5 characteristics of how Knowledge Workers like to learn at work

From the results of the Learning in the Workplace survey and my analysis of how smart workers use social media to work and learn today, 5 key characteristics of how Knowledge Workers like to learn at work have emerged. I briefly summarise these below, but please bear in mind they are not listed in any priority order. It is becoming clear that Knowledge Workers prefer to learn …

1 – In the flow of work

Workers don’t want to leave the workflow unless it is absolutely necessary for them to do. This means EITHER physically to go to a classroom OR virtually to work on an online course for an extended period of time (i.e more than about 10-15 mins) and/or which is more than a couple of mouseclicks away. (Taking a course at your desk, doesn’t mean it’s in the workflow!) Workers prefer to learn as an integral (NOT an extra) part of their daily job and not separately from it, either.

2 – Continuously

Workers prefer to learn continuously from the constant flow of information they encounter – which may come from both internal and external channels.

3 – Immediately

Workers want to be able to find answers to their learning and performance problems as soon as they encounter them – not have to wait to go on a course or get some other response. They want to solve their problems immediately and get on with their jobs – wherever they are.

4 – Socially

Workers like to learn with and from others – not just in formal learning contexts, but as they work collaboratively with their internal teams and also in the external networks and communities to which they belong – where they learn continuously from the links, resources, experiences, ideas, etc that are shared.

5 – Autonomously

Workers like to have a high level of choice and control over what they do and learn; they are self-directed, self-organised and self-managed. The less control they have, the more disengaged they are with their organisation.

So what does this all mean?

This is the reason why a large percentage of Knowledge Workers don’t rate current training/e-learning approaches very highly, and why they think other ways of learning – performance support, team collaboration and professional learning are more important to them – as summarised in the diagram below. (You can find a more detailed explanation here).

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 07.59.40

So for workplace L&D departments it means that for Knowledge Workers …

  1. just converting face-to-face courses into page-turning online formats (e-learning) isn’t enough
  2. trying to make online courses “engaging” and “fun” isn’t the answer either – since most find interactivities “trivial” at best and “insulting their intelligence” at worst, and
  3. adding in (or blending) informal, social or mobile into current training practicies, just because it is the current fashion to do so – also won’t make a lot of difference.

Rather it means working in closer partnership with people managers and ..

  1. supporting the continuous development and performance improvement of their people through both team collaboration and independent professional learning
  2. helping to address specific performance problems in the most appropriate way. This means first undertaking a performance analysis to ensure that a training solution is not automatically assumed to be the solution to a problem (so is not the same thing as a TNA). But, where some form of training is identified as the best  solution, or
  3. it is a regulatory or mandatory requirement, then, for Knowledge Workers, ensuring that the solution incorporates as many of the 5 characteristics as (relevantly) possible. (I’ve mentioned a few ways that this might be done in previous posts, Tiny Training and Keep it Simple Training, but there are many others too.)

This is an excerpt from from my upcoming book, The Workplace Learning Revolution, where you can read more about the new model of L&D and how to support new ways of learning at work.

UPDATE: Follow-up post


  1. Pingback: 5 characteristics of how Knowledge Workers like...

  2. Pingback: Book | Pearltrees

  3. Pingback: Feathercap: a community-based platform for social and mobile learning | "Creative Design of Learning Experiences"

  4. Pingback: Best of Working Smarter Daily this year | Internet Time Blog

  5. Panela – In this day and age it is important to measure performance improvement – not learning per se. After all, the end goal should be performance improvement through application of learning, not the learning itself. Tests, course completions tell you nothing about how it is impacting job or business performance. Focusing solely on learning outcomes is why training is gettng a bad name.


  6. Pingback: 5 characteristics of how Knowledge Workers like...

Comments are closed.