Contemporary workplace places new challenges on Human Resource (HR) managers. Among the issues, there is the development of technology, a need to adapt to industry disruptions quickly, and a change in the way people interact in the workplace due to the pandemic. According to CIPD (2020, p. 5), organizations are facing ‘increasingly complex and unpredictable future, driven by wider technological, societal, and economic trends’. Moreover, the need to change the approach to adult education is recognized by the governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland because they report their plans to make the system more flexible (McCarthy, 2016). This paper will focus on the learning and development (L&D) practices in a workplace, L&D theory and practice.
Companies are already changing the way they manage and present L&D content to their employees. In the CIPD (2019) podcast, Philip Lam argues that firms learn from the entertainment industry giants Nextfix and Spotify and their L&D practices. For example, the content for employee L&D is created and stored in playlists. Depending on the job title and responsibilities, the algorithm recommends certain L&D content to an employee (CIPD, 2019).
This scheme resembles the entertainment content people watch on Youtube, where videos are stored in playlists, and the algorithm recommends users new videos. However, as Lam points out, entertainment and work are distinct activities, and the L&D practices are entering a ‘learning in the flow of work’ era (cited in CIPD, 2019, p. 1). Hence, the practice of L&D becoming digitalized and led by algorithms is supported by the development of ‘learning in the flow of work’ theory.
The main difference between ‘learning in the flow of work’ and traditional L&D courses is the access to information—where the employees access it and what information they receive. Traditional L&D typically include a plethora of information that does not relate directly to what a person will do it a position, such as a background on the company, tips about its culture and other facts. In contrast, ‘learning in the flow of work’ is using the tools that an employee will apply in their day to day work, for instance, Slack, and providing them with information that will apply immediately (CIPD, 2019).
For example, Sky uses courses only for compliance teaching and has no other L&D offers for employees, instead, they ‘support their people at the moment of need’ (CIPD, 2019, p. 3). Hence, the new concept of learning is based on what an employee needs at this moment to complete a task.
The core elements of ‘learning in the flow of work’ is data about the employees learning needs at the moment and tools that can be used to provide them with this information, which aligns with the tools they use daily. Moreover, the pandemic has changed the way organization manage their employees’ daily work, and the approaches to L&D. CIPD’s (2020) report suggests that L&D is typically the first element of organizational work that gets minimized in the time of a crisis, yet L&D is essential for building resilience. A major benefit of online learning, apart from its scalability and accessibility, is the ability to personalize the contents (CIPD, 2020).
The ability to personalize aligns with the ‘learning in the flow of work concept’ and suggests that organizations can create L&D systems that are more efficient and that tailor to core need of the employees—the need to perform their tasks with competence.
Some gaps still exist in the organization’s comprehension of the new demands for L&D. For example, CIPD (2020, p. 4) reports that ‘organizations are failing to leverage emerging technologies that would make their learning more potent and are increasingly expected in other parts of learners’ lives’. One way to facilitate new approaches to L&D in an organization is to recognize that it is no longer an HR matter, but operations one.
For example, CIPD (2020) suggests that line managers should be responsible for identifying the learning needs of their employees, and not the HR managers. The idea behind this approach is that managers who encounter employees on a daily basis, see how they perform and set tasks for them have a better understanding of what skills their staff lacks. Hence, engaging the management in the process of designing the courses and learning content is another emerging L&D practice (CIPD, 2020). The new trend for the development of L&D strategies is to focus on the actual needs of the employees based on the suggestions from their superiors.
The issue with the traditional L&D is not the staff’s unwillingness to participate and improve, and it is the lack of time to participate in courses. Bersin (2018) substantiates the need to adopt the ‘learning in the flow of work’ model because employees cite lack of time as the core reason why they do not engage in L&D courses. Moreover, O’Relly’s research shows that 50% of L&D interactions are ‘for “in the moment of need”‘ (cited in Bersin, 2018, para. 20).
The main principle is that employees already understand the basics of their job and have a core set of skills, and with the new L&D paradigm, they can access new knowledge when they need to complete a task. Bersin (2018) provides an example of a manufacturing facility, where the L&D system presents employees with 2-3 minute videos daily, once they log into the system and based on their answers selects content to show the next day. This approach allows integrating learning into the process of work and addresses an important problem—the employees do not have time to spend on extensive L&D programs and courses.
The new reality of adult education is reflected in the government’s policies. McCarthy (2016) notes that the government of Ireland implemented the 2013 Education and Training Act and established the SOLAS agency instead of FAS, which was the national training agency. In the United Kingdom, there is a similarity between public education and third-party providers, in the way they structure the learning and obtaining the credentials (McCarthy, 2016).
Moreover, there is a growing recognition that the education system has to be flexible and aligned with the demands of the country’s economic growth. McCarthy (2016) also reports that the government’s L&D professionals recognize the importance of tailoring education towards the needs of the business, which is a positive change. The fact that government agencies move towards flexible learning suggests that the nature of adult education has changed and needs to adapt to the requirements of modern times.
In order for the widespread adoption of the ‘learn in the flow of work’ approach, empirical studies should prove the superiority of this method. Garavan et al. (2019) conducted a meta-analysis of 119 studies to determine the impact of quality versus quantity of L&D. This research is based on several well-establish facts about organizational L&D, such as investment in L&D contributes to the company’s performance and the investment in L&D has increased substantially in the recent years (Garavan et al., 2019).
The findings of the research suggest that there is no statistical difference in the impact of quality and quantity of training on organizational performance meaning that L&D contributes to performance regardless of the differences in time and quality of the contents. However, these results may be due to bias in data and require further investigation.
The core principle of the systems theory is the interconnection of different parts, for example, the performance and L&D practice in an organization. Moreover, Garavan et al. (2019) point out the importance of the systems’ theory application to the L&D context. Under the systems theory, training should be adapted to the specific organizational and industry contexts in order for it to be effective. Thus, the HRs, executives and researchers recognize that L&D contributes to the performance of companies and the systems theory suggests that it is essential to adjust the L&D practices in order for them to be effective.
In conclusion, the changing environment of work caused by the pandemic exacerbated the social and technological changes that were happening before. These transformations require companies to change the way they approach and manage L&D and tailor it to the immediate needs of their employees. Currently, there is a demand for on-the-go learning, with personalized information presented to employees through the online mediums.
For example, the messengers they use to communicate at work or web sources they visit to perform tasks can be integrated into the ‘learning in the flow of work’ practice. Moreover, the systems theory suggests that with organizational changes and the transformation of industry and society, the L&D practices have to be adapted as well using new information, technology and approaches to delivering the knowledge to employees. With this approach, the employees receive only the information they currently need to complete a task.
CIPD (2019). Podcast. Learning in the flow of work. Web.
CIPD (2020). Learning and skills at work 2020. Web.
Garavan, T. et al. (2020). ‘Training and organizational performance: A meta-analysis of temporal, institutional and organizational context moderators’, Human Resource Management Journal, pp. 1-27.
Bersin, J. (2018). A new paradigm for corporate training: learning in the flow of work. Web.
McCarthy, A. (2016). ‘Human resource development in Ireland and the UK’ in Garavan, T., McCarthy, A. and Morley, M. (eds). Global human resource development: regional and country perspectives. London: Routledge, pp. 309-329.