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Designing work for learning

With exponential technological development and higher demands on work, it is time to change how and where we learn. It is no longer efficient to spend a long time on inefficient education. Learning needs to move from the classroom to the work place. In the article I describe different ways to include learning directly into work.

According to Boston Consulting Group, the organization’s ability to learn is the most important competitive factor in the 20th century. This applies to both the organization as a whole and employees as individuals. We will all need to renew 40% of our abilities in the next 5 years and move from 25 minutes of intentional learning to 5 hours a week.

At the same time, the demands in our jobs are higher and the time we can allocate for learning is minimal. Gone is the time when we could sit for several days in a classroom.

So when are we going to have time for the increased learning need?

Design work for learning – an overview

The answer is that learning must take place embedded in the work. Not just as a result from lack of time, but because traditional training separated from work has very low impact on improving employee performance.

Of course, work has always been the place where we learned from our experiences. However, we can do so much more. We can build learning from training, performance support, reflection, feedback and collaboration directly in to the work.

Designing work for learning with these 5 areas

The picture shows 5 areas that we can work actively on to design the work for learning:

  • Experience – offer employees new experiences, opportunities to experiment and reflect.
  • Collaboration – design the work for collaboration and learning with, for example agile teams and collaborative platforms.
  • Performance support– build support for “how-to-knowledge” in systems and processes.
  • Embedded learning – embed short learning modules directly into the system and work where we need it.
  • Feedback loops – enable learning and improvement through direct feedback from customers, colleagues and data.

I will now describe the respective area. You can also click here to skip directly to a chapter.

Enable more experiences to learn from

In my article on “learnability” I describe how the employee can take more advantage of the experience in the work for learning. We can, among other things, actively search for challenging experiences, experiment, learn from mistakes and reflect on the work.

As an organization, we can encourage learning experiences through culture and leadership. Examples include encouraging mobility and behaviour such as taking risks, experimenting and learning from mistakes.

Implement agile working methods

Modern agile working methods in themselves mean more experimentation, testing, reflection and thus learning. The methods were originally used in IT and for start-ups but can be applied to any work, e.g. in HR. Some examples of methods:

  • Agile methods (e.g. SCRUM) – the work is divided into shorter sections that are completed iteratively in sprints. The work is followed up daily and after each sprint there is an evaluation and learning.
  • Lean Startup Method – focus on finding the simplest solution for the problem/need (MVP – Minimal Viable Product) and then use the data and feedback for step-by-step improvements.
  • Design Thinking – understand audiences and problems in depth and then work with prototypes tested by users and iteratively refined.

Surely there are initiatives going on with Agile working methods in your organization. A good way to start can also be to read and see what steps your organization can start applying.

Make opportunities for new experiences available

We can also make visible and provide all opportunities for new experiences available in the organization. A startup is a transparent and open job directory that displays all types of jobs that are in your organization. Today, managers usually sits on that information. In an open career planning tool, the employee themselves can find the jobs and roles that exist in the organization.

The image shows Fuel50 that recommends roles in the organization based on the employee’s interests and abilities. The tool presents what abilities are required, what others think about the role, appropriate development activities, and employees who can coach the employee in the development towards the role.

I think we need to be able to show all opportunities for building experiences openly and easily accessible to employees. Whether it’s jobs, roles, projects or challenging tasks. This applies to both internal and external opportunities.

To overview

Organize for collaboration and learning

As individual employees, we can do a lot to learn more by working with others. Examples of tasks are:

  • Actively seek feedback.
  • “Work out loud,” share work with others and comment.
  • Develop professional networks.
  • Share experiences and collaborate on problems.

The organization can work on creating a culture based on transparency and collaboration. A large part ends up with the leaders who in their team, for example, can work with:

  • Common problem solving at meetings.
  • Be open about own experiences.
  • Pay attention and reward knowledge sharing and collaboration
  • Create an environment of openness and transparency.

Organize for collaboration and learning

We can also shape the organisation for more collaboration and learning. Instead of a traditional hierarchical organization divided by features, agile teams include all the necessary abilities in a team. They work together throughout the flow to solve the customer/recipient’s problems.

