An answer Google doesn’t have: bringing learning into the workflow
06 March 2018 by Paul McElvaney

You learn something new every day, right?  We’re inquisitive animals and our desire for knowledge, profound or trivial, is insatiable. And with our best friend Google, we have the means to feed that hunger – in an instant, anywhere.  What more could you possibly need?

But hold that thought for a minute (an eternity in search engine time).  You’ve asked Google a question and you’ve received the answer. Or rather you’ve received thousands of possible answers.  How do you know which one you need?

Fake news, anyone?

The sheer success of Google’s mining the world’s information is perhaps its Achilles’ heel.

There’s only so much information you can take in.  And, even if you can trawl through all the possible answers, how can you trust the source and veracity of the information?

Context is king

Idle curiosity is one thing but needing to know something to do a specific job is quite another.  You want information that keeps you on task and not something that drives you to distraction.  And you want that experience to stick.  Learning is a process not a series of discrete events or solutions.

In short, the ultimate goal is just-in-time learning at the point of need.  Google may give us all the answers, but we often just need the one – in the right place at the right time.

Moments of need

Let’s think about why people are looking for information in the first place. Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson’s have looked into this and come up with five key moments when we need access to information:

  1. When we want to learn something new.
  2. When we’re motivated to learn more about something.
  3. When we want to apply what we’ve learned.
  4. When we need to fix something that’s gone wrong.
  5. When things change.

Learners experience these moments most when they’re carrying out their work. That’s when they have a very particular, pressing need and when they need support.

Learning at work

At Learning Pool, we’re big on learning in the workflow: giving people the right information and learning when and where they need it.

Of course, most organisations offer in-house training that embodies an organisation’s culture and way of doing things and provides that key context.  But the trouble with all training, however well designed and delivered, is that learners forget it.

The other thing about training is that it’s often not there when you need it: packed away in some manual or presentation, locked in an LMS, inaccessible to mobile devices.

Job aids

Support for staff in their daily roles has generally meant job aids and quick reference guides – paper or digital.  These resources allow employees to access the information they need as they need it while continuing to work.  There’s no need to step away from the desk or the classroom.  And because this support is targeted, employees can do their job better, quicker, and even cheaper.

The power of checklists

The author of ‘The Power of Checklists’, Dr Atul Gawande, has shown that even simple, low-tech job aids can produce dramatic results.  His research revealed that many hospital fatalities were the result of human error.  

So, Gawande introduced surgical checklists in operating theatres across South Carolina.  Following the checklist reduced fatalities by over a third.  When hospitals in the Netherlands introduced Gawande’s checklist they saw a 47% reduction in deaths.

One other great benefit of the checklist has been greater retention of nurses.  They feel more valued and effective.

That’s some power.  But not everyone’s job has such high stakes, so what’s in it for the rest of us?  As Gawande points out, embedded in that checklist is set of values and goals. These include the need for better communication and working closely together as a team.

Designing for learning at the point of need

Dr Gawande’s study shows just how effective support in the workflow can be when learning is directed and given in context, when really needed.  So how do we achieve that in our organisations? The solution lies in Learning and Development.

Access is vital.  Gawande’s surgeons and nurses have the checklist with them while they’re working.  It’s bite size: a 19-point list that takes two minutes to check.  The learning and training are embedded in the workflow. The clinicians consult it in the theatre before and during surgery.  You can’t get more immediate than that.

Now think of the training and learning in your own organisation.  Is it as accessible or relevant?  What can you do to make it more so?

Create learning content for quick access and intelligent searching and retrieval, offering learning and support at the same time.  An employee looking for a piece of learning while on the job, has limited time and bandwidth.  A customer support agent is hardly going to put the customer on hold while they review an e-learning course.  Training needs to be in targeted at the specific person in the specific moment.

Support not just search: the chatbot

Dr Gawande’s checklist addresses some of those five moments of need we looked at, but the checklist isn’t adaptive or responsive.  It’s set.  And for a very good reason: you don’t really want speculative innovation in a surgical environment.

Imagine other scenarios, though, where you can’t just follow fixed instructions, but have to investigate and solve a problem instead – in real time.  Here’s where powerful new tools like chatbots come in.  These combine the power of search with the AI-inspired ability to learn, respond, and adapt.

Learning Pool’s Flo is just such an example.  This chatbot has the facility to offer support to learners, employees, and customers alike.

Otto is there where you normally work, so you don’t need to take time away from the job or learn a whole new system.  You really can learn something useful every day.

It benefits Learning and Development by showing how knowledge is used across your organisation, so you can fill the gaps and improve content and workflows.  Otto also acts as an ‘Invisible LMS’, greatly reducing the distance and obstacles lying between courses and learners.

Otto offers targeted access to vital information and gives support in implementing what you’ve learned.  It learns, and you learn with it.  And it gives you the right sort of learning right when you need it.

Paul McElvaney
Chief Executive Officer
Paul is Learning Pool’s founder and CEO. Since 2006, he has grown the business from a modest team of 5, to the success story it is today, with 7 sites and almost 200 employees. Paul’s ambitions centre on providing world-class customer care to our 750+ global clients, driving continuous innovation through Learning Pool’s product set and nurturing the talent within his team.
Paul was awarded ‘Director of the Year’, from the Institute of Directors in 2016.
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