Learning in the flow of work – a modern take on an age old need
By Les Lisz, APS Academy
So you’ve heard about the Continuous Learning Model and you’re keen to apply it. You’re very familiar with ‘Courses’, no problem there. And you probably understand ‘People’ and ‘Resources’, at least conceptually. ‘Learning from People’ could be as simple as asking the person next to you when you get stuck. We do it all the time, quite naturally. Or posting a question in an online forum and drawing on the experience of the community. Resources include checklists, decision trees, documented processes and other job aids that you use at your moment of need. Real time performance support so that you can use it as a reference when you need it rather than commit to memory.
But what about learning in the flow of work? Why all the sudden interest in it? And how do we make time for it in our already busy schedules?
What is ‘learning in the flow of work’?
Well firstly, learning in the flow of work is not new. The Master-Apprentice model has been around, and was the main way people learned, for centuries. It has its roots in ancient civilizations such as Greece, Egypt, and Rome. The model became particularly popular in medieval Europe during the guild system. The Apprentice worked with the Master for about ten years, give or take, and would learn the intricacies of their craft during that time. The apprenticeship model is still used today for practical trades and the concept has also been successfully applied to professions such as accounting and law.
Traditionally, there was very little formal training, or Courses. The Master would demonstrate how to complete a certain task and the Apprentice would have a go, with the help of coaching and feedback. Over time, more complex tasks were added and sequenced together until the Apprentice worked independently.
Then came work specialisation and the production line in the early part of the 20th century, popularised by the Ford Motor Company. The nature of work changed as it was no longer necessary for a person to build a whole car, rather they would work on a very specific task and repeat it hundreds of times every day. No need for a Master in that model, right?
The separation of learning from work gained momentum during WW2, when there was a need to upskill thousands of soldiers in a short space of time. It led to the birth of instructional design and for years the military led the way on best practice instructional techniques.
Production lines are still used today, albeit with robots replacing most of the manual tasks. Specialisation of tasks spilled over to other contexts, but came with challenges. People did not understand the upstream and downstream connections. Overall cycle times increased, rework was common and the customer experience suffered. Workers wanted to understand the bigger picture and have more variety in their daily tasks.
The pendulum has swung back towards job enlargement and with the pace of change increasing exponentially, learning in the flow of work has once again become a critical strategy to remain future ready.
OK, so we know learning in the flow of work is important. But how do we find the time to actually do it?
How to find time to ‘learn in the flow of work’?
The question assumes that learning and work are two different things. Not surprising as we’ve become very accustomed to leaving work to attend a course and then returning to work to hopefully apply what we’ve learned. As mentioned above, learning in the flow of work is not new, with the Master-Apprentice model existing for centuries. We know that we can successfully learn and work at the same time. We may have many Masters and work in many different organisations as we become lifelong learners. But the core principle remains the same.
Charles Jennings will share a practical model on how to maximise learning in the flow of work during our Craft Conversations event on Tuesday 30 May, 11-12 noon. The Add / Embed / Extract model he will discuss is a modern way of applying a proven methodology. It should be a great conversation! Hope you can join us.