The Seven Cs of Learning that Flows

Sep 28, 2018 by Debra Newcomer

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I had a chance to sit down with Josh Bersin at the HR Tech 2018 conference in Vegas last week and we dug deeper into the concept of learning in the “flow of work”—a philosophy that has been driving a great deal of his research lately. He also dropped in to chat about it on our podcast earlier this week—have a listen here.

Josh Bersin is a world renowned HR Analyst but he started his career as an engineer. So he likes to take things apart in order to get to the heart of the issues, see the patterns, and analyze the trends. Over the last decade, he’s seen the HR profession move from a focus on transactional efficiency, to a focus on employee engagement, to a focus on culture, to a focus on cloud-based technology, user experience, employee experience, and on and on.

To many of us (even many HR professionals) these are just words. But what Josh believes they represent is the evolution HR has been going through to get closer and closer to an employee's actual experience at work. HR professionals are moving from the often silo-ed back office personnel guy or gal who ran the paychecks, helped us with healthcare, managed compliance, and kept the more mundane trains running on time to more engaged (and engaging) individuals who are helping every employee get their work done in more positive, constructive, and beneficial ways. They’re shifting further and further away from the reputation of the “policy police” into partners that play an increasingly valuable role in our day-to-day productivity and growth.

And at the root of that evolution is the ability to take what they think is important and figure out how to fit it into the flow of work so that it not only doesn’t distract from what needs to get done, but actually enhances our ability to do our work more effectively.

There’s a similar parallel happening with the transformation in the Learning and Development function. We’re beginning to figure out how to get closer and closer to the employees’ true experiences at work and determine what that means for learning. Just like the shifts in approaches to HR, when we get closer to the actual work experience, we are able to better understand what our learners need, when they need it, who they need to learn it with, and how they will best be able to learn it.

But what exactly does that look like in practice? And how do we actually start to design learning that does, in fact, fit into the “flow” of work?

Well, for starters, Josh Bersin isn’t using the word “flow” accidently and we shouldn’t either. Learning should not only invoke the surface level definition of but also the psychological state first coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—that describes those truly satisfying moments when we feel productive, engaged, confident, and in the zone. He believes: “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Csikszentmihalyi believes that this state of flow is characterized by a series of interconnected elements that essentially boil down to: clarity, choice, connection, challenge, commitment, and concentration.

We’d also add collaboration to the list because although people can (and often do!) achieve flow on their own, there is growing research showing that flow can (and does!) happen on teams, as well. And when we are talking about flow at work and in learning, the research shows that teams actually experience more of it and at a higher rate when they are absorbed in collaborative-based tasks because “flow is contagious.” In fact, Csikszentmihalyi describes how group flow often comes as the result of facing a challenge together. For example, he has observed that surgeons often experience flow during difficult operations “where the entire operating team is a single organism, moved by the same purpose.” He describes it as a “ballet in which the individual is subordinated to the group performance, and all involved share in a feeling of harmony and power.”

If we want learning to inspire this type of flow, we need to create the conditions for it to happen—and for the most part we can start with those same seven Cs. And, when we decide that learning needs to happen in the flow of work via digital tools it means navigating even more potential hurdles. If we aren’t purposeful in our approach, our digital learning risks inadvertently becoming part of the noise or ignored altogether. In order to create digital learning that both inspires flow and is in the flow of work, keep these seven Cs in mind:

Clarity: We need to have a clear understanding of what we want learners to know and do, and how that relates to their work and our goals. But, we also need to ensure that learners know what’s expected of them, why it matters, and what will happen as a result. We need to clearly communicate the external rewards and help learners to discover the intrinsic ones.

Choice: Even if digital learning is mandatory, we want learners to have some choice in the matter. Maybe it’s being able to jump on and off during a specific time-frame, maybe it’s choosing who they’ll learn with, what areas they can come back to later, or which elements they can explore further. The key is to be learner-centric as you think about how they’ll experience the learning and find the ways you can offer some form of choice along the way.

Challenge: As Csikszentmihalyi explained, flow comes when we feel that we can accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. We need to create digital learning that has the right level of challenge and the right balance of tangible skills and the theory behind those skills. But we need to make sure what they are learning links to and helps them with the challenges they face in their day-to-day work. It also needs to prepare them for the increasingly complex challenges they’ll soon face.

Commitment: When learners are more committed to their learning (and their work) they are more likely to get something out of those learning experiences. But, that commitment won’t come if they don’t feel that those of us creating it are also committed to our work (and their learning). Our commitment comes through in the quality of the content; the manner in which we present it; our overall dedication to making it meaningful and learner-centric; and in the ways that we create the conditions for their success.

Concentration: We need to help our learners be able to concentrate on the learning we are asking them to participate in—and that means it can’t be disconnected from the rest of their work. But, it also means we need to make it interesting, compelling, the right level of challenge to keep their interest... and worth their focus. Speaking of focus, we also need to make sure the digital learning is available in the formats that allow learners to literally focus on it—so thinking about the format, devices, and schedule.

Connection: We like learning more (and retain information longer) when we feel connected to it. Learning should be connected to the organization’s mission, goals, and incentives but also align with the values of the learners. It needs to feature current and relevant topics, engaging stories, and be founded on the skills that people need (and want) to learn. Learners should feel like the digital learning is tailored to them. It should provide pathways for them to connect with experts inside and outside of their teams. But it should also, on occasion, purposefully ask learners to “disconnect” from their work or engage with topics outside of their paradigms to help them (and the learning) push boundaries.

Collaboration: The defining characteristic of our work today is that it is collaborative; yet most digital learning removes us from our teams and in many cases demands that we experience it on our own. Our learning experiences should provide opportunities for people to work with the people they work with each day in new ways and also help create new relationships across functions, regions, and roles. When learning is collaborative it provides new perspectives, creates stronger organizational networks, and leads to innovation.

This is not to say that learning in the flow of work should always happen digitally. But, when we create better digital learning experiences it allows us to be more meaningful in our choices for in-person learning. We can go further faster. We can provide the time and space for learning that is truly better as a live face-to-face experience. We can use that time together to inspire in the way only in-person elements can—without inducing the moans and groans that accompany learning that doesn’t flow or doesn’t actually need to be done face-to-face.

Sign up for a demo to see Nomadic’s approach to collaborative digital learning in action and to learn more about how we think it can enhance the flow of work rather than clog it up.

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