  • The employee works with the customers entire problem or what the project will solve. They take different roles during the project and thus learn new roles and approaches.
  • Collaboration with employees from different disciplines offers several perspectives on problems with increased communication and learning as a result.
  • Openness and trust where daily (stand-up/”scrum”) meetings and e.g. kanban boards offer employees insight in the full picture.
  • Together the team decides how they solve the task and deliver work. The leader’s role changes into setting direction and encourage employees. (“Servant leadership“)
  • Continuous feedback meetings (“Agile retrospectives”) evaluate the work and create continuous improvements and learning.

Use platforms for collaboration

In addition to organizing for collaboration the organization can provide platforms for collaboration such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. This makes employees from other groups within the company available and increases transparency and collaboration

We can immediately meet, discuss, comment and share documents, duties, goals, etc. We get access to the entire organization’s knowledge and can easily contribute with knowledge and experience.

To overview

Build performance support

Do you remember training on new systems in the past? Typically, we gathered all participants in a classroom for a several-day long training on all the functions of the system.

Now we know this does not work. In addition to not having time for so much education, we forget most of it until it’s time to use what we learned. The image shows the forgetting curve. We forget more than 70% on what was learnt on a training session within 2 days.

Performance support

With performance support, the employee is guided step by step through difficult tasks. Step-by-step instructions, video, eLearning, discussions and chat are built in and available where the employee will perform his task.

Examples of platforms are WalkMe, MyGuide, and Enable Now. In addition to guiding employees, these platforms help evaluate what help users have taken, how the system’s been used, what has been difficult etc.

Performance support can also be provided in simpler ways, e.g. with links to:

  • Screen recordings.
  • Guides and instructional pages.
  • Knowledge databases.
  • Checklists
  • Decision graphs
  • FAQ etc.

Performance support for physical work

With Augmented Reality (AR), we can offer performance support for physical work, e.g. service and manufacturing industry. Several companies, such as BMW uses AR to encourage its service technicians. The technician uses AR glasses and receives instructions directly during work.

Platforms like Microsoft Hololens and Unity make it increasingly cheaper and easier to present information in AR glasses. Microsoft sees AR as an important interface to computers in the future and invests heavily in AR.

The next step is so-called AR contact lenses. Today there are already working prototypes. Add Elon Musk’s Neuralink project where the idea is to connect the brain directly to the computers/cloud. The idea is staggering, but in not such a long future we will be able to think of an issue and “see” how to do it, right in front of us.

To overview

Embed learning modules

So far I have described how we can learn more from current work. But, we also need to develop skills for the future. We need to learn and prepare for skills like Data Analytics, Design Thinking, Agility, Collaboration, Robotics etc.

The question is when this should happen? We are increasingly stressed and today use 1% of our time for intentional learning. The question is also where it should happen? We know that the classroom requires many extra hours in the form of travel, breaks, etc. We also know that less than 15% apply what they learned in a course and that we also quickly forget.

So why not move more learning to where employees are; to the ERP system, the sales system, the intranet or the company’s collaboration platform?

Integrate your LMS with work

The picture shows what this might look like. The seller just added a lead into the CRM system. The system then notifies: “.. data shows that the size of the sales can increase by 30% if you take a 5 minute video about differences in negotiating techniques in the United States and Europe…”.

The example is from Cornerstone for Salesforce and shows how an LMS can today be integrated in the company’s sales system. Activities that the employee undertake in SalesForce trigger content in Cornerstone. Conversely, we can produce reports on where users most appreciate learning being made available.

Many LMS also offer the API to integrate with e.g. the company intranet. One example is Xyleme CDS where the search API allows a search box to be placed on the intranet or in another system. The content will then be available immediately where the employees are.

GitHub is the world’s largest platform for application development with 37 million developers. With GitHub Learning Lab, learning is integrated directly into the development work. A bot assigns tasks, comments and recommends learning as you develop as a programmer.

Many examples show how providers are increasingly investing in making learning available in the systems that the employee work in.

