Embedding Learning into the Workflow

What will you do if you need to know something (or know how to do something) for your job today?

If you’re like most people, you’re likely to either web-search or ask somebody else. The internet and modern communication tools have provided access to knowledge and expertise on-demand. Google has trained us to expect immediacy and we’ve become super-humans, enhanced by the technology at our fingertips.

Whether it’s to guide us by the quickest route to wherever we’re going; to gain access to experts and expertise in practically every discipline; to find quick how-to’s; to raise our professional profiles via blogging and social media; or to just look up how to cook up something tasty for dinner, we are never far away from whatever we need. Were we to spend enough time trying, we could find even more ways to enhance our personal and professional capabilities with our everyday digital tools.

It wasn’t always like this, and many will hark back to simpler times when workers seemed more patient and attentive to our courses and programmes. And I’m not saying that these don’t provide value now. What I am saying is that L&D touch points with individual workers are too few and infrequent to influence everyday performance and efficiently (or continuously) build the capability required in most organisations.

The graphic below was published by Degreed in their report ‘How the Workforce Learns in 2016’ and highlights the infrequency of L&D touch points (the bottom half of the image):


With my experience of leading local and regional L&D teams, I question whether every worker is coached or mentored monthly (if much at all), or whether they complete 8 courses (4 in person and 4 online) per year? In fact, further research by the same source showed that 77% of workers had not attended a course in the last 2 years!

So, as a L&D leader, how are you going to achieve your performance and capability goals you’re faced with if the majority of workers are not engaging in L&D offerings sufficiently enough to make significant difference? The clues are in the top left hand corner of the graphic…


What if L&D helped workers to do what they’re already doing, but better? What would it look like to to provide access to expertise and know-how, on-demand? How could L&D capitalise on the habits, preferences and motivations of workers today with articles, blogs and videos that could be accessed as easily and intuitively as a web-search? How much more could L&D influence performance if it operated in the Daily and Weekly space? Firstly, it takes refocusing…

Rather than focusing on ‘learning’ outcomes, L&D should focus on ‘better doing’ outcomes. Think about yourself for a moment, when you web-search for answers or know-how, you have the opportunity to immediately apply what you discover online – this then influences the way you ‘do’.

Now, as wonderful as web-search is, it can be a minefield of duff information or over-simplistic ‘solutions’. But L&D can easily mine what their organisation knows for the answers their workers need – at their moments-of-need – and start plugging real performance and knowledge gaps at the same day. This requires L&D to look at old problems in a new way.

Disrupt your own L&D

What have these companies all got in common?

  • YouTube
  • Uber
  • AirBnB
  • Spotify

Yes, they are relatively new disruptive business models, facilitated by technology. But the reason they’ve been able to disrupt entire industries is that they help people to do what they want to do, better. This is the definition of ‘traction’ from the book of the same name. None of these companies invented what they help with. Videos, transportation, accommodation and music were around before. However, these businesses made it even easier to view, travel, stay or listen – in a way that appeals to a considerable number of users.

“Help your people to do what they want to do, better”

This is also a helpful mantra to consider when approaching ‘learning in the workflow’. It’s not about inventing a new type of L&D, it’s about capitalising on the habits, preferences and motivations of people today.

How to put your Learning in the Workflow

L&D can start to do this by recognising the employee groups in the organisation that could do with some help right now. This may be:

  • New-starters
  • First-line managers
  • Salespeople
  • Budget-holders
  • Digital marketing folks
  • Or any other employee group that can be defined.

Once you’ve identified ‘who’, find out ‘what’ they are trying to achieve and what they need help with. If you’re going to provide learning in the workflow it must support the actual work being done. There are many ways you can explore this with workers – formally or informally. With larger groups, you may create platforms or forums to really understand the work being done and the need for help. Otherwise, you could do this with more informal conversations. Regardless of the size of the group or the format, you will want to:

  1. Find out what is preventing them from ‘doing’ what they need to be doing right now and have them turn their challenges into questions – as if they were typing the question into Google. These may start with ‘How do I…?’, ‘What do I do when…?, or ‘What do others do when…?, etc.
  2. Find out who has the experience to answer these questions better than most in your organisation – and video their responses. Include as much of their real-life experiences as you can.
  3. You’ll also know the answers to some of the questions being asked and could provide a model or framework along with a commentary to aid application in the context of the question – like an internal article or blog. In addition, you may find a great resource on the web to answer some of the questions asked.

Create digital resources that act like the ‘best of the web’. To do this, resources should be easily accessible, focused on the real challenges that workers are facing, and geared towards the application of the knowledge and know-how for the benefit of the organisation. A simple format for doing this is to let the user know: why the resource is important to them (and the organisation), how to (or how they could) respond in the given situation, and tips for applying what they experienced in the resource.

You might now be thinking: “I can’t do this with my LMS” – and I couldn’t find my route or post a blog with my old Nokia phone. If your tools are out-dated, then your approach is likely to be limited.


Digital resources can be created in minutes, improved in real-time and provide opportunities for workers to collaborate with their peers – all for better ‘doing’.

With a client recently, and having discovered the questions being asked, I was able to create nearly 60 organisation-specific digital resources in just 2 days, answering all the questions that one employee group of middle managers had asked. With these performance and knowledge gaps now plugged, the client and I are working with the entire employee group of middle managers on delivering better results.

To create digital resources that make a real difference to the way that work is done, you need the right tools to do the job and not just functionally ‘the right tools’ but also those with an intuitive and alluring user-experience. People will have to want to use it – and when they do, they’ll want to choose how and when (and that includes mobile).


It is 2016 and the tools are readily available. We are already enhanced humans with mobile devices and constant connectivity, so help to enhance your organisation’s employees and influence performance every single day.

When L&D is focused on ‘better doing’ – in the workflow – it becomes integral to the way the organisation performs. This approach to digital resources, means that performance and knowledge gaps can be plugged in no time at all and L&D’s influence can be felt across the entire workforce.

David James is Chief Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.

Looop help their clients all over the world to digitally transform their L&D and capitalise on how people really want to learn today with a platform that is renowned for its extraordinary levels of learner engagement.

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