A police officer drives by a corner late at night and sees a person crawling around on their hands and knees. The officer stops and asks, “Can I help you?” The person responds, “Oh please, officer! I’ve lost my car keys and have been searching for them for over an hour.” The officer immediately gets down on all fours and starts to help. After about 10 minutes of no success, the officer asks, “Where exactly did you last see them?” The person replies, “Over there by my parked car.” The officer stops and asks in frustration, “Well then why aren’t we looking over there?” The person quickly replies, “Well, the light is just so much better over here.”
OK, sorry, old joke. But it relates to the way we often design our learning solutions to support our learners, and in that regard, it’s no laughing matter.
For years, we’ve been developing learning programs where the light is better — in the classroom, through an LMS and, more recently, even virtually. While the learner’s work is “parked” down the street in the workflow, we take them to the corner where all the information that’s important for them to know is stored. I know I’m playing up the metaphor a bit here, but this is a critical pivot for our industry if we’re going to have a measurable impact on those we serve. It starts with better understanding the workflow, the criticality of the tasks performed, the supporting knowledge that helps it all make sense, and the current learning and support assets our learners use every day.
Workflow analysis is a systematic design approach that starts by making the workflow itself visible based on the performance objectives trying to be achieved. Since I’ve been involved in this business it has never ceased to amaze me how, for years, I had little to no idea about the world my learners returned to after my training event, be it in the classroom or via another training modality. Workflow design has shown me that I was literally building training solutions in the dark. I knew what the subject matter experts wanted me to build, but that was typically a content ask, and not one based on the everyday context the learner lived in.
There are three powerful results coming out of this new approach. The first is a more measurable deliverable. For years, we’ve been trying to effectively and confidently measure the impact our work has on business outcomes and performance. Designing for the workflow allows us to better understand the impact of the business tasks performed, the outcome of those tasks when performed well, and to embed learning tools that directly measure those outcomes based on their use. These deliverables live in the workflow, so the correlation between their use and the impact on a learner’s ability to perform provides us with measurement data we’ve been missing.
The second benefit of having a direct view into the workflow is that it allows us to balance our blended solution in ways we’ve not done before. In the past, much of our blend was based on an economic model, not a performance one. We’d take five days of training, reduce the classroom time to two days and cover the rest by designing e-learning and maybe a bit of coaching. That’s a defendable way to reduce class time, but it’s not supporting the workflow in the way it needs to be. When the workflow becomes visible, along with the assets used there, it broadens our blend by adding more workflow-enabled tools such as electronic performance support systems, adaptive learning platforms, and the emerging work being done with artificial intelligence and machine learning. When these deliverables are integrated with our current tool set, based on the context of the workflow, true blended learning solutions appear.
Finally, and probably most important, when we do workflow analysis we start to provide our organizations with a service we’ve hardly offered in the past: a structured look at what and how things are getting done every day by each role in the enterprise. I once heard an SVP of sales say, “If you did nothing else, if you didn’t build us any learning content, this exercise alone was worth the investment. It was the first time my department has agreed on, and clearly seen, all that happens in the field when we’re making sales.” The fact is many managers, at all levels, don’t truly understand what their workers do to perform each day, the knowledge needed to support that performance, and the tools they need and use to continue to perform effectively.
Moving out of the light and into the workflow is a key role for today’s learning professionals. It’s up to us to make the instructional, technological and cultural decision to lead our organizations into a new era of L&D.