Making Learning a Part of Everyday Work

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Josh Bersin and Marc Zao-Sanders for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

Credit: Daniel Grizelj/Getty Images

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As automation, AI, and new job models reconfigure the business world, lifelong learning has become accepted as an economic imperative. Eighty percent of CEOs now believe the need for new skills is their biggest business challenge. For employees, research now shows that opportunities for development have become the second most important factor in workplace happiness (after the nature of the work itself). At the most fundamental level, we are a neotenic species, born with an instinct to learn throughout our lives. So it makes sense that at work we are constantly looking for ways to do things better; indeed, the growth-mindset movement is based on this human need. And whereas recruitment is an expensive, zero-sum game (if company A gets the star, company B does not), learning is a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Yet the urgency of work invariably trumps the luxury of learning. A study we recently ran with LinkedIn found that employees waste one third of their day on emails that have little or nothing to do with their jobs. The traditional corporate learning portal (the learning management system) is rarely used (other than for mandatory compliance training) and it often takes many clicks to find what you need. Learning therefore ends up being relegated — consciously and subconsciously — to the important-but-not-urgent quadrant of Eisenhower’s 2×2 matrix. On average, knowledge workers carve out just five minutes for formal learning each day. We’re all just too caught up in the inexorable flow of work.

So, the question becomes: How can we make learning part of the powerful current of the daily workflow? We believe there is a way, a new paradigm, which Josh coined “learning in the flow of work”.

What exactly is the flow of work?

Everyone’s experience at work differs of course, but there are some broad commonalities among knowledge workers: There are 780 million of them, and they sit in front of a computer for 6.5 hours every day. In particular, they spend 28% of their time on email, 19% of their time gathering information (searching for data), and 14% of their time communicating internally (in formal and informal meetings). Those three activities combined constitute 61% of the total time at work for this vast population.

It makes sense that knowledge workers should spend so much time absorbing and disseminating information. Finding data, facts, information, and insights, and then sharing it with others, is a daily activity for most of us. In fact, 38% of content that’s shared online is either educational or informational.

Learning in the flow of work is a new idea: it recognizes that for learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives. Rather than think of corporate learning as a destination, it’s now becoming something that comes to us. Through good design thinking and cutting-edge technology, we can build solutions and experiences that make learning almost invisible in our jobs. One could argue that Google and YouTube are two of the earliest “learning in the flow” platforms, which we now take for granted.

So, how can we use the flow of work to drive learning? We’ll first look at this from the perspective of the individual (bottom-up) and then from the perspective of the corporate (top-down).

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Here is a direct link to the complete article

Josh Bersin is founder and principal at Bersin by Deloitte, a leading provider of research-based membership programs in human resources (HR), talent, and learning. He is a global research analyst, public speaker, and writer on the topics of corporate human resources, talent management, recruiting, leadership, technology, and the intersection between work and life.

Marc Zao-Sanders is CEO and co-founder of, an edtech company that uses AI to lift productivity through skills and learning. Find Marc on LinkedIn:


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