As a designer of 70:20:10 influenced solutions, I’ve found myself increasingly using the concept of ‘workflow learning’ to inspire, explain, and frame my approach.
It’s a framework I now implicitly refer to during the design thinking co-design process I use and has shaped the sorts of blends, campaigns, and ecosystems that are generated from that process. I’ve captured the essential elements of this model in the following diagram.
Workflow learning begins and is framed by the dynamic interplay between behaviour and mindset.
Or, as I’ve described it in the diagram, it places experience at the heart of the model and prioritises its interplay with a conscious process of reflection that bounds it. That’s worth emphasising because, in my opinion, the relationship between experience and reflection is the key driver of learning and change. Everything else, from training, performance support, to social learning, supports and scaffolds that key relationship.
Let’s dive in to see what this means for each element, starting with the two most important ones of experience and reflection.
EXPERIENCE – PUSHING YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Experience, based on behaviour and context, is the starting point and heart of workflow learning. It’s the primary anchor and the prism through which other elements are viewed by.
This starting point is an acknowledgement that work is learning. Further, it’s understanding that most learning happens when we are at the edge of our comfort zone, embarking on stretch projects where new challenges demand new mindsets and behaviours.
As long as the stretched comfort zone doesn’t snap, the result is an increase of capability and an expanded comfort zone moving forward.
I still find Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow model to be a useful point of reference in striving for that zone of engagement, that lies between chasms of anxiety and boredom.
Structured action learning projects and stretch assignments can support engaging experiences, but it’s ultimately about the approach of the individual and organisation. Real gains require a personal growth mindset, where the individual is motivated and curious to experiment and improve, supported by an organisational culture which embraces failure as an intrinsic part of innovation and growth.
REFLECTION – TO TRANSFORM MINDSET & MENTAL MODELS
John Dewey famously pointed out that “we do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
Without a reflective process, the experience that lies at the centre of this model would be relegated to being ‘stuff that happens’. I believe that reflective learning should focus on two elements:
- Mindset, or the underlying attitude and perspective that lies behind and informs behaviour
- Mental models, the conceptual frameworks and high-level linkages that are made between various experiences and elements
Stanford University’s Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindset has popularised the impact of mindset. Her research points to mindset developing through childhood experiences and environment and notes that it can be actively developed, even as adults.
The process of listening to ones ‘internal voice’, which is representative of mindset, and positively engaging with and redirecting that voice, requires a deliberate and sustained reflective process (not to mention buckets of patience and self-compassion).
Similarly, reflecting on experiences with the view of challenging one’s mental models, is a crucial part of learning and unlearning. This process might start with basic questions about recent experiences such as ‘what did I do, what would I do differently, and what are my takeaways’ and can lead to fundamental questions to reconcile one’s world view with the constant reality check of experience.
Over time, such an open reflective process might call into question things we assumed to be true, as old and new mental models fight for their place in our minds. In such cases, the process of unlearning and letting go of redundant mental models, is just as important as developing new models moving forward.
My last word on this is that, in my experience, an effective reflective practice is inherently linked to a culture of investigation and research. There’s a place for regularly and mindfully asking reflective questions as one stares out the window but the process of diving into the web, pulling in resources, and creating mini-experiments to explore and validate ideas can also be crucial to support change.
FORMAL TRAINING: THROUGH AN EXPERIENTIAL FOCUS
Formal training is by no means the most important factor that lies between mindset and behaviour, but I’ve placed it at the top of the diagram because it’s the entry point for most L&D professionals.
As I keep emphasising, I believe that experience combined with a reflective process is the gold mine of learning and change. In that context, at its most extreme, training can be viewed as an inadequate but practical substitute for real experience. It also helps to define three high priority points of training focus:
- Scenarios: to provide safe and supported (simulated) experiential learning
- Case studies: to provide narratives and engagement points from other people’s experiential learning
- Key concepts: to provide new mental models and frameworks to incorporate into the reflective process
When faced with a challenge where, for whatever reason, I’m limited in how I can draw on the 70 and 20, my internal voice runs something like this: ‘ideally they’d develop this skill through real life experience and reflection but, since that’s not on the cards, how can I best support them to do it in this training intervention?’
