Best Practices

Learning in the Flow of Work

Make workflow-integrated learning a reality By Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin is founder of Bersin, known as Bersin by Deloitte, and a principal with Deloitte Consulting. He can be reached at


or years we have been talking about the need to integrate learning into the flow of work. This domain has been called performance support, on-demand learning, microlearning, adaptive learning and even learning nuggets. Today this ambitious idea is within reach.

I’ll start with a simple idea: Break all the learning programs you have into two types — micro and macro.

Microlearning content is short and focused enough to meet an immediate need. It is a video, article, blog, e-book, audio clip or other form of content that can be indexed and found easily.

An example of microlearning might be a software engineer who forgets the syntax for a certain type of data structure. They could look online, find an example, and quickly copy it or review it before continuing work. It might be a pricing guide, compliance overview or set of rules about how to log in or complete a transaction. Or it could be an article that offers a new idea.

Macrolearning content, by contrast, is deep and comprehensive enough to teach new concepts and skills and give the learner an integrated framework for understanding a topic. It may include background material, sample exercises, case studies or even interactive projects that make learning stick.

While the goal of microlearning is to solve a problem, the goal of macrolearning is to develop a new skill, obtain a complete understanding or provide context for deeper knowledge. A course that explains Blockchain, for example, may not transform a novice into a Blockchain developer, but it should give them enough background to feel confident using Blockchain concepts in their work. They could then dive in further.

This simple construct helps deliver learning in the flow of work. Employees new to a position or role need macroprograms (e.g., onboarding) but once they get started they need microlearning to remind them of tips, inform them of changes and keep their skills current.

New adaptive (or intelligent) learning platforms make this possible. Research published in a 2007 article in the Journal of Memory and Language, “Repeated Retrieval During Learning Is the Key to Long-Term Retention,” demonstrates that “spaced learning,” the process of timing the content and reminding people of concepts after a pause, can have dramatic improvements in retention. Today’s learning experience and microlearning systems can deliver this algorithmically, evenly spacing learning over time to make sure you get what you need based on past interactions.

Microlearning solves problems; macrolearning develops new skills.

It’s important to remember that learning in the flow of work means having a mentor, doing after-action reviews and asking questions in an open-ended, reflective way. As you sit down and design new learning in the flow of work (design thinking is part of this process), don’t forget to include the collaborative and cultural components in your design. A simple conversation or the request to “share what you’ve learned” could be as memorable or important as the fanciest new video.

When I talk with CLOs and other learning and HR professionals I’m always asked the question, “How do we get people to use the content we’ve built?” Learning in the flow of work is the answer.

People are busy. They want to learn but they don’t have much time (according to Bersin by Deloitte research, an average of 24 minutes per week is spent on learning). If you want to make learning relevant, give people access to just enough information to do their jobs, deliver it when and where they need it, and use intelligence to make sure they get enough spaced learning and macrolearning in the process.

Consider the success of one major financial institution that redesigned its entire corporate university, building an end-to-end learning environment that lets anyone publish content at any time, enabling micro and macrolearning to flourish. It now has certification courses in digital commerce, Blockchain/bitcoin and cybersecurity complemented by hundreds of curated articles, videos and podcasts on all aspects of the digital world of currency. The company is attracting some of the brightest engineers in digital commerce.

The tools of L&D have changed. It’s time to embrace microlearning in a big way. Learning experience platforms, microlearning platforms and new systems that provide chatbots and virtual environments are here. Just make sure you design them to fit into the flow of work.