Learning journeys are great for putting training units in context, but let’s stop focusing on abstract notions of learning: organisational knowledge is about improving business goals and performance.

Approaching a task with the end in mind is great advice. Within a learning and development context, it’s the reason learning journeys exist. If you understand the bigger picture of how course units fit together within a broader learning experience it offers learners more autonomy, quicker insights and better opportunity to engage with the learning process in general. So what’s wrong with learning journeys?

…well, nothing when combined with micro-learning and organised to be relevant to each learner’s level, skills and their roles; the real issue is that formal training based on a course or an e-learning module only goes part way to transferring knowledge to the workplace.

Learning journeys vs. ‘new school’ thinking

First, let’s consider the 70:20:10 framework set out by leading L&D thinker Charles Jennings. Jennings suggests that as a general rule 70 percent of our learning is done on the job, 20 percent with good coaching and only 10 percent in formal training sessions. In truth, to quote Jennings: “it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the nature of change”.

Managing the 10 percent is the most straightforward. Formal courses should by their nature be highly structured with clear learning outcomes. For this reason, L&D activities often put too much emphasis on this relatively marginal area.

It may be tempting to say that, because on-the-job learning is so ad hoc, it can’t be managed in a traditional sense and therefore requires less planning and consideration. The truth is, if on the job learning accounts for 70 percent of staff members’ development, it can’t be ignored.

The solution? Focus on the design of the day-to-day workplace environment to optimise the opportunity for productive learning. Ultimately, that means performance support, coaching and mentoring.

Performance support

The challenge is more complex than developing learning journeys, but the impact is much deeper and long lasting; more importantly it drives more directly at the true purpose of learning and development activities – positive employee experience and high performance.

Gottfredson and Mosher’s five moments of learning need is a really helpful framework for considering the workplace learning environment, the all-important ‘70’:

  1.    Learning how to do something for the first time (New)
  2.    Expanding the breadth and depth of knowledge (More)
  3.    Needing to apply knowledge (Apply)
  4.    Fixing problems when they arise (Solve)
  5.    When ingrained processes change (Change)

Although the first two moments of ‘learning need’ are initially satisfied by the development and delivery of formal learning solutions, these can also occur at the moment of application. It is highly probable that, in today’s work environment, a learner may need to learn something for the first time, or further their learning at the moment of application. In the real world, there simply isn’t time to step away from the workflow to take a course.

Performance support at the moment of application

When staff need to perform on the job, they require instant access to relevant tools. Help must be immediate and tailored to the specific role and situation. The tools must allow staff to dive as deep as necessary, depending upon their needs, be it planning, adapting or referencing relevant information.

Performance support for problem solving

Modern business environments require less emphasis on applying knowledge and skills and more on acquiring and adapting knowledge and skills. Learners, today, must be comfortable in their ability to solve unanticipated challenges.

Perhaps the most important point to note is this:

Social media platforms provide an extraordinary opportunity for instant access to the collective wisdom. Immediate collaboration is an inbuilt element of all social media platforms; when combined with access to the information individuals need to resolve core challenges these platforms act as the scalable resources needed to meet the demands of the modern work environment, which is typically in a state of constant flux.

Performance support for moments of change

Replacing out-of-date practices with new ways of performing is a significant learning challenge if they have become deeply ingrained over time. Staff need aids that will guide them through the new practices each time they are called upon to perform them. HR, for the most part, hasn’t provided the support it can and should when performers face this trial.

This can best be done with a robust performance support solution that supports performers in their workflow, at the moment of application, when they are called upon to unlearn and relearn. Too few change initiatives adequately make this crucial investment. They simply need to understand the realities of deep-rooted change and step up to it, ahead of time, before it’s too late.

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Paul Brown