Learning with Office 365

Most of us spend alot of our working time in Microsoft products like Office, Teams, Yammer, Skype and SharePoint. That’s why more and more learning platforms are made available as apps in Office 365.

The example below demonstrates Edcast that can aggregate and curate large amounts of content from e.g. LinkedIn Learning, Udacity, Coursera and others. For example, by adding EdCast to Office 365, we can, for example write “Student Loans” and get up coursework on student loans directly in PowerPoint.

Many modern learning platforms such as Looop and EdCast now have apps that integrate with Teams. This means that both collaboration and learning can take place in Teams and not in a separate environment. The employee gets recommendations and shares content directly in their teams

Stream is a tool that allows us to easily record video and share in groups and channels. Stream allows employees to upload videos from their mobiles or record video with PowerPoint. They are published in groups or channels and can be reused directly in Teams, Yammer, or Sharepoint.

I believe this development will continue. An increasing number of learning systems will be available as apps in Office 365. It will make Teams and Office products the interface for learning in your organization.

Push and nudging

We still need to plan for how what was learnt is translated into actual behaviors. Steps include: reflecting, practicing, testing in reality, reminding and getting support from others.

Systems such as BizLibrary, Promote and Knowly can help in that process by sending reminders, exercises, repetition and evaluation to the employees and managers.

We also need help in consolidating our new behaviors.

Digital nudging” means that with small, friendly social reminders we can “nudge” the employee towards the desired behaviors.

An example is my watch that reminds me to move, do exercises and that cheers me when I start walking or exercise.

There are already platforms, such as Humu that encourage the change of behaviors, follow up and even make advanced diagnoses about what hinders change of behaviors in the organization.

Simpler methods

We can begin to place training where employees work today, without advanced integration. Most LMS offers deep links and QR codes that can be placed where users want to or need to learn new. With a video platform, we can create channels for different professional areas and embed videos where they are needed.

To overview

Feedback loops

To compete in the future, we as individuals and our organizations need to become increasingly quick on learning and improving. Boston Consulting Group recently described how in the 20th century we will compete with “the speed of learning”. A central concept for this is the use of “feedback loops”.

This means that we gather and evaluate data and feedback on our work (or our offerings). Many services, such as Netflix is getting better the more people use the service, which means that the algorithms that control recommendations can be better evaluated and thus improved.

Similarly, we can become more efficient and innovative as an employee by experimenting, measuring results, asking for feedback and improving ourselves.

Ways to create feedback at work

In the articles on learnability and learning culture, I discuss how we as individuals can use feedback from colleagues and managers to improve our work and how culture and leadership support this. Other ways to create more feedback and opportunities for improvement are:

  • Frequent reflection meetings (as in Agile teams).
  • Listening (LCS) and coaching, e.g. customer service.
  • Feedback from customers and the outside world.
  • Systems that offer praise to each other, such as 15Five.
  • Evaluation and presentation of data from e.g. sales system or business systems.

The image below shows a simple feature of praise that is already available in Microsoft Teams.

There are many examples of feedback from customers. One example is Uber where we give drivers ratings (and vice versa). In addition to the overall rating, we can also offer compliments. Overall, it gives the driver a picture of where improvements need to be made. The driver is motivated by higher ratings and to get a range of benefits in this way. For example, a driver on the “diamond” level will be a priority for customer allocation and receives discounts on gasoline and repairs. Uber’s feedback loop is said to be one of the reasons for explosive growth.

Feedback from data at work

We can now increasingly use data that our systems generate for feedback. One example is SalesForce “Einstein Analytics” that uses data and AI to evaluate every step a salesperson take. Simple reports allow the seller to follow the sales process and identify areas of improvement. With the help of data from all users in the cloud, the seller gets insights and suggestions for improvements in their way of working. Most major sales and business systems have corresponding opportunities

Even when that possibility is missing, systems like WalkMe or MyGuide can capture how the employee uses systems, where problems occur, anticipate problems, and make recommendations. The image below shows how employees use a function and where they drop out.

