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How The Workforce Learns: Learning In (And Beyond) The Flow Of Work

To integrate learning and work, you need to do more than just integrate learning technology and work technology.

Don’t believe the hype. Integrating learning into the flow of work is not as simple as just plugging your learning content into the systems and tools your people use to do their jobs (we’re talking about applications like Microsoft Office, Slack, and Salesforce.)

Sure, you have to start somewhere. But to really weave learning into work, you need to think bigger. Because now people are taking courses on Instagram, binge-watching educational videos on TikTok, and connecting with coaches on Airbnb.

Going beyond the flow of work

All in, the workforce spends three times more time developing skills independently than they do through your systems. And you can’t make intelligent decisions about how (or where) to invest in your people if you’re only seeing part of the picture.

Start Somewhere

We get it. You’re struggling to get people into your classrooms and online courses, while Slack has 10 million “active users” every day. Microsoft Teams has 13 million. You want to fish where the fish are. So enabling learning through your workplace tools is a logical place to start.

In fact, new research by Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning shows nearly one-in-five workers, managers and business leaders (16%) say it would be “extremely useful” to access learning resources in their messaging or collaboration systems.

Learning in the flow of work....software

Even more of these people think it would be “extremely useful” to access learning through their office productivity apps (32%) or specialized job tools (22%), like Salesforce for sales reps or Jira for IT professionals. There is potential here for sure. But there are also limits.

Be Useful

One big limit, of course, is time. The typical worker, manager, and business leader we asked only spends 14 minutes per workday using company-provided resources to develop knowledge and skills for their jobs or careers.

Developing skills in minutes a day

Next to that, the 90 minutes “active users” spend on Slack every work day are a tempting target. But if you want some of those 90 minutes, get ready for a fight, because people use Slack (and its competitors) mainly to communicate and collaborate, not to learn.

Product designers (and that is what we’re doing here) call this idea “jobs-to-be-done” — the idea that people use specific tools to accomplish specific things. For Slack, the jobs-to-be-done are messaging and sharing files. A typical user sends 200 messages a week.

Do the math on that. Two hundred messages a week works out to 40 a day, Monday to Friday; 29 if you include weekends. If Slack users are only “active” for 90 minutes a day, that means they’re sending a message every two to three minutes.

There simply isn’t as much slack for learning in Slack as we’d like to think (or Teams, or Workplace by Facebook). It’s not for nothing that 72% of people in our study said they can’t learn for more than 30 minutes at a stretch before getting distracted or interrupted.

The same goes for Salesforce. Sales reps spend as much as 42% of their days working on tasks in CRM systems. But most of those tasks, like prioritizing leads, logging customer information, or finding contacts, are all about productivity, not learning.

The fact is, people use work apps to get work done. And whether they’re on phones, TVs, printed pages, web pages, mobile apps, chatbots, or in Microsoft Office, people have little patience for interruptions. So when you do put learning into your tools, make it useful.

Go Everywhere

No matter how useful the learning inside your company’s systems is, though, it’s still limited to your company’s systems. Your workforce is not. They’re not limited to your place of work, to your working hours, to your workweek, or to your technology.

What people forget in all the hype about workflow learning is that a lot of work (as well as learning) happens in real life — through independent experiences as well as interactions with other people, like colleagues, managers, suppliers, and customers.

The workers, managers, and leaders in our study invest three times more time developing skills on their own as they do through company-provided resources (a median of 42 minutes a day). And most of that time is not spent using traditional L&D solutions.

Employees invest three times more time developing skills on their own as they do through company-provided resources.

Only half took any live class (43%) or online course (52%) last year, and two-thirds of them only did so three or four times. Most, however, leveraged articles (86%), books (79%), videos (63%), search (63%), webinars (59%), or podcasts (47%), usually at least once a week.

At the same time, 36% of people received coaching from a manager or mentor at least once a month, and 52% grew through feedback from their team or peers. In other words, most of how people develop their skills happens everywhere — in real life and across the internet.

We build skills across URLS and IRL

Contribute And Consume

That brings us back to those Instagram courses, TikTok videos, and Airbnb coaches. They’re just the beginning. You can also take a Harvard course in your email app, ask Alexa or Google Glass for instructions, and get coached by an AI-powered ‘bot named Otto.

You can also get mentored in Snapchat storytelling by Millennials, learn how to create learning videos via YouTube playlists, or take tutorials on something called scrollytelling (an emerging skill in data visualization) on the blog of a company called Webflow.

There are a few things you can’t do, though. You can not manage everything people learn. You can not cram it all into Office, Slack, or Salesforce. And you can’t track completions on Instagram, TikTok, Airbnb, Gmail, Alexa or in real life. Not really.

So what can you do with all that learning beyond the flow of work? You can encourage people to explore the options. You can guide them to relevant resources. And you can enable them to crowdsource and share useful learning wherever they work. You can help them contribute as well as consume.

Maybe that’s why two-thirds of the people we asked (64%) told us it would be “extremely useful” to access learning resources through their browsers. The browser, after all, is the one tool that goes pretty much everywhere people work (and read, watch, listen and communicate).

Oh, and don’t forget about Slack, Teams or Workplace. A lot of that guiding, sharing, discussing, reflecting, and feedback happening on-the-job and in between people is happening in there — while they’re in the flow of work. You can enable that, too. You just can’t manage it.

To learn more about this research, or about how Degreed enables learning in (and beyond) the flow of work, sign up for one of our upcoming events or webinars, get in touch for a deeper dive, or click here to receive the full report.

Learning beyond the flow of work.

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