selling up, selling down

Standing Still Is No Longer an Option
Workflow learning is the brave new frontier BY BOB MOSHER
Chief Learning Officer author, Bob Mosher headshot.
Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist for APPLY Synergies, a strategic consulting firm. He can be reached at

s many of you know, I’ve been at this for a long time — 36 years to be exact. I have seen some amazing changes in L&D during that time. I remember standing in front of a group of trainers showing them how we could “transform” their classrooms by putting all of their transparencies into a new tool called PowerPoint. Those days are long gone, and we have been through huge transformations since. And if we thought PowerPoint, the internet or e-learning were transformational and challenging, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Why? Because the next big change strikes at the heart of how we’ve defined ourselves since our inception. You see, even with the transformational modalities and tools I’ve described, the locus of control was still squarely in our domain. We were still creating a learning solution that was a training-first deliverable. It focused more on knowledge and skills gain than on workflow application. Clearly, we hoped that some type of transfer occurred, but the journey started with our deliverables, which were created and maintained in our design shops, and were delivered via our platforms and trainers, be them live or digital. Those times are changing dramatically, if they haven’t already. The question is — are we ready?

With new emerging design methodologies, technologies and learners, workflow learning is the brave new frontier. What is workflow learning? It’s when learning and support solutions are designed to begin on the job and while the learner is doing their job. Many of you may say, “So? Isn’t this what e-learning enabled?” Not exactly. Tools like e-learning made learning available in the workflow, but the learner needs to leave their work to consume it, even if they are still sitting in front of their computer. Leaving work isn’t always a physical thing. I can be sitting at my desk but have to mentally leave my work to find and consume a learning or support asset. In true workflow learning, that doesn’t happen. When the “lesson” is over, work is also completed.

There are a number of things driving this change. The first, and most important, is the learner; learning and support are at their fingertips and consumed in the flow of life. This has created an expectation that learning programs found at work will be equally as intrinsic. It has created a much more independent and inspired learner — one who has little patience to wait.

Waterfall approaches can’t keep up with the rapid change of work and the demands of the learner.

The second is the technology. There have been a number of remarkable breakthroughs in learning technologies that make workflow learning a reality, and there’s no sign of this slowing down any time soon. Here are a few to watch:

From an LMS to a learning experience platform (LXP): The LMS is a well-established platform, but it sits alongside a crowded field of other content repositories that have long since overwhelmed our learners. Since platforms like SharePoint hit the scene, organizations have been stockpiling learning and support assets like never before. The problem is not their availability, but finding the most current and efficient option. LXPs have emerged as a powerful technology that sits on top of the LMS and the other repositories and allows learners to have access to and even create content like never before.

From e-learning to electronic performance support systems (EPSSs): EPSSs have been around since the early ’90s, but today’s technologies look nothing like the original platforms. Their ability to embed in the workflow and broker into technologies like the LXP, LMS, SharePoint and many others finally enables true workflow learning while a learner does their job.

Finally, the third thing driving workflow learning is methodology. Agile instructional design is here to stay. Waterfall approaches just can’t keep up with the rapid change of work and the demands of the learner. It’s time we take a good, hard look at our dated design approaches and let many of them go.

One of my favorite quotes is by Denis Pombriant: “Change is difficult. It’s hard, and people avoid it when we can, but change eventually happens when the consequences of standing still look worse than the consequences of taking a chance on change. It’s time for all of us to change — standing still is not an option, and we can only imagine the disruptions ahead.”