When L&D professionals talk about “self-directed learning,” chances are they are describing workflow learning. It’s a behavior that is common in everyday life—encountering a problem, question, or knowledge gap and taking steps, in the moment, to find a solution. In other words, “Googling it.”

Offering tools to employees that integrate learning into the workflow can bring this approach into the workplace, boosting productivity and improving performance while reducing the need to pull employees away from their jobs for training.

Increasingly, digital learners behave at work the way they do outside of work. When confronted with a clogged drain or a question about why their tomatoes are turning brown on the vine, few people are likely to immediately sign up for a three-hour course; most will simply search for an answer online. And they will put that answer to work immediately to solve the problem.

Similarly, employees seek quick resolution to problems or questions they encounter at work; an eLearning course is not always the best or most efficient solution.

Knowledge bases, targeted electronic performance support systems (EPSS), and social collaboration platforms—potentially accessed using an LXP or learning experience platform—can assist employees in solving problems in the workflow. These tools enable L&D teams and managers to provide curated content sourced from recognized experts and custom or carefully vetted resources to employees—who can use them with confidence and without interrupting their workflow.

Knowledge bases

A knowledge base can be developed in-house or purchased; it’s a database of information relevant to a specific industry or professional role. Providing employees with access to a knowledge base ensures that the information they are using is consistent across the company, is of high quality, and is current and relevant. Offering all employees access to the same vetted sources of knowledge can also facilitate collaboration.

A knowledge base can be a simple database of stored information. But it’s more likely to be an active—and interactive—tool that helps employees make decisions and reason their way to the solution of a complex problem. A knowledge base can use AI-based tools to enable learners to leave comments and interact with each other while using the stored and curated information they find. The knowledge base can also use AI to help employees find what they need efficiently and suggest related content.

Electronic performance support systems

Electronic performance support, or EPSS, can help employees work more efficiently by both replacing and extending training. Rather than going to training, they can learn in the workflow with guidance from the EPSS. Alternatively, EPSS can enhance and support training. These systems seek a balance—provide enough information to guide the employee through the task at hand without providing extraneous information that confuses or slows down the employee. Guidance is narrowly targeted to what the employee is doing at the moment.

An easily relatable non-work example is a GPS. The GPS device or app provides instructions that the driver will need in the next few seconds; it does not explain all the turns and landmarks of a 500- (or 5-) mile trip up front, and it does not offer directions to other locations that the driver might someday be interested in visiting. It provides guidance for how to get to—and in some cases, how to avoid hazards along the way to—a specific destination that the driver has selected.

An EPSS is personalized in that it accepts input from the employee and provides assistance that is task-specific. This differs from other job aids and performance support tools that are more static. Some EPSS tools can update in real time by accessing current information on, say, traffic and weather for a GPS. Others are built into large, complex, proprietary software systems to guide new employees as they learn their jobs—or help seasoned employees perform seldom-done tasks. Some might incorporate AI to aid in predicting needs or to suggest shortcuts or ways to reduce costs.

By conducting training as employees work, an EPSS can reduce the learning curve for some tasks. Bringing learning into the workflow can help new employees get up to speed more quickly than training that might not be available immediately or that takes them away from the application of the skills being taught. They learn how to do their jobs while actually doing them—with guidance, problem-solving help, and feedback in the workflow.

Social collaboration platforms

Much participation in social media is driven by an individual’s needs and wants—building a network, connecting with friends and family, accessing news. Social collaboration platforms use similar means but for a different, group-oriented purpose: sharing information relevant to the entire group and that will help all members improve their performance.

Some social collaboration platforms are purpose-built: Yammer and Slack, for example, exist to connect groups of people working on shared projects or communicating about shared ideas. Others might be integrated with proprietary systems or be part of larger content management or learning management systems. An example cited in Steve Foreman’s recent Guild Research report describes a hospital’s integration of a social platform with online communities of practice as well as content on research and other hospital news. Employees can connect with the larger community, interact with peers and colleagues, and access relevant and targeted information, all in one place.

Rather than advancing individuals’ goals, the social collaboration platform aims to improve problem-solving and make it easy for groups of employees to share files, data, and other information. Implementing a social collaboration platform as part of a learning and performance ecosystem is an acknowledgement of both the increasingly collaborative nature of many jobs and the way employees, distributed around a large office or institution—or around the world—can help one another learn and excel.

Learning experience platforms pull it all together

Adopting an LXP is an easy way to pull these tools together and present them to learners in a cohesive way. Each serves a different need, but together they add up to a workforce that knows where to turn to get questions answered and find solutions to the unique issues that arise in their daily workflow. Learn more about these and other new ways to educate and support employees and integrate learning into the workflow in Trends in Learning Technology, a Guild Research report by Steve Foreman.