For feedback like this to work, we need to review how we lead and organise the work. Employees should be able to evaluate their work themselves and test other approaches. It does not work in an organization where managers decides what to do or where the employee must follow rigid processes.

To overview

Design the work for learning

Many organizations are already working on offering experiences, an agile way of working and a culture that encourages reflection, experimentation and learning by mistakes.

The next step is to start embedding performance support, training, and feedback directly into the flow of work. To do this, we have to better understand how the work is done today, place learning in the flow of work and provide employees with data and feedback.

Understand how the work is done

I recommend working with Design Thinking to understand the employee experience in depth and gradually enhance learning at work.

According to Bersin Deloitte, successful organizations use a combination of observations, interviews and data to understand employees’ needs at a deeper level. It is important to really get out there and meet with employees and not rely on surveys and process schedules.

From Design Thinking, we can also use “Personas” and “Journey Maps” to describe the workflow, activities, frustrations and opportunities

The result of the step is a definition of where the problems and opportunities are within the work flow.

Embed learning

The next step is to place learning/support where it is most needed. It is best if the process or system can be made easier to use. If not, we can use performance support, embed learning modules, give access to knowledge databases, experts, etc.

What we want to achieve is to place support/learning as close as possible to the task. These are a few examples:

  • Back-office work using software (e.g. credit valuer): embedded video/eLearning, give access to collaboration platform.
  • Work directly with customer (e.g. customer service): Performance support in mobile/computer.
  • Physical service work (e.g. waiter): Job shadowing.
  • Dangerous work (e.g. operator/surgeon): Augmented/Virtual Reality.

Strengthen performance

Also present data and feedback so that the employees can make improvements themselves.

It starts by clarifying the results of the employee’s work and how the result could be improved.

Then prioritize the factors that contribute most towards the end result. Find data that shows the results/quality of the factors, such as customer ratings, feedback from colleagues or data from e.g. sales or business systems.

It is important not to overwhelm the employee with data but to produce the most important feedback which the employee can then also act upon.

Finally, we need to design how data is to be presented in an easy way to be useful to the employee.

Encourage and reward

As I describe in the article on learning culture, we reinforce the changes by encouraging and rewarding the learning and improvements the employee makes.

An important part is to better capture the learning that takes place at work. With SCORM we can only capture the courses we complete in our LMS. We need to start using xAPI to document learning that takes place outside the company’s LMS.

Paying attention to all learning that is being undertaken is also an important task for the manager. Team meetings should include evaluation of the learning that has taken place, e.g. that everyone consideres “what have I learned this week/day?”

What’s the current situation?

When I visit companies, I am struck by the weak alignment between courses and employees work. There is usually a weak link between business results, needed capabilities and training. The second thing I’m surprised by is the design of leaning interventions. Although we know that stand-alone training events has very little effect on work results, we continue to have subject matter experts present PowerPoints for 2 days or believe that one hour of eLearning creates any kind of improved capability.

My proposal is to instead focus on understanding the results to be achieved in the work and how we can design the work for learning that can support these results.

What do you say? How much do you invest in learning from experience and collaboration? Do you still train mainly in classrooms or have you begun to enable learning closer to work? What feedback does your employees have access to?

How to move on?

In this series of articles, I have wanted to describe themes that I think are important for developing a learning organization. I have previously described how we can encourage learnability of our employees and how we can build a culture and leadership that encourage a learning organization. We also need to think about how we can:

  • work with the organisation’s IT infrastructure to facilitate and strengthen learning.
  • create an internal organization with mandates and resources to encourage the development towards a learning organization.

In future articles, I will describe how your organization can work with other factors to create a learning organization

Since therse are very new ideas, I value and welcome your comments. Do you agree? How far have you come? At the bottom of the page you will find the comment bar. Please send me an email if it doesn’t work.

Author: Johan Skoglöf
Johan är visionär och senior konsult med missionen att hjälpa företag att skapa framtidens lärande organisation. Med över 25 år i branschen och kunder som Ericsson, Volvo, Scania, SEB, Handelsbanken, HM och ICA har Johan en bred erfarenhet i hur lärande organisationer skapas.

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