Last updated: 15.02.22

Getting to the core of L&D teams and 'learning in the flow of work'

The ways in which we learn have changed over the decades, and this isn’t just being reflected in educational establishments but businesses too. The latest approach is being called ‘learning in the flow of work’. But what is it, and what does it mean for L&D teams?

What is learning in the flow of work?

Learning in the flow of work, a phrase coined by Josh Bersin in 2018, is essentially a way of learning that allows learners to learn in a way that meets their needs and learning styles.

In past decades, work-based training has predominately been led by a teacher or tutor imparting knowledge to learners in a face-to-face setting. But with the development of technology and the introduction of e-learning, the way we trained started to change; the teacher became more of a facilitator and the learner led the way, having more control over the time, place and pace of the learning.

And it’s changing further, again due to technology developments. Thanks to the internet, learners have become ‘consumers’ of learning. Knowledge can be accessed at the click of a button, and we’re now used to searching for answers when we have questions, or looking at a YouTube video for tutorials about every imaginable practical skill. And our employees are now expecting that type of learning to feature in the workplace too.

So, where do L&D teams fit into this model? Their role is certainly shifting. Now they are needed to help implement this style of learning, making sure it’s as effective as possible and addresses the learners’ challenges and problems.

What roles can L&D teams play in establishing this style into a business?

Though this learning is essentially self-directed, it can’t be all down to the learner. They don’t know what they don’t know, so to speak. Or they may not know which approach or learning the business follows, so they may search for an answer on the internet and not realise that it’s in conflict with the approach that’s taken in-house.

Therefore, L&D teams need to bring some order and structure to the learning, but in a way that then gives the learners free reign to interact with it as they please. To do this they need to consider the challenges and problems that the learners are facing – and not just at the level of the role but as an individual too, as learners may differ in their skill sets. Once they’ve established that, they need to make sure suitable content is created or curated and easily accessible for the learners.

They also need to help set and create the culture and learning environment. Research into the Great Resignation is showing that people are looking for businesses that look after and nurture their staff and their careers. Training is a part of that, so it needs to be a staple part of the culture.

When it comes to establishing this way of learning, L&Ds can learn from the pandemic, which showed that the most successful learning is that which is useful and closer to the point of need. It doesn’t have to be all about interactivity, but rather what learning style is the best for the job, and L&D teams can create or curate content to meet this need. As our Director of Sales and Partnerships, Nicole Horsman, said in our second Evolution of L&D report, “Employees are most engaged when they are learning something that is relevant, which is great for supporting the business needs too. Where appropriate, bite-size learning and microlearning are useful here – resources they can dip in and out of and which easily fit around work responsibilities.”

Tips to help L&D teams implement learning in the flow of work

Overall, learning in the flow of work is learning that is almost tailored to the learner, so their preferences and experience must be front of centre. The following tips will help you keep them at the forefront of your mind.

Talk to your employees

The best way to get to the core of the learning your employees want is to talk to them and ask questions about what they need, what challenges they’re coming up against, and how they want to progress. That is the crux for developing learning that will meet their needs.

Create compelling, constructive and convenient learning

When considering content, make sure it meets the three c’s: compelling, constructive and convenient. Compelling learnings draw them in and makes them want to learn; constructive learning fulfils a purpose for both the learner and business (it’s no longer about tick-box exercises), and convenient learning fits into the flow of their workday and is easily accessible.

Produce different types of resources

Different learning requires different content and you need to consider how the learning should be presented. Would it be best if a piece of learning was a video how-to guide, or a downloadable resource with hints and tips that they can refer back to? Or is the learning some complex theory that may require a more in-depth piece of e-learning learning, or face-to-face sessions?

Remember, it isn’t all about using the best technology all the time, sometimes simple is best. It needs to be about the best way to learn that topic.

House the content

The content needs to be housed somewhere that is accessible to the learners and easy to navigate, whether that is a learning management system or programmes such as Microsoft Viva. Platforms and technology like these are essential to designing a way of learning that is learner-centric and allows them to seek out the content as and when they need it – allowing them to work in the flow.

Curate content

You don’t have to create everything from scratch, you can curate it. Curation is a skill in itself. It’ll require you to understand the need and what content is best suited to meet it, as well as an ability to find suitable third-party content and manage it.

Vet your content

If you’re curating content or encouraging learners to share their own, make sure that you vet it, otherwise you may find out it’s not in line with the messaging your business is putting out there.

Create a complementary learning environment

The learning environment isn’t just a physical space (though it does include that) but the entire culture, context of the learning, and approach. It’s important that this is right because it can affect the ability to focus, perform, share or absorb new ideas.

Want to know more? We’ve explored learning in the flow of work in great depth in our Evolution of L&D series. Comprising three separate reports, they are filled with interviews, guides, and articles about all the latest L&D topics. Don’t have time to read them all? Check out our round-up document for summaries and key themes.