Learning in the Flow of Work is the Future of Business

Employees are an essential asset to an organization so it’s time to invest in their development. Most businesses generally focus on training when new information comes along. That means workers only develop in order to comply. However, they are learning new skills as part of their normal flow of work. So why not use that opportunity to assist in their development?

That opens the door to another highly debated topic – is formal or informal learning better? At the end of the day, learning isn’t what matters to a business. Performance is the true metric, so as long as workers are complying with the rules and providing higher performance, does it really matter how they learned?

Let’s look at some innovative ways that L&D can help employees learn in the flow of work without sacrificing their performance.

Finding the Basis for Learning in the Flow of Work

The industry is shifting focus from formal training to helping employees gain knowledge and skills from their work through coaching  and support in the flow of work. This underpins the move away from formal classroom training unless there are skills that an organization can only teach in a formal training situation.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Everyone is unique in the way they learn so we cannot predict when they’ll need assistance. Certain concepts are easier for some workers to grasp. As a result, we don’t develop rigid systems for each topic. Learning in the flow of work is a way to meet the worker in the middle by providing the right information at the right time.

Modern Learning in the Digital Age

We’ve seen the world transition to learning virtually . If someone wants to learn how to bake a pie, they look up the recipe on their computer. If they want to learn how to tie a knot, they pull out their smartphones. The willingness to learn is not the problem. Resistance comes from the fear of having to sit through boring lectures and spend hours watching videos.

Technology has completely transformed the way businesses conduct training. Agility is the key word now. Organizations must adapt to an ever-changing landscape. But even with the technology readily available, results are mixed. That’s because most organizations are still trying to catch up to the modern workforce.

The problem is that training is viewed as separate from work, but the goal of training is to improve performance at work. Unlike the examples of how to tie a knot in our personal lives, many organizations still believe training is separate from the work environment. Furthermore, some organizations view training as a waste of money because of the time people spend away from work while in training. Also the fact employees may learn these new skills and quit.

Traditional training requires workers to leave their everyday tasks to participate in these sessions. Even with eLearning, workers need to shift their focus to absorb the information. That is where learning in the flow of work has a place. L&D develops it in a way that helps employees meet their needs when required. So when they run across a problem, they are able to solve it using the tools provided without hindering their productivity.

Learning in the Flow of Work – Consumed When Needed

Employees learn during their moments of need rather than being distracted by formal training. Let’s say a company’s main accounting tool has a huge update that changes some of its essential features. Employees are likely to run into problems as they navigate the changes. Companies have one of two choices – formal training or flow of work learning.

Formal training would have the employee watch videos in front of their computer in order to memorize every change. But that’s not an efficient approach. Not only would it pull them away from their job, but they probably wouldn’t memorize every detail anyway.

The best approach would be to develop an interactive help feature built into the software. This would walk users through each new feature on-screen as they interact. This process would reach the worker when they most needed it, would not interrupt their everyday work, and would provide them with the right information.

With the traditional learning approach, workers must master new skills under the pressure of a classroom or eLearning environment. This approach still works with certain skills, but it’s no longer the efficient approach in most cases. L&D must evolve beyond that mindset.

Learning in the flow of work solves immediate problems as they happen, thus providing valuable lessons through the experience of everyday work. The key is to determine problems workers could encounter when doing their job. So L&D must provide concise chunks of information to the learner when they require it. It must also be easy to find, so the solution must have outstanding search capabilities.

Learning in the Flow of Work is Worth the Investment

Developing a thorough flow of work learning system takes quite a bit of work and requires specific skills to make these systems work. But the benefits far outweigh any investments. Presenting relevant information during the flow of work is transformational.

The fact is that job experience trumps all other types of learning. By integrating flow of work learning systems, organizations can help employees learn better through experience rather than by memorization. Employees learn without sacrificing productivity. People can learn while working on a particular task. They do not have to remember tasks and processes for a later occasion back at work.

A system to support learning in the flow of work is best consolidated on a single platform that can easily be accessed by all employees. Make it as easy on the worker as possible. When done correctly, the entire learning process becomes transformative. It will boost productivity and efficiency in every facet of an organization.

