The problem of learning in the flow of work – ATD | Team Cansler

Are you familiar with the expression “learning in the flow of work”?

Chances are, you have – probably a few times. Few contemporary L&D concepts are referred to more often than LITFOW. Yes, I made up the abbreviation so I don’t have to type the whole phrase over and over again. No, you shouldn’t use it in conversation.

Luckily, this is more than just another buzzword. While LITFOW is far from new, it represents an important transition in the L&D strategy. Traditional workplace learning tactics, such as face-to-face and online courses, are inherently disruptive. They require employees to retire from their jobs for long periods of time. When a facility is understaffed or struggling to meet tight deadlines, it’s almost impossible to move people away. After all, people don’t go to work to learn; You are there to do a job. Therefore, to provide greater value, enable continuous skill building, and reduce disruption, L&D teams are adopting LITFOW and providing resources when and where people need them in the workplace.

Instead of forcing employees to come to us, we finally bring learning and development to them!

LITFOW is common sense. It recognizes that people do most of their learning at work (à la the 70-20-10 model). LITFOW-based activities help people focus on the right skills, solve problems more effectively, and reinforce important knowledge. In fact, it’s such a solid concept that my own Modern Learning Ecosystem Framework (as outlined in the figure) is designed to help organizations adopt this approach.

In summary, LITFOW is a great idea. It’s not new, but it represents a timely shift in how L&D aligns with today’s workplace realities. Not every learning experience fits into the workflow. Employees will still have to step down for targeted training – just much less often.

But this blog is titled The Problem With Learning In Flow. So what’s the problem?

L&D cannot adopt LITFOW practices itself. We can develop microlearning solutions that can be used on mobile devices in minutes instead of hours. But only because something is available it doesn’t work in the workflow Part of the workflow. Adapting L&D practices is part of an effective LITFOW strategy.

Learning to do in the flow of work workL&D must also:

Change people’s perspective on learning.

“Where is the learning?” This is the question stakeholders asked when I tried to replace an online course with a job guide and a set of reinforcement questions. I tried to change my tactics without addressing stakeholders’ beliefs about learning. The unfortunate truth is that a lot of people think learning looks like school. Before we fully adapt our approach, L&D needs to influence every stakeholder—from frontline workers to the C-suite—to broaden their perspectives and embrace a greater variety of solutions.

Prioritize learning over performance.

There is no skill gap. Yes, organizations struggle to build the skills needed to keep up with change and stay competitive. But the “skills gap” is not the cause; it is the result of organizations’ long-term inability (or unwillingness) to prioritize learning and development. Employees are not offered consistent, meaningful opportunities to build and hone their skills. LITFOW is a big step in closing this opportunity gap, but it can only work if organizations prioritize learning as much as business outcomes.

Find time for continuous development.

Learning takes time. Employees need time to explore opportunities, complete training, practice new skills, and work on challenging assignments. Time is also the biggest barrier to skill development. People are overburdened with tasks, especially when budgets are tight and organizations are trying to get more work done with fewer resources. This leaves little time for targeted development. LITFOW can help employees make the most of the limited time they have in the workplace, but organizations need to allocate dedicated time for their employees to study — even a few minutes a day — if they hope to keep up with changing demands and to meet talent needs internally.

Design experiences that fit employee personalities.

LITFOW is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Workflows vary widely, even within the same organization. Compare a remote marketing manager to an in-store employee. They both work in retail, but they do their jobs in different ways. The former sits in front of a computer, is in control of her schedule and is allowed to organize her working hours flexibly. The latter uses a company-issued handheld device, is heavily managed during his shift, and cannot complete work tasks 24/7. L&D must develop solutions that align with workplace realities for each supported persona. Otherwise someone will definitely be left behind.

Emphasize curating over creation.

LITFOW extends the L&D toolkit. Rather than relying on structured training, L&D teams use shared knowledge, performance support, reinforcement and coaching to encourage continuous learning. However, L&D has limited time and resources. Instead of limiting the number of people or issues that receive attention, L&D needs to adopt a curation-centric mindset. We need to install the infrastructure needed to connect the people who need something (new hires, novices, and problem solvers) with the people who know (experts, stakeholders, and managers), and apply our creative resources only when they are absolutely needed.

Empower managers to support learning and development.

Managers are the most important people in workplace learning. If we want to prioritize learning alongside performance, we need manager approval. If we want to help people find time to study, we need manager approval. If we want to use coaching as a key component of LITFOW… you understand what matters. L&D must apply modern practices to help all managers become great managers. This includes empowering managers with the data and insights they need to improve their coaching conversations. The best way to attract managers is to help them do their jobs better and achieve their goals.

Incorporating learning into the workflow is a critical step forward for L&D. But it’s only that – one step. To build organizational agility and promote equal opportunity for employees, we need to go one step further – from learning in the flow of work to learning as part of the work.

For more insights into modern learning practices, including practical tips to make learning an integral part of everyone’s work, read my new book: The Modern Learning Ecosystem: A New L&D Mindset for the Ever-Changing Workplace.

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