10 Strategies for Integrating Learning and Work (part 5)

This is the fifth and final post in the “10 Strategies for Integrating Learning and Work” series.  The series seems to have struck a chord and I appreciate the comments and e-mails in response to previous posts.  This last post focuses on the job (or role).  First,  how jobs can be designed to optimize natural learning (strategy #9) and second,  how elements of the job can be used to improve formal learning (strategy #10).


1. Understand the job
2. Link learning to business process
3. Build a performance support system
4. Build a Community of Practice
5. Use social media to facilitate informal learning
6. Implement a Continuous Improvement framework
7. Use action learning
8. Use Organizational Learning practices
9. Design jobs for natural learning
10. Bring the job to learning

9. Design jobs for natural learning

Most of us accept that we learn through experience,  whether that experience is structured into a training program or simply the “experience” of working.   But what is it about experience that results in learning?  There are a number of factors,  but most powerful among them is the feedback we receive (or don’t receive) on the results of our actions.  We intuitively use that feedback to adjust our actions, decisions, methods etc. to try to get it right the next time…in other words we use feedback to learn…to get better at what we do and accomplish.

Left to our own devices we seek out feedback to determine how well our actions worked at accomplishing our goal.   Jobs with effective feedback mechanisms available result in much more rapid learning, improved results and higher levels of motivation.  Designing a job with an effective feedback system is the equivalent of designing a job as an effective learning system.

A useful performance feedback system need the following elements to produce the kind of information needed for an employee to learn and perform:

  • A clear understanding of the requirements both in terms of the outputs they are expected to produce and the standards of quality, cost and time they are expected to meet.
  • An accurate and objective measurement system. Job outputs must be easily measured and compared to the standard.   It can include both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • A visual display of the performance data against the standard. Charting and graphing performance data is much more effective than text, tables and spreadsheets.  It adds a level of interpretation and visual comparison that people readily accept.  There are many visual performance charting tools available, most of them automated.  They include line graphs, control charts, bar charts, pie charts and many others.

A sample line graph

  • It must be timely, relevant and specific to the employee of team.

System thinking has also taught us that feedback is also important for identifying the downstream consequences of our actions. This feedback will typically be delayed, especially in knowledge work contexts when our output is part of a larger solution that can take months or even years before results are fully realized.  Sometimes unintended or undesired consequences can be the result.

immediate and delayed feedback

immediate and delayed feedback

Other learning uses of performance feedback systems

Once an effective feedback system is in place it can be the basis for other learning interventions like coaching, performance appraisal, team development, and process improvement.  It should also be used to provide data to evaluate the effectiveness for formal training.  In many ways formal training is meant to compress and accelerate the learning that an individual might naturally get on the job.  Training should result in improvements that register on the performance feedback tool.   Formal training is our last an final strategy for integrating learning and work.

10. Bring the job to learning

Integrating learning and working implies building learning into jobs and processes–and that has certainly been the focus of the first nine strategies.  But greater integration can also be achieved by bringing jobs and processes into formal learning design.

Broadly speaking the goal formal training is to compress on the job experience to bring people to competency as quickly as possible.  Somehow over the years that goal been reduced to lots of telling and very little “doing”.   So my last strategy is an appeal to bring structured experience back to formal learning.  I don’t mean generic structured experience (like a management outdoor education or abstract team building exercises for example) but experiences based on authentic learning tasks.

We know how to do it.  The formal learning strategies that result in superior learning include business and process simulations, decision case learning, anchored instruction and the whole task learning design methods found in Jeroen van Merrienboer’s  4C/ID work.   Here are some links to design approaches that are based on real world learning tasks:

Some organizations are starting to turn their training functions into simulation centres and learning “studios” that use a combination of physical and knowledge based simulations of actual work processes and tasks.  For example Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto has developed a simulation centre.

For a very interesting academic experiment in a studio based approach to learning that I think would translate well to business settings see MIT’s Technology Enabled Active Learning Project.  It is based on a studio approach to learning that moves seamlessly between lecture, experimentation and discussion and individual design projects in one large technology enabled room.  Remote technologies could easily be used for dispersed employees.

This takes us full circle back to strategy #1.   If you use appropriate analysis tools to understand the job for which training is being developed, the quality of that training will be dramatically improved and the skills employees learn will be immediately useful.   Performance-based learning and Learning-based performance.  Two worthy and achievable goals for the learning professional.

Posts in the “10 Strategies for Integrating Learning and Work” series:

Part 1:

  • Strategy 1:  Understand the job
  • Strategy 2:  Link Learning to business process
  • Strategy 3:  Build a performance support system

Part 2:

  • Strategy 4:  Build a community of practice
  • Strategy 5:  Use social media to facilitate informal learning

Part 3:

  • Strategy 6:   Implement a continuous improvement framework
  • Strategy 7:   Use action learning

Part 4:

  • Strategy 8:  Use Organizational Learning practices

Part 5:

  • Strategy 9:  Design jobs for natural learning
  • Strategy 10:  Bring the job to the learning

4 thoughts on “10 Strategies for Integrating Learning and Work (part 5)

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