Workflow-based eLearning and the Bottom Line

Workflow-based eLearning™ and the Bottom Line

by Sam Adkins

Today I'm handing the blogging duties to my friend Sam Adkins. Sam is a leading eLearning business analyst and product researcher. He built the world’s first commercial online learning business (The Microsoft Online Institute), and he has specialized in electronic training for his entire career and prior to Microsoft worked for Authorware, United Airlines and AT&T. More recently, he wrote the 2003 series of reports entitled, “Simulation in the Enterprise: The Convergence of eLearning, Simulation and Enterprise Application Suites.”

Sam and I share a vision of the real-time enterprise where simulation and reality converge, and learning becomes a core business process. Today's entry ties workflow-based learning™ to the bottom line. Visit the Center to Enterprise eLearning Excellence for more information on this topic.


"Overall economic output is a function of the number of workers multiplied by hours per worker multiplied by productivity per hour. Assuming a shrinking workforce and a stable work week, productivity growth is the only lever for increasing economic output."

Kenneth Berryman, McKinsey Quarterly, May, 2003

The economic imperative to define and optimize precise workflows for particular workers is being driven by the need to increase productivity. As noted by Kenneth Berryman, in the presence of a finite work week and a shrinking workforce, productivity is the only metric that can be modified to increase profits. Optimizing the workflow is the only way to increase productivity. Workflow is not a passing trend.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity is “measured by comparing the amount of goods and services produced with the inputs which were used in production. Labor productivity is the ratio of the output of goods and services to the labor hours devoted to the production of that output.” The goal of all performance technology, particularly Workflow-based eLearning™, is to increase productivity.

Learning for its own sake is a predilection of the academic world. As the old adage goes, “education is broad, training is narrow”. Beyond education or training, Workflow-based eLearning is targeted directly on real-time productivity metrics.

To illustrate the fundamental difference between conventional training and Workflow-based eLearning, the metrics of Workforce Analytics are not couched in learning outcomes but rather in Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs. Workflow-based products are targeted at workers and productivity, not students and learning.

There are five major ways that workflow Workflow-based eLearning optimizes productivity. It does this by:

§          Optimizing and automating task analysis.

§          Targeting the 80/20 performance ratios.

§          Capturing “informal” and organizational performance.

§          Reducing the lag time in business process flows

§          Increasing the workforce alignment with enterprise technology and strategy.

Due to the presence of bottom-up task modeling tools, it is now possible to rapidly optimize and automate the task analysis phase of any continuous performance improvement process. These tools are designed for process specialists and workers participating in the business process.

These Business Process Modeling (BPM) tools allow task analysis to be distributed across the enterprise. One key benefit of this distributed task analysis is the capture of so-called informal learning and organizational learning. They are exceptionally efficient at identifying the infamous 80/20 rules that emerge in any business process.

The 80/20 rule states that 80% of productivity problems are caused by just 20% of the performance behavior in the workflow. In contrast, 80% of productivity increases can be attributed to 20% of that performance behavior. BPM process modeling and simulation can readily identify both kinds of behavior. Behavior that reduces productivity can be removed and behavior that increases productivity can be enhanced.

Jay Cross and others have estimated that up to 90% of all workplace learning occurs in non-formal venues. All the customers that have adopted these new embedded performance technologies have commented that true organizational knowledge is being captured. The workarounds, the shortcuts and the complete avoidance of official procedure are captured when workers on the job model their own tasks in a process.

IBM has flipped the definition of formal and informal learning on end. They now define collaboration (or work) using workflow technologies as the formal learning process. Conversely, they redefine traditional classroom or conventional learning as informal. Hence collaboration management and workflow analytics are beginning to capture the 90% of learning that occurs in the context of the social work day.

In the U.S., over $65 billion is spent on formal workplace education and training. Less than 6-7% of that is now technology-based expenditures. The majority of that technology-based expenditure is in conventional elearning content that is modeled on formal training concepts, i.e. courseware. In other words, although intended to be “taken” in informal settings, the products are still completely formal by design. They still require a secondary and subsequent learning transfer to the job.

The irony is that this $65 billion is targeted on just 10% of the way people really learn in the workplace. The inefficiencies of that formal training are now being recognized. IBM’s Tony O’Driscoll cites a Robinson and Robinson study that claims, “less than 30 percent of what people learn is actually transferred to the job in a way that enhances performance”. There is no learning transfer phase in Workflow-based eLearning. Learning is coterminous with workflow.

Formal education and training is already being reduced by the use of these products. Customers of workflow-based performance technology all cite the reduction in the need for training once these technologies are deployed. Formal training is both seen as an expense and an “offline” secondary activity that decreases immediate productivity and increases lag time.

