Workflow Learning: The Four Fundamental Principles

By: Dr. Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher

The following is an excerpt from The Performance Matters Podcast Series, Episode 13.

Let’s jump right into Bob and Con’s discussion around workflow learning…

Bob: Today we’re going to take a strong run at what’s becoming a super-hot topic in our industry that is being currently called “workflow learning”. I think it’s really important to take the time to step back and be sure our industry has a clear understanding of this.

“Workflow learning,” isn’t just about making information available in the workflow. It’s enabling a learner to learn or be supported while doing their work.

eLearning, for instance, has thrown around the acronym JIT, or just-in-time learning.  We’ve agreed all along, eLearning does provide ease of use and is clearly a powerful economic model for not taking people out of the workflow for three to five days. But here’s the thing. You still have to step away from your work, in this case, cognitively. For example, you’re not leaving your seat but you’re not performing your work anymore. You’ve launched an LMS to consume.

True workflow learning is done in parallel, not to the side. It’s done while getting work done. It instructs, informs, and supports—three, frankly, different things, all while doing the job. Con, do you agree?

Con: This is a crucial distinction. There is a great deal of misunderstanding in our conversations around workflow learning because of it. Real workflow learning is learning while working. That’s genuine workflow learning. Many people, in their approach to workflow learning assume all learning in the workflow constitutes workflow learning. Micro-learning in the workflow can be a rudimentary form of workflow learning. But the real power of workflow learning is what you said. It’s enabling people to learn as they do their work so that they don’t have to stop work in order to learn. And that’s the distinction.

Bob: I really like this distinction. “Informing” and “supporting”, while performing work is a powerful way to learn.

Con: Oh, yeah! Because in traditional learning we have what we call “train”, and then the learner has to transfer it to their job. That is, contextualize it to their own work. When you have real workflow learning the transfer inherently occurs while learning. There’s no stopping work. There’s no real transfer stage. So, it’s faster and more economical in terms of the learning process. It’s absolutely more powerful—as long as it can be done safely.

Bob:  Con, you talk about context a number of times. It’s only since I’ve gotten into this deeper and have been involved in The 5 Moments, watching the methodology play out, that a huge “aha!” came to me. I realized, as an ID, how very little I knew about the workflow. I knew what the SME wanted me to teach. I knew what the SME wanted me to have people understand. I knew what software to use. But that’s not workflow. That’s what is inflicted on the workflow and has to be contextualized.

Con: I have yet to walk into an organization that truly understands their workflow. And that’s startling. Tragic, really. How does an organization really take control of how their people do their work if they are blind to just that—the workflow?

Traditional approaches in instructional design employ traditional job task analysis. But, unfortunately, this approach fails to organize those tasks into a workflow process. You have to map the workflow because this mapping is what creates the context that provides your learners with just-in-time access to just what they need, at the moment they need it, in order to be able to learn in the workflow.

Bob: So Con, “If it’s not embedded in the workflow, it doesn’t work.” Meaning, we have to be sure we understand the context of the work. That’s the workflow. But there’s also the physical context in which the learner can consume. If it’s a system, embed it.

Con: Yes. The only way I can learn as I do my work is if I have access to what I need, to do that learning, as I do my work.

Bob: It’s in this next principle where I think most of us go wrong. We embed well, we make things contextual, but then we pile on. There’s this misconception, in my opinion, about adults and adult learning. How could more not be better? They are adults—they can handle it—well, that’s wrong. A lot of the real need is driven by the context. If I’m in one of The Five Moments of Need—let’s say Solve—I am not in the mood for an asset that’s going to take me twenty minutes to Solve. This principle of Just Enough and The Right Kind of Just Enough is so important.

Con: That’s why we talk about “2 Clicks—10 Seconds.” The “2 Clicks” is getting to the needed information, while the “10 seconds” is the time it takes for me to translate that information into action. So we really do need to be able access just what I need, at my moment of need to help me get the job done—and in the process, learn by doing.

Bob: So let’s wrap up the four fundamental principles with one I know is near and dear to your heart—content management—aggregating content, currency, trustworthiness, maintenance. These principles are sort of foundationally building one on the other but in the end, if what I call up is wrong or if what I call up is old, I would never go back. Con, tell us a bit more about this discipline around currency and trustworthiness of content.

