Conrad Gottfredson on Meeting Moments of Learning Need

Conrad Gottfredson is the chief learning strategist at APPLY Synergies, where he helps learning organizations design tools to meet the five moments of learning need. The eLearning Guild recognized Con as a Guild Master in 2014. He recently talked to Learning Solutions Magazine about meeting the five moments of learning need using workflow learning. For an introduction to workflow learning, please refer to our interview with Con’s partner, Bob Mosher. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PH: You and Bob Mosher write extensively about what you refer to as the “5 Moments of Learning Need.” Let’s talk about how that integrates with workflow learning.

CG: That’s at the heart of it all. It’s how you operationalize 70-20-10; it tells the whole picture of what we need to attend to in learning!

PH: In an article you and Bob wrote for Learning Solutions Magazine a few years ago, you said that organizations were still stuck in a “learning event” paradigm, taking learners out of the workflow for training classes. Has that changed?

CG: Sadly, far too many organizations remain stuck in that paradigm. If you go to conferences, you’ll find that the primary focus is still on formal learning.

The good news is—we have a performance support community of close to four thousand people who are working to advance the discipline of performance support. We’re also seeing more discussion around workflow learning, which is really important. But the methodology governing how most L&D groups design and develop solutions treats performance support as an afterthought: It’s something that you do after training.

And there are serious misperceptions about workflow learning—one of which is that if you’re providing learners access to eLearning in their workflow, you have workflow learning. This isn’t true at all. So, in practice, we’re still in the formal learning paradigm, I think.

PH: How can we change that?

CG: Well that’s a journey. It requires a cultural change. We love our classes; we love our eLearning; we love the formal side of things. And frankly, we have control over all of that. The minute you step into workflow, you’ve got a whole set of new challenges. It’s not our turf. We can bring people into our classroom; that’s our turf. We can bring them into an eLearning course; that’s our turf. We can bring them into a virtual course; that’s our turf. We can be in control of all of that. But when we step into the workflow, we’re on the turf of the business. It requires us to form a very different kind of partnership.

Then there are all the challenges when we build solutions that extend into the workflow. They have to be kept current and relevant, and that requires us to build a relationship with the organization that we generally haven’t had.

PH: Let’s talk about the five moments. I’d like to help readers understand the five moments of learning need in the context of workflow learning. (The five moments are: Learn New, Learn More, Change, Solve, and Apply. For a deeper discussion, please see “Are You Meeting All Five Moments of Learning Need?”) Let’s talk a little bit more about the differences between the moments. If I understand the moments correctly, any of them could take place during Apply, that is, in the workflow. Is that right?

CG: Everything happens at the moment of Apply; you’re right. At the moment of Apply, I might need to remember or adapt or adjust to the uniqueness of the work. I may need to Learn something New or I may need to Learn More; I may need to unlearn and relearn—that’s Change. Or I may need to Solve a problem. All of that can happen at the moment of Apply.

Here’s the difference. If I am Learning New or Learning More as I do my job, that’s true workflow learning. To the degree that I stop my work, I move more toward formal learning.

From time to time, employees may need to just stop for a few minutes and learn something to help them perform effectively on their job. That’s an important part of workflow learning. But what most organizations miss is this whole notion of learning as employees do their work.

Stopping work to learn is costly to organizations. And we have an opportunity in the framework of the “5 Moments of Learning Need” to build solutions where people can learn as they do their jobs. That’s really powerful. That’s a game changer—learning while you do your job, while you do your work. And that’s what true performance support infrastructure enables.

PH: The moment of “Apply” requires more than rote recall of information; it’s applying that information in different situations.

CG: Right, right. It’s applying it in different situations. The moment of Apply is what’s so very important because that’s the challenge. I can be trained, but at the moment of Apply, not be able to do beans. Because I’ve forgotten all of it—or because I haven’t transferred it. When I learn outside the workflow, I don’t have context. So I might practice and do other kinds of things, if I’m lucky enough to have that practice, but it’s not the real work. So now, I get to the workplace, and it’s different and it’s challenging and I have got to remember and somehow translate that to on-the-job performance. Well, a true performance support solution provides me two-click, 10-second access to just what I need at my moment of need, to be able to complete any job task that I need to complete—that I learned in the training. Plus, everything else that I didn’t learn in the training that I need to be able to do—the tasks I can learn as I do them.

PH: So, with performance support, it sounds like all five moments can be met in the workflow.