That leads to training that is focused on scenarios and role plays which place the learner in simulated, contextualised, and authentic challenges. This might take a multitude of forms including a written scenario that is debated via a discussion forum, a branched elearning module, role plays in a face to face workshop, right through to an immersive VR driven simulation.
The next level of engagement along that ‘experiential obsessed’ paradigm, is case studies. Using narrative to explore real life challenges helps engagement by establishing real world relevance. Such case studies will ideally include moments in the narrative to actively engage with learners, asking what would they do in that situation and how it relates to their own experience, supporting both reflection and context-based application.
On a slightly different tangent, training can help shed light on key concepts and mental models which inform the reflective process and supports a deliberate approach to learning and unlearning. This is particularly important for experienced practitioners and experts who have developed intrinsic understanding and abilities but might lack a ‘balcony view’ of what and how they are doing, and therefore how they might improve.
I’ve found that key concepts are often best introduced via infographics, short and punchy written pieces, or motion graphic explainer videos. Metaphors and narratives can help create context and make them easily digestible. Simple, visual, and quick tend to be my catch calls here.
It helps to design them with the view that they will be given context in an experience/ coaching interaction/ just in time moment, rather than viewing them as stand alone items which require mountains of context and background.
Finally, although I haven’t noted it in the diagram, another role of training is to support engagement in a change process. Campaign styled assets capturing key WIIFM (What’s in it for me) messaging around learning and performance objectives, helps support that ever crucial buy-in from the learner. After all, whether someone learns and changes is ultimately their decision.
SOCIAL LEARNING IN THE WORKFLOW
With a focus on experiential, social learning can be posed as ‘how can people, teams, and communities support this person to reach the required outcome in the workflow?’ That means the most effective social learning is inherently performance focused and collaborative.
Coaches play a crucial role in the midst of experience, both in supporting a solution-seeking mindset to challenges and embedding a personal reflective culture. Mentors, like case studies in formal training, can provide inspiration and narratives that can be learnt from and applied to new contexts.
Beyond that, diverse teams, who bring a variety of mental models and mindsets to the table, contribute to developing self-awareness and that ‘deliberation’ I keep harking on about. In other words, collaboration with contrasting approaches and attitudes can help bring awareness to and refine one’s own mental models, mindset and behaviours.
Of course, it’s all encompassed by working out loud. Far from an optional extra, WOL helps to reveal workflows and provides greater opportunities for social and collaborative input. The internal process of consciously sharing and engaging with peers and communities also supports reflection and growth.
PERFORMANCE SUPPORT, LEARN LESS & DO MORE
Last but definitely not least, comes performance support, perhaps the most powerful yet ignored tools in our arsenal.
I often half-jokingly explain that the role of L&D should be to kill knowledge. A bit provocative, because what I’m really striving for is to reduce cognitive load and stop weighing down people with facts and information, so their minds can be freed up for the important stuff of thinking, creating, and problem-solving.
In a world where a kid with a smart phone can out fact a Mensa convention, why wouldn’t we use the tools around us to minimise redundant learning and support people to use shortcuts, tech, and systems to reach their performance outcomes.
The comic I created a year ago still captures this better than I can put in words alone:
Performance support might come in the form of simple yet powerful checklists (if you doubt the powerful aspect, check out the Checklist Manifesto), micro learning styled videos to support just in time and just enough learning, or an intuitive Knowledge Management System (KMS) that presents knowledge totally integrated into the workflow.
LAST WORDS: WORKFLOW LEARNING & 70:20:10
In a perfect world we wouldn’t need to categorise and compartmentalise learning elements because it’s ultimately all bound together and entwined in a complex mesh.
That said, from an industry perspective, learning professionals have commoditised and deliver formal training to the near exclusion of all else. In that context, I do believe 70:20:10 is more relevant now than ever.
Workflow learning, as I’ve described it, is not a break from 70:20:10, rather it’s another way to support much-needed realignment within L&D that was best captured byCharles Jennings when he challenged us to: “Start with 70 and plan for the 100.”
The model I’ve outlined simply helps me to focus on experience first and approach everything else (formal, social, support) through that prism. I share it here, in the hope that others find it useful and that, through the discussion that might follow, it can be improved.