Blogs & ideas 

The latest blogs, ideas, insights, and learning design thought-leadership from the Solvd Squad. Enjoy (and learn from!) our musings on 5Di, human-centred design, learning technology, and much more.

Arrow to move down page
min read

You're doing "learning in the flow of work" wrong. Here's the fix!

Published on
February 9, 2024
Modern kitchen with cooking in progress an iPad is on a stand showing a recipe being referred to.
Solvd Together
Staff writers

Going with the flow?

The phrase “learning in the flow of work” is popular these days. In fact, it’s been identified as one of the top challenges for learning leaders by the LPI.

If it’s new to you: “learning in the flow of work” is a phrase coined by Josh Bersin (an HR industry thought leader). It refers to learning that a person can access easily to solve a specific problem, without deviating from the general flow of their work.

How strange that we have come to think of “learning” as separate from that flow! Yet, over time, it has developed a reputation (rightly or wrongly) for being, distracting, inefficient and even a “waste of time”. So, the idea of bringing “learning” back into the natural flow of work as a seamless tool for human enablement and growth… well, as advocates for human-centred design, we’re definitely on board with that!

But. And it’s a big but.

Learning in the flow of work cannot be achieved by simply thrusting already-made content into an “on-demand” platform. The point of learning in the flow of work is that practical support integrates seamlessly with people’s environments, giving them answers at the point of need. Dropping in an off-the-shelf 20-minute video interview on leadership won’t cut the mustard.

If you are changing the way learning is accessed, you must change the learning itself, too. In other words: learning and context go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.

Discover their world

If you decide to move towards a learning in the flow of work model within your organisation, it’s an exciting time. You have a great opportunity to design relevant and fit for purpose learning built specifically for your people’s environment, with the principles of human-centred design at the core.

You could use our 5Di Solvd toolkit to get really stuck into your people’s challenges, concerns and context — other Design Thinking models are available. This helps you stay focused on solving a particular issue or problem, and also takes you deep into their environment. It’s about understanding where their hands and eyes are and putting the solution you create (meaningful, solving a problem, speaking their language) in that place. This way you can create powerful learning experiences that naturally embed into people’s daily flow — utilitarian and pertinent in design and form, maximising the chances of true behavioural change.

Someone holding a lightbulb with fairy lights inside the glass - the lightbulb moment
Look to people’s hands and eyes. The lightbulb moments soon follow.

Behavioural economists @Ogilvy Change recently released their Behavioural Science Annual 2022 (free download, well worth it). Amongst a plethora of truly life-changing solutions, the principles of human-centred design and contextual consideration could not be more explicit. Here’s one great example: Ogilvy Colombia were tasked with addressing the issue of childhood malnutrition in Andean Quichwa communities. It chronically affects over 300,000 children, but many mothers don’t become aware until it’s too late.

Ogilvy Colombia focused on environment. Their research unearthed the Sikinchi, a traditional swaddling blanket in which Andean mothers have carried babies for hundreds of years. Ogilvy integrated this blanket with the WHO Infant Growth Chart (sewn in a beautiful, culturally appropriate style) to create Mother Blankets, easy for mothers to both access and understand. They were distributed at community centres, where mothers were also given practical training on physical signs to watch out for, and what to do if their child’s height was outside safe parameters.

This inspiring solution truly exemplifies learning in the flow of work — real audience insight, combined with ideas from outside the confined boxes of traditional L&D. Crucially, this doesn’t look or feel like learning. Yet it absolutely is, and it drives huge behavioural change for good.

Okay, yes, we admit — most corporate learning functions are not quite at this level of intervention. But it’s all about taking steps in the right direction. For now, learning in the flow of work presents us a valuable lesson:

Learning and context must be inseparable in our efforts to create behavioural change that lasts. Only when these two are successfully combined will learning become a force for change.

We’ll leave on these insightful words from the Report of the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) Behavioural Insights Forum 2016:

Behavioural insights offer new solutions to policy problems. Research from the last 40 years shows that our decisions are often not deliberate and considered, but habitual, automatic and heavily influenced by our environment… Applying these behavioural insights can unveil new and better ways of achieving policy goals… there is the potential to go much further.”