Our 2022 Report on the State of Learning in the Flow of Work
The best way to learn is by doing. Yet, the strategies and frameworks we have traditionally used in learning and development don’t always fulfill the promise and potential of hands-on learning. Instead, we define formal learning programs around topics or initiatives selected by senior leadership teams or heads of departments, resulting in bigger and bigger course libraries that don’t always match the needs of the moment.
This ‘more is more’ approach might work for consumer-driven companies like Netflix, Spotify, Instagram, and Twitter, making it easy for people to browse and enjoy content. But as Josh Bersin states, when it comes to learning platforms, more doesn’t always equal better. We don’t want people to spend hours and hours browsing content–we want them to find the exact thing they need to solve immediate problems in their workflow and move on to the next task.
That’s where ‘learning in the flow of work’ comes in. And in this four-part report, we’ve got exclusive data-driven insights on what learners in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany really need to solve problems through impactful learning, where L&D leaders are getting things right, and where there’s room for us to lift our game.
But first, a little background.
Founding theorists such as Gloria Gery, Conrad Gottfredson, and Bob Mosher have been practicing learning in the flow of work in relation to performance support for over 30 years. The term learning in the flow of work itself was reframed and renamed by Josh Bersin in 2018. He described it ‘as learning that is embedded into the platform in which people work, so the systems can coach and train them to be better on the job.’
L&D experts have built upon this idea to further define what learning in the flow of work means and how it works for learners.
- Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher describe workflow learning as learning that occurs when people learn while performing work. They pioneered the ‘five moments of need’ approach comprising the full spectrum of performance support needs.
- Gary Wise further developed a point-of-work strategy in which he demonstrates the importance of impact and analysis of point-of-work solutions. He says that building a successful foundation demands upfront assessment of the analytics available, accuracy, and relevance to tangible impact, only visible at the point-of-work.
- Nick Shackleton-Jones says organizations should look to mirror the way we now use information in our everyday lives—at the point of need. His methodology of resources not courses is focused on driving better learning performance.
- David James described learning at the point of work as the biggest opportunity facing the L&D profession, and developed a 3-step process for L&D leaders:
1. Understand the real problems
2. Experiment with those you wish to influence
3. Scale what works with automation
That’s a short overview of what learning in the flow of work means today. But is this powerful concept still a priority? Or are there better ways to give people what they need to learn and improve?
We surveyed 1,957 learners and 1,004 L&D decision-makers in the US, UK, France, and Germany to find out. Our survey found that globally, 7 out of 10 L&D decision-makers are prioritizing learning at the point of need, but learners tell us their learning experiences aren’t practical enough.
This suggests that there is a mismatch between what we as L&D leaders invest in most versus what our learners actually need to improve their performance. While our success metrics like attendance, completion, and satisfaction rates continue to be sufficient, we struggle to know whether a program has made a demonstrable impact on employee performance (and the wider business). This is the biggest challenge L&D teams face today.
The concept of learning in the flow of work represents an opportunity for L&D teams to better demonstrate their impact in addressing real needs. Up until now, many L&D functions have serviced their organization, taking training requests from business partners and developing learning content. But too often these requests are based on isolated skill sets that have failed to consider the individual's context or the specific challenges they face. This makes upskilling an entire workforce inherently more difficult.
A typical scenario looks like this: a senior leader approaches the L&D team because they want to create or update a leadership course. The L&D team says yes—they can put together a 3-day program—and they start to plan the logistics. But in this situation, nobody is taking account of the individual's context, the specific leadership situations they might face in their role, or the timing for this training to occur. Instead, L&D teams simply ship content and hope for the best.
But fear not: our findings suggest that L&D teams, alongside subject-matter experts, have the opportunities and know-how they need to collect insights and present them in the flow of work. Through team collaboration and peer feedback, learners can work together to solve problems and make a difference.
Our findings suggest that L&D teams, alongside subject-matter experts, have the opportunities and know-how they need to collect insights and present them in the flow of work. Through team collaboration and peer feedback, learners can work together to solve problems and make a difference.
The total sample size for the learner survey was 1,957 respondents, spread across the US (500), UK (500), France (482), and Germany (475). The fieldwork was carried out between July 15th to July 20th 2022 by Pollfish online.
The total sample size for L&D decision-makers was 1,004 respondents, spread across the US (252), UK (250), France (251), and Germany (251). The fieldwork was carried out between July 21st and July 27th 2022 by YouGov online.