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Make learning part of an employee’s work hours, reap the rewards

Learning is often praised when completed outside of work for personal growth, but it should also be applied for professional growth during work hours.

employees learning and laughing in the office

Building learning within the workflow is a win-win for everyone in a company – that’s the message from Harvard Business Review’s Bruce C. Ruddy.

The benefits of making learning part of the workflow are many. Employees earn new skills they can bring to their departments, companies benefit from new solutions, and a workforce that sees learning as part of the company culture builds stronger ties with those who work there.

Instead of long workshops where information is often sit-and-get style, companies that make learning part of the workflow make that learning accessible, relevant, and hands-on. By using bite-sized opportunities within their workday, followed by chances to put it in motion, employees have the chance to see success through trial and error and to receive quick feedback to help.

Relevance is key to workflow learning

If there’s a reason to tackle an issue, a team can attack the problem together by searching for solutions that will help them and the company. Ruddy calls this ‘contextualizing the learning.’ In this case, its hands-on and specific to something being worked on at that moment.

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Teams can jigsaw the problem, find multiple answers, and come back together to share what they’ve learned while applying the lessons. That active acquiring of hands-on knowledge is more likely to last. It also leads to that great moment when the answers work and everyone celebrates.

The nudge is next

Ruddy said it was important to send gentle nudges to get team members to apply the knowledge. He used quick reminders and calls to action. In his research, he said employees said the nudges helped.

Keeping the knowledge at the forefront of the conversation is important. All too often we spend time and money on learning objectives, only to let them go by the wayside while returning to the way things have always been done because that is easy. The nudge will help keep the lessons learned in action mode.

Time for reflection is essential to this model

Debrief time for reflection makes all the difference in a learning model. Team members need time to talk about what worked and what didn’t, what they liked about using what they learned, what they have problems with, and what questions they might have.

The debrief makes the accessible, relevant learning collaborative and fear-free. Reflection time isn’t success and failure – It’s to share and deepen learning, and when it really leads to a stronger connection to the organization that has provided the time within the workday to make it happen.

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Ruddy said in his research that employees said they were more likely to continue using what they learned with scheduled reflection time worked into the day.

Micro-learning experiences worked into other activities enhanced learning

That makes sense. Smaller chunks are easier to process and try. Time is the one thing we can’t get back, and small 20-30-minute lessons with activities tied to what we’re actually working on are far more effective than a long lesson followed by lots of trial and error, frustration, or just skipping it altogether because there’s no time to work it in.

Measuring progress is essential

Finally, measuring progress is essential to actually seeing a successful implementation of learning through workflow.

Pre- and post-assessments are a must. Ruddy says to remember learning is not the same for all so results can vary over time. Employees are people and people will be impacted by all the outside forces in life, so it is not a one-size, one-time fits all. However, these questions helped him know if the learning was working and how he could improve:

  • Did you use the framework this week?
  • If so, how did you use the framework?
  • If not, how might you use the framework next week?

He didn’t stop by asking the questions. He analyzed the answers to make the learning workflow more successful.

Building learning into the workflow of the business isn’t a new concept, but Ruddy has provided a strong framework to follow and an analysis of why it works. In today’s busy world, companies that work learning into their workflow will have an edge over those that don’t.

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Mary Beth Lee retired from teaching in Texas this year after 28 years as a student media adviser. She spends her time these days reading, writing, fighting for public education and enjoying the empty nester life in Downtown Fort Worth.

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