The line between learning and working is increasingly blurry as more learning moves into the workflow. Simply put, employees show a growing preference for workflow learning and performance support or job aids—tools that help them solve problems and fill knowledge gaps during the process of performing job tasks—over training that takes them away from their jobs.
“Performance and learning are not separate endeavors,” Jane Bozarth, The Guild’s research director, wrote in a recent report, Learning in the Workflow. “A great deal of workflow learning comes not from learning everything from scratch but from workers refining and recalibrating what they already know.”
Technology powers workflow learning
Trends in technology use and learning behavior contribute to and reinforce the migration toward workflow learning.
- A 2016 Pew Research study found that 73 percent of American adults consider themselves to be lifelong learners. This includes those who seek knowledge for personal reasons, as well as the 63 percent of working adults who have taken courses or training for job-related reasons. Not all of these are learning online or using technology to support their learning, but the majority (52 percent) are.
- Use of technology among American adults has reached saturation levels. Another Pew Study, published in September 2018, found that 99 percent of U.S. adults between 18 and 49 years of age own a cellphone, including 97 percent of college graduates; 91 percent of those had smartphones. Strong majorities also own desktop or laptop computers and/or tablets.
- While use of technology by the general public might be leveling off, ownership and use of technology among college undergraduates continues to grow, according to an ECAR study. These students rely on technology to support their learning.
- College students own and use technology—laptops, smartphones, and tablets—at higher rates than the rest of the U.S. population, even in the same age groups. More than half of undergraduates own all three devices, compared with 36 percent of Americans overall. And 93 percent of students told ECAR that “laptops are ‘very’ to ‘extremely important’ for their academic success.”
According to the ECAR study, “Students see technology as something that engages them in the learning process with their instructors, other students, and course content; enriches their learning experiences; and empowers them to take charge of their learning and to become better students.”
As learning becomes more integrated with technology and entails more online interaction, it is also moving into the workflow for the same reasons cited by college students: American adults are increasingly relying on technology to help them take control of their learning and to solve problems. Shorter content items that answer an immediate need are becoming the default learning approach—rather than longer tutorials, eLearning courses, or other forms of training.
Adult learners seek to meet immediate needs
Towards Maturity, a British learning analysis and research organization, published findings in December 2018 that 78 percent of workers use technology to network and learn from each other, and 57 percent want to learn at the moment of need. In addition, 94 percent of their 10,000 respondents expressed a preference to learn at their own pace.
These respondents want self-paced eLearning at the moment of need. They want workflow learning, using online tools or technology-based job aids. This can take many forms:
- The Safety GPS at Saint Vincent Health System has replaced training with a searchable performance support tool that provides each employee the specific information she requires; quickly and in the moment of need.
- Knowledge bases, EPSS, or social collaboration platforms support workflow learning and problem-solving.
- AI-powered virtual assistants can take over mundane, repetitive tasks; they also help employees with more complex tasks and boost performance.
- AR-based wearable virtual assistants go even farther; they offer hands-free solutions like access to information, notification of production-line hiccups, and the ability to make requests—both solving problems in the workflow and reducing the need for training.