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Learning in the Flow of Work: Changes and Barriers


Tue Jan 09 2024

Learning in the Flow of Work: Changes and Barriers

While the traditional role of the talent development (TD) department has been to design and deliver formal training programs, incorporating learning in the flow of work (LITFOW) necessitates the shift toward a more agile and continuous learning model. Implementing LITFOW may require TD leaders to adapt and evolve the function’s approach.

In this final blog post in a series by ATD’s CTDO Next consortium, we explore how the TD function must change to support LITFOW, as well as potential barriers leaders might encounter along the way. Check out the first three blog posts in this series: article 1, article 2, and article 3.


Building Organizational Capacity for Learning in the Flow of Work

Here are some considerations for the TD department in supporting LITFOW:

Content Curation: Instead of solely creating and delivering content, the training department may need to focus on curating and aggregating a wide range of resources. This involves sourcing relevant learning materials from internal and external sources, evaluating their quality, and organizing them in a way that is easily accessible to employees. Curated content can include articles, videos, tutorials, case studies, and other resources that support learning in specific work contexts.

Performance Consulting: The training department can take on a performance consulting role by working closely with various business units and teams. They can collaborate with managers and subject matter experts to identify performance gaps, understand specific learning needs, and develop targeted interventions that address those needs. Performance consulting involves analyzing the root causes of performance issues and designing learning solutions that are aligned with the goals of the organization.

Technology Integration: The training department may need to develop expertise in selecting and integrating appropriate technologies that support LITFOW. This can involve evaluating and implementing learning management systems, learning experience platforms, mobile learning apps, or other tools that facilitate seamless access to learning resources. The department should also ensure that these technologies align with the organization’s infrastructure and security requirements.

Learning Analytics: Emphasizing LITFOW requires tracking and analyzing learning activities and outcomes. The training department should develop capabilities in learning analytics to measure the effectiveness of learning interventions, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions. This includes understanding key metrics, implementing tracking mechanisms, and using analytics tools to generate insights that inform the continuous improvement of learning experiences.


Change Management: Shifting toward a culture of continuous learning and integrating LITFOW may require change management efforts. The training department can play a crucial role in communicating the benefits of this approach, providing training and support to employees, and facilitating the adoption of new learning practices. They can collaborate with stakeholders across the organization to ensure buy-in, address resistance, and create an environment that supports ongoing learning and development.

Overall, incorporating LITFOW may require TD to transition from a traditional training delivery focus to a more consultative, curatorial, and data-driven approach. We will have to think like business owners, concerned about impact and return on investment (ROI). By embracing these changes, the training department can effectively support employees in acquiring knowledge and skills within the context of their daily work, driving performance improvement, and fostering a culture of continuous learning.

Addressing Roadblocks to Success

Implementing LITFOW can face various challenges and barriers. Overcoming these barriers is crucial for successfully integrating learning into the daily workflow. Here are some of the biggest barriers:

Lack of Time: Time constraints and competing priorities can be a significant barrier to LITFOW. Employees may feel overwhelmed by their workload, leaving little time for dedicated learning activities. It becomes essential to ensure that learning interventions are designed to be concise, easily accessible, and integrated seamlessly into existing work processes to minimize disruption and time requirements.

Lack of Supportive Organizational Culture: An organizational culture that does not prioritize learning or support continuous improvement can hinder the implementation of LITFOW. If learning is not valued, employees may not feel encouraged or empowered to engage in ongoing learning. Leadership support, recognition of learning efforts, and creating a psychologically safe environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth can help overcome this barrier.


Resistance to Change: Some leaders may see LITFOW as a distraction from “doing the work,” or even as a complication. Training and work are, to them, separate things. Some employees may be resistant to adopting innovative technologies, processes, or mindsets associated with LITFOW. Addressing this resistance requires clear communication about the benefits of the approach, demonstrating its value through success stories and providing appropriate training and support to help employees adapt.

Lack of Awareness and Mindset Shift: If employees are unaware of the concept of LITFOW or its benefits, they may not actively seek or engage with available learning resources. Additionally, a mindset shift may be required to view learning as an ongoing process rather than an isolated event. Organizations need to communicate the value of continuous learning, foster a learning culture, and provide learning opportunities aligned with employees’ needs and aspirations.

Limited Access to Learning Resources: The availability and accessibility of learning resources can pose a significant barrier. If employees struggle to find relevant and timely learning content or face technical limitations in accessing digital resources, it hinders their ability to learn in the flow of work. Ensuring the availability of curated, easily searchable, and user-friendly learning resources, along with providing suitable technology infrastructure, is crucial.

Insufficient Learning Analytics and Feedback: The lack of robust learning analytics and feedback mechanisms makes it difficult to assess the effectiveness of learning interventions and make data-driven improvements. Without insights into how employees engage with learning resources and the impact on their performance, organizations may struggle to optimize the LITFOW approach. Implementing appropriate feedback mechanisms and leveraging learning analytics tools can help address this barrier.

Siloed Organizational Structure: Siloed organizational structures and lack of cross-functional collaboration can hinder the sharing of knowledge and the implementation of LITFOW. Encouraging collaboration, breaking down silos, and fostering knowledge sharing across teams and departments can help facilitate a more seamless integration of LITFOW.

Addressing these barriers requires a strategic and comprehensive approach, involving clear communication, leadership support, cultural shifts, technological infrastructure, and ongoing evaluation and improvement of learning initiatives. By proactively addressing these challenges, organizations can foster a culture of continuous learning and successfully implement LITFOW.


After reading this series, consider whether LITFOW might be one of your TD function’s priorities for 2024. Although integrating learning seamlessly within the daily workflow and activities of individuals in the workplace might seem simple, these blog posts suggest there are many areas for consideration if TD leaders want to do workflow learning well. Creating an environment where learning becomes a natural and continuous part of work rather than a separate, isolated event requires understanding what workflow learning is, for whom workflow learning is intended, its keys for success, potential barriers, and the tools and technologies necessary for maximum impact.

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