of the 5 Moments of Need methodology. Conrad has more than 30 years of experience in the L&D consultancy field, and is a widely recognized expert on workflow learning. That’s why my discussion on getting to the bottom of what workflow learning really is–and how it can help organizations and L&D teams–was so fascinating and thought-provoking.

Read on to find out more about what the perfect workflow learning environments look like, and how performance support infrastructures can help L&D teams drive greater learning outcomes for your teams.

What is workflow learning, really? 

A term often misinterpreted in learning and development, Conrad firstly describes the vital distinction between what workflow learning is and what it’s not. “Workflow learning occurs when people learn in the workflow while performing work,” he says. And for Conrad, one thing is clear: as soon as a learner needs to stop doing their work to learn, workflow learning is no longer happening.

Workflow learning occurs when people learn in the workflow while performing work.

So, with the definition of workflow learning outlined, what are some examples of workflow learning environments?

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Three examples of workflow learning environments

Conrad explains that for workflow learning to be successful, organizations must nurture what he calls ‘workflow learning environments’. To help L&D teams get started, he outlines three examples of these environments. First up, the experience acceleration model.

1. Experience acceleration model

As Conrad explains, the experience acceleration model is a key way to support workflow learning. He suggests that learners can take what they’ve learned in a formal setting, for example in a classroom or in an eLearning course, and adapt it to their workflow. 

Learners will accelerate, or over-perform, when they adapt and meet new challenges head-on in their role (or as Conrad says, in their workflow). “The accelerated experience model is in place to provide the tools and infrastructure so people can effectively adapt and develop experience, driving improved performance,” he says.

2. Flow of work

Another example of a workflow learning environment is flow of work—where employees learn exclusively while completing core tasks. Unlike the experience acceleration model which is an extension of formal learning, flow of work is initiated as learners do their work. As Conrad says, “This is where we build a digital culture with an Embedded Performance Support Solution (EPSS).” 

An EPSS is connected to a business application that guides learners when they need help. For example, an HR system will detect when a manager is recruiting, and will automatically be guided to offer training on recruiting new hires at the moment of need. 

This environment takes workflow learning to a new level, as it allows organisations to measure performance through collecting data on learning outcomes. This is a great option for L&D teams needing to measure the impact of learning on the business.

3. GEAR

As Conrad explains, GEAR is a bridge model between experience acceleration and flow of work environments. GEAR is a virtual learning model, which stands for:

  • G - Gather online to learn in a formal setting
  • E - Expand understanding after learning in the formal setting through activities
  • A - Apply what has been learned in the flow of work
  • R - Report back and receive feedback on learning

This is an effective workflow learning environment for organisations that already have some formal training, but are looking to make the shift to a more extensive model of workflow learning. 

For L&D leaders looking to make the most out of workflow learning and help their teams to boost their learning outcomes, it’s critical to consider each of these three examples of workflow learning environments. This gives L&D leaders the flexibility they need to shape this learning environment to the particular needs and preferences of their organisation.

So, why should you incorporate these three workflow learning environments? Mainly, because these models are based on the three fundamental schools of learning theory: Behaviourism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism. Constructivism in particular is highly relevant to workflow learning as it has opened up a whole new body of research around experiential learning—the focus on how we apply what we’re learning through real-world experiences.

Not convinced on workflow learning just yet? Conrad had four key reasons to offer on why you should make the change.

Four reasons why you should implement workflow learning

Conrad makes a strong argument for L&D teams to pivot to workflow learning to improve learner performance. Fortunately, it’s clear this shift is already happening for many organisations. But if you haven’t yet incorporated workflow learning into your L&D strategy, here are four reasons why you should.

  1. Impact measurement - Conrad explains that when organizations build an infrastructure that supports learners in the flow of work, it allows L&D teams to gather data on learner performance and more easily measure impact. He says, “This is very powerful, as it enables us to truly measure the impact of performance in every possible way.”
  2. Better employee engagement - Workflow learning enables L&D teams to provide learners with what they need when they need it. Identifying the moment of need is critical, because learners are much more likely to learn in the flow of work which improves performance and allows them to develop experience. This helps to increase wider employee engagement significantly. 
  3. Improved performance support infrastructure - Focusing on support infrastructure will not only allow you to move towards workflow learning, but it will also help identify the moment of ‘apply’ (as determined in the GEAR model) as it occurs in the flow of work. 
  4. Scaling workflow learning - Once you can identify and map the ‘apply moments’ at the workflow level, you will better understand what it is that people need, as well as when they need it. . This is the first step to scaling your workflow learning solution in the future.

Thanks again to Conrad Gottfredson for sharing his insights on workflow learning! For more insightful and actionable L&D stories, check out my session with Guy Wallace on how L&D teams can pivot from learning to performance.

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