“The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be”
By: Dr. Conrad Gottfredson

Yogi Berra got this right.  Events can change the future. We’re just
experiencing that. Certainly, the future of organizational learning isn’t what
it was three months ago.
Keith Keating‘s recent
LinkedIn posting of the “15 Evolutions of Learning” suggests a current state
that at first read appears to put us in a place where we ought to be.  It
reflects a thoughtful analysis of trends emerging from traditional learning
chatter. But Covid-19 has changed the future of what learning needs to be. It
is forcing needed shifts in Keith’s “Now” list below.   I’ve provided
brief descriptions of a “NEW FUTURE” state that modifies Keith’s list just a




Today, more than any other time in the history of organizational
learning, we need to recognize that performers need to know and do to perform effectively
on the job.  When all is said and done,
this is what organizations need from us: an adaptive workforce that is
performing effectively all the time no matter where they are. This can only
happen if employees have the knowledge they need as they perform in their flow
of work at the moments of Apply, Solve, and Change.  What organizations don’t need are workers
performing job tasks with limited supporting knowledge.  For example, it’s dangerous to perform a
blood transfusion if the person performing that task doesn’t understand blood
type compatibility.  Learning  “What to Know” and “How to Do” are both required
to achieve effective knowledge enriched job performance.
Forty-five years ago, I watched, with interest, the battle between
behavioral (instructional/teacher centered), cognitive (learner centered) and experiential
(performance centered) theorists.  All three areas of research made sense
to me.  They still do.  Real growth
and development doesn’t happen unless the learner chooses to learn and there
are many things we know, from cognitive research, that can facilitate how
efficiently and effectively learners learn.  In addition, there are
principles of instruction/training that absolutely facilitate efficient skill
development. There are many things we know, from behavioral research, that can
facilitate how efficiently and effectively we teach and train people.  Of course, in the case of experiential
learning theory, the learning/training principles associated with cognitive and
behavioral camps are useless unless all of it is orchestrated properly to enable
effective job performance (where experience is primarily developed.)
desperately needed today is an ecumenical approach that doesn’t pit teaching against
learning.  What we do shouldn’t be
centered on one side or the other.
Instead we need to effectively employ the fundamental principles of teaching
and learning in our efforts to enable effective performance, collectively and
individually in their flow of work.
In recent months, we have watched organizations move into triage
mode shifting learning from Brick and Mortar to Virtual.  Although this rapid move is completely understandable,
most organizations are awakening to the reality that all learning moved all
online isn’t an effective approach.
Workflow learning is learning while working at the 5 moments of
Need. It is made possible through the discipline and associated technologies of
performance support. We recently spoke with a visionary leader who the past few
years has developed his organizations capabilities to learn in the
workflow.  His company had a department
whose work stopped completely due to the Covid-19 outbreak.  Because he and his team had established a
performance support infrastructure to enable learning in the workflow, he was
able to completely pivot the work of that entire department into a different
work-stream in a matter of days.
We have over 10 years of experience blending learning events
(whether brick and mortar or virtual) with workflow learning.  The outcomes have always proven superior.
It’s what’s needed today and going forward.
There is no way to
accomplish all we need to accomplish in a timely manner with the limited
resources allocated to Learning and Development. So when we step into the world
of workflow learning we need to be prepared to collaborate with the full range
of players in the business in order to get the job done and sustain and
optimize our solutions long-term. This may include SMEs but is most certainly
not limited to them. Business Matter Experts can include high performers who
are actually doing the work, front-line managers, and anyone else who
participates in the work that’s going on. This is a crucial shift that requires
our partnering with the business in ways we haven’t traditionally done.

before has the need for employees who can adapt to change been more valued, and
a person’s competitive advantage isn’t defined only by formal credentials, or by
informal skill inventories.  Both can
actually be helpful.  But today, an
employee’s value to the organization is also determined by personal learning
agility—meaning the ability to adapt—to unlearn, relearn, and then perform
effectively at or above the speed of change. 

Every experience of our life contributes to our learning.
When we perform successfully, fail at something, overcome a challenge, adapt to
a new way of doing something, or seek additional understanding or knowledge, we
are learning through experience.  Why, because we are integrating and
encoding that experience into our remarkable receptacle called a brain

It isn’t
enough to just capture content or knowledge. We need to capture experience in a
way that allows transferal of that experience to other workers. Fortunately,
workflow learning methodologies requires us to map the workflow where
experience is best developed.  This
mapping and the associated technology provides the infrastructure we need to
then capture best practices and lessons learned from the most experienced
performers and make that experience available to others at the moment of need.


Most approaches to blended learning remain tightly tethered to a
formal learning experience facilitated with multiple formal learning modalities
(e.g., blending eLearning, OTJ Coaching, video learning, Instructor-led
training (virtual or face-to-face), etc.. A true blend of learning must take
into consideration the entire learning process across all 5 Moments of Need.  For example, a complete learning solution must
support learners as they transition from the initial stage of learning New
and/or More to the Moments of Apply and often Solve as they begin to transfer
what they have learned in their flow of work. Furthermore, as learners become
more proficient in applying the knowledge and skills they learned during
training to the work they perform, there are often times when performers must
change how they go about their work.  In
those instances, they need to unlearn and relearn while performing work in the


So, the real blend must include provision for supporting
performance and learning in the flow of work while working.   
It isn’t and shouldn’t be about Push or Pull.  Both are needed.  I’m a huge proponent of adaptive learning (which
is a push.)  And, the smarter our
solutions become the greater opportunity we have to deliver informed push. But
at the Moments of Apply and Solve, especially, performers need the capability
to pull what they need, within 2clicks, 10 seconds.

A properly designed EPSS is a digital coach that is available all
the time wherever technology can go. This certainly doesn’t rule out managers providing
coaching. But frankly, a digital coach is often more reliable and more up to
date as well as more present. Besides we need self-reliant performers in the workflow.
And we know that in today’s world, we can’t guarantee that a manager can be
present, every time a worker needs coaching.
A mentor provides life and work guidance; opens up opportunity
and makes growth and development resources available.  Mentors inspire, lift and motivate. They
clear the path for fueling employee engagement.
Managers are in the best place to do this kind of mentoring.  This is something that managers can do that
technology can’t duplicate very well, if at all.  


In ever
changing work environments, scheduled learning certainly isn’t responsive
enough.  A personal disposition towards
lifelong learning is a great step forward, but can carry with it lethargic
learning practices.  What’s needed is a daily
commitment to dynamic learning.

At any
moment, organizations must be ready to respond to a crisis or threat of any
magnitude.  In 2008 Timothy R. Clark and
I authored a research report addressing this very need.  In that report, Tim provided the following
questions to help employees and their leaders determine the degree that they
were dynamic learners.
  1. To what degree do I look to myself rather than the machinery
    of the organization to govern my growth and development path?
  2. To what degree do I have a personal growth and development
  3. To what degree do I aggressively embrace feedback?
  4. How collaborative am I in my approach to learning?
  5. How proactive am I in how I learn?
  6. How fast am I at unlearning?
  7. How comfortable am I with failure?
  8. To what degree do I use failure as an opportunity to learn?
  9. How confident am I in the very act of not knowing?
  10. To what degree do I believe that the biggest job risk I can
    take is to cease to grow?


There’s certainly required learning.  I’m all for desired learning.  But at the Moments of Apply and Change,
especially, there is “needed” learning to fill the learning gap that ha