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What’s the best way to motivate people to incorporate regular learning into their work routines? How do you engage people enough so that learning isn’t seen as an interruption? And what can L&D leaders do to support learning in the flow of work? In this series, we explore the top challenges faced by L&D leaders, and provide expert insight to help you stay ahead of the curve.

Read on to discover:

Last year, the LPI’s ”Learning Leaders” report ranked “learning in the flow of work” as the second highest concern for L&D leaders. But this year, it has risen to first place, becoming the biggest challenge of 2021. 

According to the survey, L&D leaders are now asking themselves: “How do I engage people enough so that learning isn’t seen as an interruption? What’s the best way to motivate people to incorporate regular learning into their work routines?”

In this series, we explore the top challenges faced by L&D leaders – and offer expert industry insight to help you get ahead of the curve. This week, we’ll be tackling Challenge #2: Learning in the flow of work.


Learning in the flow of work – what does it mean?

The term was first coined by Josh Bersin in 2018. “People simply do not have as much time as they’d like to learn in a formal way,” he wrote in his influential piece, predicting that “this informal ‘in-the-flow work [would be] necessary for success”.

Earlier that year, a LinkedIn survey had revealed that 49% of learners wanted to learn “in the flow of work”. And a few years before, in 2015, research from Bersin by Deloitte had found that the average employee only had 24 minutes a week for “formal learning”. 

Of course, Bersin’s prediction turned out to be absolutely correct (as they often do). In fact, a recent study by CEB (a division of Gartner) noted that 57% of employees expect “just-in-time” learning, enabling them to gain new capabilities hands-on while working. 

In a 2020 survey conducted by Wranx, 70% of L&D professionals chose “on-demand learning” as the trend that would have the biggest impact on the future of L&D. The CIPD agrees with this assessment, writing that learning must increasingly take place “in the flow of work, not in venues; via digital technologies, which enable learning to be available anytime and anywhere; and through curation, not just creation, harnessing the growth of rich, readily available online content”.

A number of different factors are driving the shift towards “learning in the flow of work”: the increased demand for flexible and remote working; new and emerging technologies revolutionising the way we learn; and a changing workforce demographic with the widest age range in history. 

Combined, these global changes have propelled the need for “learning in the flow of work” to the top of the agenda for policy-makers and employers across the world. 


The learning lag

Unfortunately, however, the CIPD’s recent “Learning and Skills at Work” report reveals that we still have a ways to go:

  • Face-to-face delivery is still dominant. In just under half of organisations, less than 20% of learning is delivered digitally. Face-to-face delivery, on the other hand, makes up a considerably larger proportion of learning (60-100%), contributing to the majority of learning delivered in 44% of organisations.
  • Online learning has seen an increase in popularity. On-the-job training remains the most popular form of learning, used by 61% of the organisations surveyed. However, it was closely followed by online learning at 57%. This is a marked increase in popularity since the CIPD’s last survey in 2015, where online learning polled at number 4 in the rankings, at 29%.
  • But the adoption of technology-enabled learning is sluggish. 20% of organisations don’t use any technology to support learning – but the majority are still failing to leverage emergent technologies to support learning. Digital (augmented and virtual reality) and mobile device-based learning are used by just 18% and 14% of organisations respectively.

Overall, these findings show a concerning lack of uptake in technology to support learning. 

To succeed in a fast-paced and ever-changing future, our learning programmes need to evolve to become accessible, agile and flexible – and to facilitate this transformation, L&D leaders need to step up and take advantage of every available opportunity to revolutionise learning.


The role of the modern L&D leader

The CIPD class the ability to “curate learning content” as the most crucial and in-demand skill for L&D practitioners today. This not only requires a shift in skill set, but a shift in mindset. 

An L&D leader used to be the “sage on the stage”, an expert who created and presented learning in-person. Now, however, successful learning leaders have pivoted to a “curator” model, selecting and directing learners to pre-existing learning content at the time it’s needed.

So what, exactly, can L&D leaders do to support the shift to learning in the flow of work? How do you engage people enough so that learning isn’t seen as an interruption? And what’s the best way to motivate people to incorporate regular learning into their work routines?

