Learning vs. Doing: An Approach in Need of Change

Traditionally, workplace learning and doing have taken place at different times and at different locations. Classroom-based orientation training was provided soon after an employee’s hire, and then at infrequent intervals, at locations physically removed from job sites. With the advent of eLearning, the venue changed from a classroom to the learner’s desktop, but, in both cases, learners have been expected to remember and apply new knowledge and skills when they “return to work”. As many organizations have discovered, this “away from work” approach can be plagued by poor learning retention, insufficient connection to practical workplace needs, and limited on-going access to refresher training.

In some organizations, presentation-based instruction has been augmented with opportunities for on-the-job or “at work” learning such as ad hoc mentoring and access to repositories of often difficult-to-find reference materials.

Today, away from work and at work methods are experiencing extraordinary stresses. Subject matter experts and experienced trainers are in short supply, training budgets are constrained, and workloads are increasing. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that the search is on to find better ways to make training, information and on-the-job support of all kinds available to employees in new, more convenient, more effective and less costly ways. The emerging solution: learning IN the work.

E-Doing: Integrating Learning and On-The-Job Performance Support

An “in-the-work” approach that has particular promise is the integration of learning and on-the-job support by providing a single on-line portal through which employees have access to a number of resources related to their job functions. These may include:

  • Just-in-time instructional modules;
  • Easily searchable reference materials geared to the needs of each job category;
  • As-needed advice and coaching from subject matter experts;
  • Diagnostic and decision-making tools;
  • Templates for the capture of best practices, project records, papers, presentations, frequently asked questions, and other forms of “corporate memory”; and
  • Utilities such as discussion forums and chat rooms to communicate and share information among colleagues.

In this approach – sometime referred to as “E-doing” – the majority of learning consists of continuous “doing” and self-improvement within the workplace, rather than study in a classroom or presentation-based eLearning environment. An “E-doing” Intranet site becomes a frequently used resource that employees consult routinely for daily decision-making, task-focused learning and information sharing. This approach is particularly valuable for workers in high risk or high pressure environments. When they need guidance or a refresher on a particular procedure, it must be available immediately.

If workers in one job category are permitted access to resources assembled for other job categories as well, an E-Doing site can also serve as a competency development, career development, and succession planning tool.

Why Consider This Approach?

The E-doing approach is promising for a number of reasons.

  • E-doing links learning and information resources directly with work. This improves employee performance by providing coaching at the time a task must be performed.
  • The approach gives employees increased control over their own learning. In today’s workplace, employees are expected to manage and develop their skills and employability.
  • E-doing provides flexibility. Employees don’t have to fit themselves into pre-scheduled classes that may cover more than they need to know at present. Instead, they can receive modules of information and learning that fit their current needs.
  • E-doing encourages information sharing, collaboration and interaction. This is an important benefit for team building and creating a sense of shared purpose.
  • The organization can achieve significant savings. It is cost-effective to use existing information and communications technologies to deliver training and support materials. In addition, significant savings stem from reduced travel expenses, less employee time off work, and lower expenditures on other forms of training and communication.
  • E-doing, if properly implemented, results in improved learning outcomes and productivity, and reduced safety and compliance accidents and infringements.

The E-doing approach shows real promise as a means to bridge the gap that has tended to separate learning and information from work. While this approach is not meant to entirely replace face-to-face instruction and on-the-job support, it is an excellent complement to it. In many instances, employees themselves will find it the best way to learn new skills and solve problems on the job.