CG: Absolutely. All five moments happen in the workflow. But there is some confusion about when we focus on the moments of Learn New and Learn More in the workflow. Just-in-time access to an eLearning course isn’t a good example of workflow learning. You can be in the workflow and actually stop your work, if you do you an eLearning course for 45 minutes. You’re on your job, but you’re not in the workflow.

PH: When you say that just-in-time access to eLearning isn’t a good example of workflow learning, what do you mean?

CG: To the degree that employees stop working to learn, they step away from the context of their flow of work. We want to help people learn while they are actually doing their work as much as we can. If they need to stop their work to learn, we want to make sure that learners have immediate access to “just enough” learning.

PH: As opposed to learning being something separate?

CG: Right. There’s a mid-ground. Microlearning is where I can get to a little learning burst. Rather than stopping my work and trying to sort through a 30-minute eLearning, if I can get to a three- to four-minute learning burst or segment, a microlearning piece that I can do right in the context of what I need, that’s very effective. So there’s this continuum that we work with, in terms of learning. It begins with learning while you are performing your job, extending along the spectrum with short micro-learning bursts, and ending with people completely stopping their work to learn for an extended period of time.

A “5 Moments” learning solution is a solution that is optimized along this spectrum. We pull people from their work for those skills where the impact of failure is critical to catastrophic. We shift the rest to workflow learning using an EPSS (an embedded performance support solution) to enable learning while people work. The pyramid [that Bob Mosher described] is the design methodology for an EPSS. (See Figure 1.)


Figure 1: Performance support pyramid from APPLY Synergies

PH: So an EPSS is a performance support solution that can meet all five moments of learning need?

CG: Yes. The “5 Moments of Learning Need” is a framework to guide the allocation of resources within the pyramid design for an EPSS; it is structured to address these moments as people transition across the three stages for gaining and sustaining effective performance on the job.

PH: What are those three stages?

CG: The three stages are train, transfer, and sustain.

The “train” stage is what we do formally, when we pull people away from their work to learn. As I mentioned, there are times at which this is important to do. But unfortunately, too often we try to train on everything, and that’s where the mistake lies. It’s our experience that we can push, on average, half of what we’re forcing into a classroom, into the workflow to be learned as people perform their jobs using an EPSS.

Figure 2: Stages of learning

We train, primarily, to help learners master tasks and concepts to the degree we can. The role of performance support is to make sure that people are able to—at the moment of Apply—take whatever they learned during training and have the help they need to be able to transfer that to effective on-the-job performance. Without performance support, learners quickly forget what they learn. They also have a tendency to make mistakes—some of which could be costly. And, the time it takes to get to competent performance is way too long.

PH: So is that the transfer part? Or is it transfer and sustain together?

CG: Transfer is about transferring what you learned to the actual moment of Apply—achieving on-the-job competence. During the third stage, we need to sustain an employee’s ability to perform again and again and again, in the nuances and the challenges of an ever-changing workplace. You’re not going to do that without an effectively designed EPSS.

Here’s the challenge for training today: Over the years, we’ve had less and less time to train on more and more stuff. So we keep cramming more and more content, more and more learning objectives into training. What’s happened is, although we call our content-dense courses training, they’re really just delivering content. We may be delivering that content creatively and powerfully and making it enjoyable and fun—but we’re not really training, just delivering content.

What’s lost is practice with feedback and integrated practice—where we don’t just practice one task, but we actually integrate multiple tasks and knowledge into realistic cases—instructional practices that really matter. All of that has fallen out of the classroom because there is no time.

If we’ve designed for the five moments, we have a comprehensive solution that deals with the classroom and the workflow and addresses learners as they make the journey through their training and transfer stages, and then it sustains them as they perform in the workflow. An EPSS supports them across all of it. An effectively designed performance support solution helps people learn in the classroom, it helps them transfer what they learned to their work, and it helps them sustain effective performance on the job.

PH: In a perfect world of workflow learning, would there still be a training stage that takes people out of workflow?

CG: Oh sure; as I’ve said, sometimes it is necessary. You may have a project where everything can be learned in the workflow because there aren’t any skills where the critical impact of failure is significant to catastrophic. Therefore, you can build a performance support tool and people can learn it all in the workflow, as they do their jobs.

There are other instances where the majority of the skills are so critical-to-catastrophic that you need to pull people away from work to do all of it. The point is that, from project to project, the degree to which you need to pull people away from their work to learn can vary.

It’s wonderful if you have a project where people can learn entirely in the workflow with an EPSS; that’s a great thing. Generally, we don’t find that’s the case. 

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