Con: This is the elephant in the room—keeping solutions current. When you step into the workflow, there is no room for people to be accessing information that is inaccurate. We’ve got to take steps to keep the solution meaningful, vibrant, and up-to-date. The good news is that performance support methodology and technology can enable that in ways that we haven’t been able to historically. We have to bring to this world of workflow learning strong content management practices. We can’t ignore it.
We have to step in and partner with the business in that journey, or we will fail. Workflow learning takes us into the world of the organization, and its business, and we have to have practices that let us partner with the business in keeping things current, vibrant and meaningful.

Bob: So, friends, I want to conclude with one last thought, or myth, if you will. “We have workflow learning because we have this really remarkable coaching program.” Disclaimer, we are not knocking coaching programs. But, in the context of what we just got through discussing, that is not what a coaching program does.

Con: Correct. A coach isn’t always around when I experience my moment of learning need. The cost of coaching is so high—I’m tying down another human being to be there to coach me. Then coaches, depending on the day, can be very good or they can just take me to a place that I hadn’t ought to go! Sure, coaching is a very powerful thing, but you can’t scale it to meet all the needs that people have in terms of workflow learning. It’s “just not gonna happen.”

Bob: This discussion is one we have to continue. It’s fundamental to going forward in the Five Moments and effectively doing it.

Listen to the full episode.

Copyright © 2022 by APPLY Synergies, LLC 

All Rights Reserved.

Train Transfer Sustain | Moving Past the Training Event

By Dr. Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher
You’ve trained them. Now what? They go back to their desks, immediately apply what they learned, and voila—increased performance. Not quite.
There’s more to it than just the training event. In fact, there are two additional phases in the learning ecosystem that must be addressed to achieve learning success.
Train. Transfer. Sustain.

Think of your learners as ‘performers’, now set them on their journey with the overall destination being competency.
To become competent in our ever-evolving business landscape, performers must clearly master things. You have to train people up to a point of mastery. You definitely do not want a pilot flying a plane without first mastering the lift and landing.
One of the challenges of the journey to mastery is that learners achieve a level of mastery at different rates. So, in any given event, in any given period of time, you have a range of mastery levels that happen and are happening.
Then, within this range, we also have the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. This is where performers, once back to work, begin to forget, at a very rapid rate, whatever it is they have mastered and learned in their event-based experience.
So how does one ever get to their destination—competency? It’s one thing to master something, it’s another to be competent at it. Take for example a story Bob tells on this topic, he received an A+ in accounting while in undergrad, but there was no way he was prepared to actually do your taxes. Mastery did not transfer to competency.
The journey does not end at mastery; your performer must get to some level of competence. This stage is a crucial one as it is where all the different “mastered” pieces are integrated together to form a whole. And they are integrated through our experience as we apply those mastery items to our job, all while adjusting and adapting them.  
Transfer is a challenge for performers as they refer back to the training event where “they practiced in class” “were given real-life scenarios” “put in a hands-on lab that simulated the workflow…”, trying to make sense of it all.
But, at the end of the day these are all still practice situations—not the actual workflow.
To further complicate things, not every performer’s workflow is the same as the next, and your workflow today is different than tomorrow. So, making that journey of taking whatever it is that is mastered, integrating it with one’s existing skillset, and becoming competent, more skilled, more able to do what is needed to do on the job is no small feat!
And to complicate things, what is current ‘now’ may not be current an hour from now. So, it’s not only how a performer transfers to competency, but how do they remain competent? To become a better performer over time—that’s the Sustain stage.
And the driver of that stage—the element of change.
When we do things over and over again, we master things. We become competent. Then it changes. That challenge of overriding old skill sets with new skill sets is the greatest learning challenge that there is. You really can’t train your way out of it. No organization can afford to do that.
So, to unlearn and to relearn that is the real challenge.
The need for Train, Transfer, and Sustain has been around forever. People have always had to leave an event and be on their own with their newfound skills and knowledge. We haven’t, and aren’t, giving people the tools to truly navigate the transfer and sustain stages.
But with the 5 Moments of Need Methodology, we do.
And we do so by focusing on the Moment of Apply and building solutions and tools to support people at the Moments of Apply, Change, and Solve. Then, their digital coach if you will, is with them at the critical stages of Transfer and Sustain.
We can intentionally make a difference and it changes everything. It brings greater efficiency to every part of that journey through Train Transfer and Sustain.
The journey’s destination is again, competency and the time to competency. With the Five Moments of Need approach, and Train Transfer Sustain as your deliverable, we see time to competency reduced considerably due to what is enabled beyond the Training stage.  
This blog was excerpted from Episode 3 of our Performance Matter Podcast.
To learn more about the Moments of Apply, Change, and Solve visit our resources page.

Copyright © 2022 by APPLY Synergies, LLC 

All Rights Reserved.