Embedded Learning

At its core, embedded learning can be neatly summarised as learning while doing as opposed to learning to do.

It’s an increasingly popular learning approach which suits our fast-paced times, increases speed to performance, feeds the new generation of digitally savvy and knowledge hungry learners and can be enabled by emergent technologies.

Is it an effective learning model? Do people learn best when doing or when learning to do? Research by the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) indicates that embedded learning is in fact more powerful than traditional learning approaches as the more contextual learning is to the job or task, the more an individual is motivated to learn.* Other research from the Corporate Executive Board demonstrates that embedded learning drives nearly three times more performance improvement than formal training approaches**.

Common examples of embedded learning activities that sit in leadership and other formal learning programs are:

  • structured on-the-job learning activities
  • whole-systems learning projects where large groups experience learning in real time
  • simulations
  • action learning projects
  • group and individual coaching
  • personal change projects targeting leadership development or behavioural change

However, true embedded learning is independent of formal program structures and can include:

  • learning modules embedded in work processes
  • observing experts work through live business situations
  • links to need to know information in wikis, search engines, portals, FAQs
  • knowledge bites five minute videos available on demand
  • use of instant messaging technology to respond to real time queries within communities of practice

Are there pre-conditions which need to be in place to allow embedded learning to flourish? We think so as follows:

At the organisational level

  • A collaborative culture where sharing information is valued and practiced
  • Specific collaboration requirements designed into all roles 
  • Learning specialist roles embedded in the business where they are  content intermediaries rather than content providers
  • Learning modules built into work processes 
  • Use of collaborative technologies

 At the individual level

  • Openness to learning (learning rather than I know it all mindset)
  • Reflective learning practices
  • Discipline to make the time for learning
  • Competence in using technology and tools
  • Willingness and time to share knowledge

Finding ways to truly embed learning while we do is still in its infancy. However, the impetus for this learning approach is more pressing than ever and will require us to change the way we think about learning and work and be creative as we experiment with new tools and approaches.

* Embedded Learning, ASTD
** Unlocking the Value From On The Job Learning, Corporate Executive Board, Leadership & Development Roundtable, 2009

LTA People