Learning in the Tsunami of Work


There is a train bridge in North Carolina which is 11 feet and 8 inches high. Unfortunately, this is not enough clearance for large trucks. After several accidents, the city:

  • installed signs

  • lowered the speed limit

  • installed a sensor that triggers an LED blackout warning sign when an overheight vehicle approaches

  • added a suspended padded bar to hit the roof of too tall trucks, and

  • implemented a red-light system to give overheight vehicles 50 additional seconds to rethink their choice

Yet at least once a month some poor individual rams into the bridge, which is affectionately called, “the can opener”. A very enterprising truck repair company installed surveillance cameras at the site and built a website www.11foot8.com. The collection of 140+ videos of people destroying their vehicle roofs, plus some funny commentary, makes for compelling viewing on a cold winter day (I lived through the polar vortex of 2019 – no judgement, please).

It is comfortably easy to laugh at someone’s misfortune, especially when they are so oblivious. It also flatters the ego a bit to think, “I would never be that stupid”. Well, not so fast. I have legit asked if there are beans in a bean burrito. And in a store that only sells black and white clothing basics (it is in the name of the brand and on every sign) I sincerely asked a sales associate if a shirt was navy blue. I could go on, but my invitation to join MENSA is clearly not just lost in the post.

But all of this gets me thinking about learning in the flow of work and what does it really mean? In the case of the bridge, they physically installed what we L&D professionals would consider just-in-time job aids, at every possible moment. To be fair, they have reduced the number of incidents, but the can opener is still fed regularly. And raising the bridge or lowering the road are not possibilities for several reasons, which only proves learning will never fix shitty design (I’m looking at you, software developers).

Look, we build a lot of content to plug performance holes, but these need to be surfaced at the precise moment of need to add value. This is not something we are good at. Likewise, SCORM content can only live tethered to a platform, which is a pain. So is the LMS, as a matter of fact.

Then there is the issue of notification fatigue. This used to be an overflowing email inbox which migrated into text messages. Now, you open your mobile device and every app is buzzing for your attention. People are drowning in this. How do we insert learning, and most importantly, have tangible impact and not be another wave in the tsunami?

It may seem counterintuitive, but the first step might be to focus less on new technology. Not forever, mind you. Simply pause for a bit and survey what already exists and consolidate platforms to streamline the noise. Then use data to locate the digital pub for your company. Find the place where people are already going and place your content in those locations. However, no one likes to see their teachers at a house party. Make sure you are facilitating, not controlling.

Approach learning solutions holistically. For example, my mobile device determined via GPS that I grocery shop on Saturdays around 14:00. Interestingly, one weekend a coupon for toilet paper was pushed out to me at 13:45. To some, this might be a bit Big Brother is watching. On the other hand, I saved $2 on loo roll, which face it, does not really have to go on sale. How could we similarly intersect value content into daily work?

Be comfortable not everything is learning with a capital L. Add “locate” to the bottom of the Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid.

With the increasing complexity and diversity of skills, there are plenty of tasks people only do once. So, place what they require where and when they need it. Digital Kleenex box.

To insert learning into the flow of work, you need to truly understand the workflow. Ironically, I think we used to do this very well a decade or so ago, but like many trends in L&D, it has fallen out of fashion. It is important to understand the systems, environment, and processes, and design around those, rather than shoving a curriculum onto a learning platform (or ecosystem, or LXP, or NGLP, or whatever the cool kids are calling it). Put down your rapid authoring tool and spend a week on the shop floor.

Finally, fewer courses and more resources. Nothing new to say on this topic.

Personally, I do not think we really have the technology infrastructure to truly have learning in the flow of work in a meaningful way. This will develop as we get closer to an Internet of Things for the work environment, but that’s another blog post for another time.

As for www.11foot8.com, it is likely a problem with a limited lifespan. With driverless cars, drones, and AI, there is a good chance the height will become obsolete. We can cross that bridge when we come to it (see what I did there?). Until then, I will keep visiting the website every once in a while to procrastinate.