Of course, we’ve mostly focused on the benefits to employee but what many organizations miss are the benefits to the employer. Let’s start with the obvious. Employees who are more productive and efficient are an obvious asset. Workers with improved skillsets make an organization more resilient to disruptions in the industry.

But let’s dive even deeper. Think about how difficult it is to update traditional training systems. When an organization launches a new technology, L&D must rewrite the entire classroom curriculum to reflect this change. These technologies are being released so fast that companies need to either retrain employees several times per year or skip using the new technology. Both can have disastrous repercussions.

Learning in the flow of work significantly lessens the learning gap to keep up with new technologies. Rather than having to rewrite the entire training curriculum, L&D can focus on adding and/or replacing relevant aspects.

Microlearning Complements Learning in the Flow of Work

Employees are met with a never-ending stream of information so there are bound to be moments when they learn something that doesn’t match their employer’s approach. Additionally, there is information that an organization can’t simply integrate into a work process. For example, learning in the flow of work may not be suited to questions that require immediate attention or which are too complex to include as they require in-depth explanations. Learning in the flow of work isn’t suited for developing conversational skills or occasions where employees can’t bring up a job aid (e.g. during a conversation with the customer).  Instead, formal training can support some of these situations.

.Learning professionals can accomplish this by using other modern learning tools such as micro learning to help employees find moments when they can focus on their development by giving them access to the right bursts of information when required. This microlearning approach supplements learning in the flow of work.

No one has hours of free time to commit to training on a regular basis, but most people can find five minutes here and there. Microlearning utilizes these short gaps by providing bursts of information in a focused and concise manner. This makes learning in the flow of work a suitable solution for systems and process training.

L&D Controls the Experience, Not the Culture

L&D has a few limitations. We cannot change work processes or dictate company culture. We can offer advice and adapt the learning experience to match the way a company approaches their business. In short, we are the learning development team, but we do not control the learning culture. For example, we can support the adoption of a new enterprise system with in-context help about processes. But we cannot change the fact that the system we’re supporting is met with resistance.

Our role is to build an infrastructure of support that assists employees. We help them discover, learn, and share information as part of their flow of work. The fact that L&D is the middleman is actually advantageous. It gives us a unique perspective that’s not clouded by the other internal workings of the business units.

The challenge is finding ways to present this new, relevant information to workers. L&D leverages work tools with which workers are already familiar  and then uses those tools to introduce them to improve resources. For example, if people are using the intranet, we may use the intranet to hold easily accessed job aids that can be quickly searched and support learning in the flow of work. Or perhaps we share the contact information of a person who can answer questions via Chat. The solutions do not need to be an enterprise digital adoption platform or a chatbot. Our role is to recommend the right fit given the learners and our organization.

L&D builds channels that blend social learning with performance support to provide employees with the tools they need to solve problems within their flow of work. Often, these systems provide almost instant feedback. This unified environment allows us to quantify the value of the content.

Overcoming Flow of Work Learning Obstacles

One challenge to developing a flow of work learning system is delivering the right information at the right time. Another is the detailed task of creating the appropriate instructions and information in the right context. Succeed and it benefits both employees and businesses. Fail and it creates frustration and discourages the employee. So the task of identifying these moments and creating innovative ways to deliver accurate and complete information falls on L&D.

Many organizations are trying to incorporate learning into the flow of work, but they are doing so by using the traditional approach. They create a content library and then post it through an online portal which requires another sign on. The problem is that workers must spend time navigating this huge library to find what they need. This creates extra work and defeats the purpose of learning in the flow of work.

L&D avoids this huge obstacle by developing a learning experience that’s delivered in a focused way. We utilize tools that are already adopted. Some examples include simple lookup directories, commercial apps, and management software.


The fact is L&D isn’t inventing new technology. We find new, innovative ways to use existing tools to improve the learning experience. Social learning, interactivity, microlearning, and gamification are all well-established principles that we simply use in an innovative way.

Learning in the flow of work follows the same principle. It’s not a new concept but technology has provided us with a unique, dynamic way to develop learning in the flow of work systems. Structured learning will always have a role to play but the problem is that it feels awkward in today’s fast-paced society. Disruptive technologies create a constantly changing workplace that’s impossible to keep up with using the traditional approach.

L&D must step up the game and consider new tactics that fall within the context of the everyday workplace.