Learning in the Flow of Work
Originally published on the Performance Support Community website on 13 November 2013
Here’s a reality: The closer learners are to the place and moment of Apply, the more open and ready they are to learn.
Consider your own learning mindset while in the workflow.
Now think about your learning mindset in the fabricated environment of a classroom or an eLearning course.
At which of those moments are you most motivated and ready to engage in learning mentally, emotionally, and physically?
Experience confirms that we are most attuned to learning when we are in the context of our work. Research teaches us that the work context is also the environment where learning is most naturally optimized.
For example, research verifies that distributed practice, which is a core component of Spaced Learning, is particularly beneficial if long-term retention is the goal. More than 800 experiments have demonstrated that spaced repetition increases long-term retention in individuals by 200% and that the optimal time to review information is just before the “forgetting” phase.
Forgetting is a byproduct of time; the more time that passes, the more we forget. And in the workflow, forgetting counts. Therefore, the workflow is where the “optimal time to review” is best addressed, and “review” is what an electronic performance support solution (EPSS) can provide most effectively.
Performers naturally turn to an EPSS when they are right at the point of uncertainty (the forgetting phase) and need to perform.
Spaced repetition is also the primary agent for developing automated skills. The ability to perform complex integrated skills without conscious thought is very important. For example, there’s much that you do while driving a car that is automated. If you had to consciously think through everything you do to pass a car at high speed on a busy road, you would be at great risk. You can’t think fast enough to act under those conditions.
Although automaticity is vital in executing complex skills, it can also present significant challenges when change happens. Imagine the challenge of driving for the first time in a country where you drive on the other side of the road and the driver’s seat is opposite from where you developed your driving skills.
It’s estimated that 70 percent of all work skills become automated. Unlearning automated skills in order to perform in a new way just doesn’t happen during a learning event. Unlearning to relearn requires spaced repetition—successful application over time. The challenge of relearning how to perform in a new way is one of the primary reasons why the majority of change initiatives fail.
Learning at the moment of Change can happen efficiently only in the workflow. It’s at that moment where people are most ready to “relearn.” An EPSS can meet the need for updated information within 2 clicks and 10 seconds.
A third research-backed reason why learning in the flow of work is more potent than formal learning has to do with how we truly learn. David A. Kolb defined learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”3
Kolb’s view of learning was shaped by the pioneering research in experiential learning by Kurt Lewin, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget, who, with others, have demonstrated that “learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.” In Dewey’s words, “What we learn in the way of knowledge and skill in one situation becomes an instrument of understanding and dealing effectively with the situations that follow.” This research implies that the discipline of performance support is significant.
The core principle here is that optimum learning is ongoing and requires the context of experience. The workflow is where context resides and reveals itself.
An EPSS can continuously deliver learning in the place where “all the stars align”; where skills can be fully internalized, where learning change is best negotiated, and where learners are most open and ready to learn because they are in the context of the flow of work.