Saturday, June 25, 2005

Workflow Learning - A Real-life Case Study

The latest buzz word in the learning circles is workflow learning. While so much is written about workflow learning, I would like to take you through the workflow learning experience at our workplace.

Kern was all set to hive off its editing services. This was six months back. Today, six months later, editing is the “gas” that keeps the machine running. What changed in these six months? Anu joined Kern!

Anu had no clue about editing. She came from a BPO background; she had excellent communication skills and fluent spoken English skills (read American English). However, she could not care less if there was a missing comma after an introductory clause or a missing period at the end of a complete sentence! Today, she manages edits for two big clients. She is on her way to becoming an expert editor. And, most importantly, editing services is generating a steady income, which is always welcome by any organization!

I credit this change to Anu’s editing skills. But how did she acquire the skills? Kern is a small company. We do not have the luxury of making people go through days of classroom training or self-paced training. Anu had to hit the work floor on day 3 of joining Kern.

What worked here is workflow learning. I pushed all the handouts and study material to her. She thumbed through some “How to Edit?” books for a day - am not sure how much she learned from these apart from being awed by the vast expanse of the editing field. Initially, she checked the documents edited by others for 3-4 critical slips or misses. Gradually, she started editing the documents herself and I audited them. I made her sit by my side while I audited her documents. She jotted down critical misses and put some up in yellow post-its all around her monitor. She audited other editors’ work, discussed doubts with me, and sent them feedback. After a month of doing this, I had a stand-up edit training session for 2 hours. She could immediately relate to all the guidelines that she had referred earlier, clarified more doubts (she asks a lot of questions, I must warn you!), and bingo! the editing rules strengthened the synapse!

I would call this a classic case of workflow learning. Let’s draw a parallel between the critical elements of workflow learning and the learning that Anu had.

1. Anu has access to dictionary.com, answers.com, our 5-page internal style guide, a bunch of yellow post-its around her monitor, and a tattered notepad with all the rules, styles, and guidelines jotted in it. These tools are more relevant and useful than the expensive tools provided by a content management system! These tools are built-into the environment that she works, and deliver the same information that any sophisticated content management portal can provide through web, wireless, and mobile technologies. Now, she is in the process of documenting her daily learning. While Anu has access to the tools that deliver and collect relevant information in the right context at the right time, she also has a very secure system of knowledge capture. The knowledge that she captures is used immediately.

2. There are times when Anu turns back to clarify a doubt. “I just yell back, open the MSTP and search for it” or I simply type out the explanation on the messenger and send her. There are also times when I come across some information that I think will be valuable for her and either mail it across or share it verbally. Often Anu notes them down in her tattered notepad. Well, we are talking about information nuggets assisting her while at work!

3. Every time Anu asks a question, I resist from giving out the answer or solving her problem. Gradually, she has inculcated the habit of searching for information online or in books. While dictionary.com is one of her clear favorites, there are numerous other links that she has bookmarked that are useful to answer a client query or investigate an Am/Brit clarification. Today, Anu has access to most knowledge repositories that a person can possibly have at the workplace.

4. Anu has access to her mentor every time. Also, there is a solid system of feedback capture in place. She can just turn back and check with me, she can call me to clarify, and of course we spend a lot of time outside office editing menu cards, hoardings, or newspaper articles. While there is real-time collaboration with an expert, there is also a solid system of feedback and information exchange in place.

5. These days, I audit sporadically. I audit documents that come from new clients or a different domain. We discuss client feedback and document them. She discusses edit issues with other editors and communicates the changing standards or styles. The system of mentoring and peer collaboration has strengthened her learning to a great extent.

I am sure, the size of the organization does have an impact on learning and management of learning (will capture this in another blog). However, the effectiveness of this model can be replicated with no additional cost or inconvenience. Now, we are expanding our team of editors. Soon Anu has to move on to the role of a mentor in the workflow learning environment.

6 comments:

ripul said...

I wonder if a sophisticated learning content management system (LCMS or LMS)could do any of the things that you described better, smoother, faster, or simply give a similar experience.

They are all plagued with numerous bugs, have rudimentary pedagogic foundations, and are very expensive. The only thing that they do is somehow help manage hundreds of learners and their scores.

Rashmi said...

I wonder if the organization size really matters in workflow learning. I would say workflow learning happens in both small and large organizations, would just be a lot more informal in smaller organizations. Is informal better, any thots?

Rashmi said...

Interesting to see how workflow learning can lead to small innovations which may not have taken place in classroom or self-paced learning like Anu discovering her own favorite search site and creating her own knowledge repositories. Am sure these innovations can pave the path for process improvements and also help in defining new processes.

Geeta said...

Bigger organizations typically implement sophisticated learning content management systems because they find it easier to manage standardized trainig. It is not correct to categorize this training as formal vs the training in anu's case. This can be called customized training that is designed as per the learner's needs. This is not a "one size fits all" training that most bigger organizations adopt.

anu said...

I personally feel that size of an organization does not matter at all. In an organized and in a structured company training takes place in a very different manner. You are not given the privelege to navigate or browse on your own. You have lot of limitations and you are bound to do what you are being asked. I had a very different experience at Kern. There was no classroom training,no training session for months, and no training books. All I had were document to audit initially and after few days had to edit them personally, which were audited by Geeta and were sent for client deliverables. When you are given the privelge to find and search new methods of learning ,learning might be slow, but then what counts is effective learning at the end and retain what one has learnt. Today if i am struck with a confusing word or have a doubt with punctuation then i am sure which site do i need to visit or which style guide to refer.

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