It is well known now that achieving productivity gains by streamlining processes is getting harder and harder to achieve. Smaller and smaller increments of improvement are garnered even with the most sophisticated automation technology. This has influenced vendors to focus more heavily on the lag time. Most BPM and workflow technologies achieve small gains in actual task output but they achieve large gains by reducing lag time.

According to the Ultimus, reducing lag time is the only way to significantly increase productivity. They claim that even if task time is reduced by 50% it will only have an overall impact of 5% on the actual process time. However, if the lag time is reduced by 50%, the overall process time is reduced by 45%.

Source: Ultimus, 2003

One of the primary ways they reduce lag time is by dramatically shrinking the training time needed to get up to speed on tasks. The other way lag time is reduced is by sophisticated task routing, workload balancing, exception handling and embedded task support.

According to Ultimus , it is believed that 90% of the time required to do work is “lag time”. Only 10% is actual task time. According to Ultimus, productivity application software reduces the task time and workflow automation and optimization software reduces the lag time.

As noted in the first two reports in this series, workforce alignment is a major productivity problem in the enterprise. Large studies by FranklinCovey and Gallup Management Journal have identified large segments of the workforce that misunderstand the business goals for their company. Many are unaware or are actively disinterested in the corporate strategy.

Corresponding again to the 80/20 phenomenon, about 20% are fully engaged and “on board” with the corporate vision. Likewise, about 20% are actively disengaged. All this is reflected in productivity metrics that are now being analyzed in executive dashboards. A new type of emotional assessment is now being deployed in the enterprise to mitigate this problem.

Reduction of Training Time Reduces Lag Time

The AWD/Knowledge Enabler is a task management modeling tool that “automatically guides a user through a series of pre-defined steps necessary to process an item of work—reducing keystrokes and training requirements”.

Teamplate’s customers routinely cite the dramatic reduction of developer training time and costs by virtue of using the Teamplate Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

All of these new workflow optimization products and task management tools are designed to reduce the need for training. The products from Ultimus , Lombardi , XStream , Knowledge Products , Teamplate , Knowledge Impact , Nobilis , and Hyperwave are examples of workflow-based products that enable the design, development and delivery of Workflow-based eLearning.

The DreamFactory technology is a tool used to create composite applications in the browser. Since granular business processes are “wrapped” as granular Web Services , they can be assembled, mixed and matched, and reassembled as work changes.

Any process wrapped or published as a Web Services has embedded code as well and tools that assemble Web Services into composite applications generate composite code as well. The rich client software from DreamFactory allows users to assemble Web Service-based business processes into composite applications.

Microsoft’s new InfoPath product is a very similar product but leverages the familiar Office interface instead of the browser. InfoPath allows users to assemble components from a wide variety of applications and was designed to be the front-end to all enterprise applications.

Workflow -based eLearning can be designed at the same time as the workflow itself is designed or added later as simulation and analysis tools discover performance gaps. It can also be designed on top of existing workflow diagrams. In that case, the performance nodes are clearly recognizable. The task analysis has already been done.

Workflow-based eLearning is created with the same tools that create workflow. The two most widely used stand-alone tools are Microsoft’s Visio and Corel’s iGrafx. Workflow diagrams created with these tools will clearly identify the discrete tasks that may or may not require intervention or remediation.

Up until very recently, workflows created with these stand-alone tools had to be imported into a Business Process Management or Workflow Management platform. Now Microsoft’s Visio 2003 has robust XML and Web Services support. Visio can be the front-end into business other applications or it can be embedded in other applications.

Visio has eight million users and now has native XML, SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) and BPM support. At a recent presentation highlighting the combined XML, SVG and BPM features of Visio 2003, Richard See, Lead Program Manager in Microsoft’s Visio Product Unit said, “SVG is used as the visual representation layer of a much richer XML data set exchanged between multiple applications in support of business process management (BPM). In this example, we will demonstrate the ease with which users can associate process information with shapes in the Visio diagram through a BPM solution running in Visio. This BPM information is then made available to other applications by mapping it to elements in a BPM schema/namespace carried in the SVG and associated with graphic SVG elements at the visualization level. This information can then be used by analysis and line of business applications”.

It should now be obvious that traditional application training or even business process training cannot meet the training needs of a worker who uses a composite interface comprised of several different functions from several different applications. Workflow is the only constant and now becomes the foundation and context for training. In that sense, workflow becomes the carrier wave of learning.

© 2003, Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California
Posted by Jay Cross at July 17, 2003 09:00 AM | TrackBack

awesome !

Posted by: free erotic story at June 29, 2004 01:32 AM

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