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Knocking Down Roadblocks for Learning in the Workflow

This was originally published on on January 11, 2019.

Learning in the Workflow: How to Get Past Common Barriers

As we start a new year we have reviewed the concepts we will be inundated with during 2019. One of the concepts that excite us here at AllenComm is “learning in the workflow.“  The concept is not new, many luminaries in our industry such as Gloria Geri, Conrad Gottfredson, and others have worked in the area of electronic performance support systems (EPSS) as early as the 1990s. Early implementations in this area failed to reach the scale and impact that many pioneers in this field predicted. At AllenComm we believe changes in how Learning and Development departments are structured, and the reallocation of the budget will finally bring real-time contextual learning to the forefront of corporate training. We are at the cusp of a growing role for L&D across large and complex organizations.

The History Of Learning In The Workflow

For those of us that have followed this process for the last 20 years, we believe the following factors have made EPSS a forgotten term in our learning lexicon.

  1. Early projects in the area made many assumptions on the motivation of learners to initiate self-learning in a structured way. Whether it was an animated paper clip in an early version of Word or complex computer systems, we assumed learners would search for content.
  2. Generating contextual content for such systems was very laborious. For companies, the efforts in content generation and its maintenance was a challenge.
  3. Technology at the time kept the user experience delegated to short and often hard-to-understand textual prompts.
  4. Linear models of instruction had great prevalence and EPSS systems with non-linear learning paths had many skeptics as well as issues within learning management governance models that only support linear learning models.

Perform a Google search with the words “learning in the workflow“ and you’ll find a plethora of articles and papers written since the early 90s. Has much changed from 20 years ago? Recent articles by Josh Bersin and Bob Mosher have invigorated our discussion around electronic performance support.

Learning In The Workflow Tipping Point

We believe we have reached a tipping point in relation to moving learning into the real-time context of our learners’ jobs. It has long been our observation that learning and development tend to lag behind other departments in the corporate space. Some of our own research shows that well-documented L&D trends often follow the marketing world. Changes in our market mostly around political, economic, socio-cultural, and technical advances are making learning in the workflow a reality for our customers.

1. The Political Environment Over the Past Decade

The political environment over the past decade, as well as the results of major elections around work, has shed a strong light on the need for employee retraining. Governmental and corporate organizations will not be able to scale by using long linear web-based training programs. The need for greater scale and greater speed of adoption will drive more learning into the workflow. Compliance-based regulation has grown, making content accessed in the workflow more important. Compliance oversights will continue to drive budgets to formal learning organizations, which will, in turn, drive more of our designs into real-time contextual formats.

2. The Economic Imperative for Performance Support could not be Greater

Corporate mergers and acquisitions are on the rise and global consolidation of products and services continues. L&D within companies has been diversified across marketing, IT, and supply chain functions. Time and place for traditional training models are being funded differently as operational units are challenged to react faster to organizational needs. Within our specific market, the growth in off-the-shelf content and accessibility to content has created new monetization models for vendors and broader choices of microlearning for corporate training departments. L&D departments have more choice of assets that can be pushed into the workflow.

3. Sociological Trends have Always Impacted Our Industry

Much has been written on the new generation of learners that want the immediacy of support. While we do not believe learning styles have radically changed, we must accept that all learners have better access to content we can and cannot control. Our learners have become accustomed to immediate access to information and any formal learning we provide in the workplace is being dwarfed next to the body of content available 24-7 in the workplace. Not only do our learners have more access to information, but we as learning departments also have more access to the learners themselves. A whole new generation of L&D professionals are themselves by-products of the use of short, readily accessible content in the workflow.

4. Technological Innovation has Long Been a Bastion of Change

For learning in the workflow, this is no different. In many ways, it is part of the sociological and economic factors we have already outlined. Curating content, creating smaller and smaller nuggets of content, and granting access across desktop and mobile platforms have become ubiquitous. Yet, while technology is a necessary condition for innovation it’s not sufficient for a shift to happen in L&D. We believe that over the next few years more and more learning budgets will be co-opted by marketing and operational technologies that can combine learning in the workplace with operational tasks in real time. Change in L&D will come about through technological innovation in other parts of the organization.

Learning in the Workflow Best Practices

In summation, the roadblocks to learning in the workflow are tumbling down. Speaking to our clients and looking at the best-case studies we could find, for many it’s still design-task prioritization and internal L&D staffing that hold us back from transforming the way L&D functions in the organization. While for many of us Instructional Design is our craft, content curation, maintenance, and distribution must become our profession. Instructional Design is not dead, it has morphed into faster, more scalable activities that allow us to curate, maintain, and contextualize content. It is time to staff up with ID professionals that have marketing experience, editors with strong publishing skills, and technologists that can work in a multitude of platforms used by our organization.

We must be aware that focusing too heavily on Project Management rather than maintaining our role as designers of the user-learner experience will cause the distribution of content to fall to the wayside. Here at AllenComm, we have transformed our design approach. The following are the guidelines we recommend to our clients in moving to a more contextual learning experience in the workflow:

  1. Measure good design of content by its ability to be contextualized while being reused across multiple platforms.
  2. Build in maintenance processes for your content but never compromise on the user experience. The most maintainable content is worthless if the employee avoids the learning or finds it unappealing.
  3. Co-op existing technologies in your organization and minimize your learning technology footprint. Be wary of having to spend most of your time maintaining technological platforms and losing your focus on the content you need to support.
  4. Keep looking for better ways to manage your subject matter experts. Speed and scale for expanding to the workflow are dependent on good working relations with such experts.
  5. Push your vendors to help you innovate. Any help you can get to reprioritize how you provide your employee with critical content should be welcomed.

Realigning your design approaches and the priorities of your team members will ensure that your L&D will have an expanded role in your organization for years to come. Does your 2019 plan incorporate more training in the workflow? At AllenComm we believe it can and are happy to provide you with the designs and tools that can help.