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Leverage technologies that support learning and collaboration. Online learning increases productivity and accelerates learning by 15%, while simultaneously reducing training costs and time taken off for learning by 20%. Crucially, it’s available anywhere at any time, and can reach an unlimited number of employees simultaneously – even across dispersed locations and different time zones. By embracing technology, you can empower your team to connect and collaborate across the globe, while digital social apps (such as Slack, MS Teams, or Google hangouts) offer team members the opportunity to interact informally and solve problems through peer-to-peer learning.
  • Incorporate bite-sized learning. Many learning providers are already offering “microlearning”, which are short mini-lessons that can be accessed on-demand and on the go. L&D teams can share relevant videos or infographics with those who need to learn a specific new skill – and these assets can be accessed many times “in the flow” of working, until the employee feels confident practicing their new skill. By curating specific learning assets that employees can return to again and again, you can reduce the need to enroll everyone in long, unnecessary refresher courses, and directly target the skills needed instead.
  • Remote working is here to stay – so you might as well embrace it. In 2020, remote working was up by 44% in the US, making 4.7 million people remote workers. Over the last six months, many organisations have announced that they will continue to operate remotely, and in October 2020, a survey from Slack revealed that only 12% of knowledge workers want to return to full-time office work. If you’re holding out hope that we’ll be able to return to face-to-face learning soon, you might be in for a grim surprise. More likely, the way we learn will have to adapt to the way we work – which is likely to be a hybrid model.
  • Customise learning to the learner. Not only does this eliminate wasted time, it actually increases the efficiency and results of workforce training. Businesses that offer different styles of learning – online, microlearning, blended – will often score much higher overall in final evaluations. And the reason is simple: when people learn the way they want to, they learn faster, and retain what they learn.
  • Support learners and measure success. Learning in the flow can be extremely effective – however, making digital learning available to unprepared and unsupported learners is unlikely to succeed. Any online learning must be appropriately introduced to the team, and adequate support must be provided. But don’t leave your learners hanging once they’ve started: by monitoring their progress, you can identify areas where learners may need support, and work to continuously improve your learning program.
    • Here’s a tip: Identify a few key learner metrics, such as the number of learners who have completed lessons, and track these alongside “hard numbers”, such as enhanced productivity or increased ROI – this will help you build your case for learning in the future.
  • Build cultures of continuous learning. To support learning at an individual and organisational level, organisations need to create an environment that embeds learning into everything they do. L&D leaders need to spearhead this effort and become champions of continuous learning within the organisation – keeping the C-suite on track when they become preoccupied with pressing concerns. 
  • Don’t press pause on learning and development. It’s crucial that we continue to invest in the skills of our workforce. In times of crisis, learning and development activities are often the earliest and hardest hit activity – yet the ability to learn, adapt, and improve in the face these challenges will prove vital.


Invest in “just-in-time” learning, just in time

At the beginning of 2020, 37% of L&D professionals expected their budgets to grow, according to LinkedIn Learning’s Workplace Learning report; that number tumbled to 22% by the middle of the year. 

The pandemic caused many organisations to freeze their learning budgets – but now that we’ve adjusted to the new world of work, L&D budget growth is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. Now, 33% of L&D professionals expect their budgets to increase in 2021, and only 19% expect a decrease.

“Already we are seeing many organisations leveraging the technologies needed to work and learn any time, any place, to support learning in the flow of work,” comments Lizzie Crowley, Senior Policy Adviser at the CIPD. “Now is the time to harness this trend further and ensure that we do as much as we can now to support individuals and organisations to prepare for the future.” 

Over the course of the pandemic, digital learning platforms have seen an increase in uptake of up to 3x in 2020. More than half of executives are investing in technology to gain competitive advantage, according to a recent survey from McKinsey. And it’s working: the companies who invest in new digital technologies during the pandemic are twice as likely to report outsized revenue growth as their peers.

In case you’re still in doubt: now is the time to invest in learning that will slot into the flow of work at your organisation.


Partnering with Circus Street

As a global online learning business, we partner with global organisations to develop tailored learning programs that help them build their marketing capabilities. And we believe in modern learning methods that ensure responsiveness becomes ingrained individuals. 

Our unique approach to learning uses professional presenters in 3D environments, and engaging animation to dive deep into the concepts of digital. All this is delivered through the “My Circus Street” hub, where learnings are available across any device, anytime, anywhere. 

Overall, the result is an education solution that results in your teams having the confidence, understanding and ability to succeed in a technology-driven world. 

“Their programme is exceptional, the content is fantastic, and it really drives greater knowledge and confidence in all aspects of digital”

– Jo Earl, Head of Global Marketing Excellence at Sanofi 


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