What can barnacle geese teach us about workplace learning?

What do a certain species of Arctic Goose and the typical office worker have in common? They both develop skills best while in the workflow.

In order to leave the nest for the first time, day-old barnacle goslings must make a jump of several hundred feet, attempting feebly to flap their wings. As they continue to attempt flight throughout the first stages of their life, the muscles in their wings grow until they are strong enough to achieve lift-off. Because barnacle geese nest on cliff ledges and have no choice but to acquire flight skills through experience, they are quick to pick up the skills to thrive.

Alternatively, the Aldabra Rail lives exclusively on the Aldabra islands in the Seychelles. This sub-species emerged when White-Throated Rails landed on the Aldabra and found that there were no predators on the island so they were able to nest on the ground, removing the need for the rails to build flying experience. This lack of experience meant that the Aldabra Rail evolved to become flightless, developing stronger ankles and weaker wings, then went extinct after the islands flooded and exterminated all terrestrial life. Even though the rails arrived with the physical ability to fly, lack of experience led to the loss of the skill.

Opportunity for experience

You may be wondering how this deep dive into natural history is relevant to elearning, but we can look to the Barnacle Goose and the Aldabra Rail for an example of how learners rely on opportunities for experience to acquire and maintain skills. Workflow learning tools, in contrast to formal training sessions, make learning an ongoing habit through rapid experience building. A barnacle goose could demonstrate flying techniques to her goslings in formal training sessions for years, but until they try jumping for themselves, their wing muscles won’t develop. Similarly, workflow learning is about embedding certain skills into muscle memory by giving learners experience applying their learning without disrupting their normal flow of work.

In addition to accelerated experience building, workflow learning tools allow skills training to occur instantaneously at employees’ moments of need. Sporadic sessions of formal training won’t always cut it in an age where many of us have 24-hour access to information and guidance via a quick Google search, so businesses need to re-think training if they want to keep up. The internet is a minefield of conflicting and questionable webpages, but it’s convenience as a lightning-fast route to information on any topic means that workers are quick to fire it up when they need immediate assistance. Workflow learning provides high quality skills training and resources to employees in a way which mirrors the on-demand nature of a Google search.

The reality of workflow learning

Here’s an example of a workflow learning tool in action: an employee working on a helpdesk is thrown a curveball in the form of an unusual complaint from a customer, the employee needs to know how to handle the complaint in-keeping with company policy, and they need the information now. The learning tool would pop up with guidance on how to proceed, not only offering assistance but also providing the employee with on the job experience of handling the situation correctly.

Or perhaps a new employee is sending an email to a client and is unsure of the appropriate phrasing and tone to use? Or maybe a worker is struggling with some unfamiliar software and could use some guidance? Workflow tools like Saffron eaSe overlay your business’ online systems with visual clues and training to automatize the skills employees need to excel in the workplace. By replicating muscle memory, Saffron eaSe delivers on-the-job training at the worker’s point of need, encouraging ongoing, habitual learning.

As is the case of the Barnacle Geese and the Aldabra Rail, as the world evolves workplace training will need to evolve with it. Just as birds don’t develop wing muscles by sitting in the nest, if you want your employees to continually strengthen their skillset, the best approach is constant experience building and workflow tools that seamlessly blend these learning experiences into the working day.

Want to chat late into night about Barnacle Geese, workflow learning, and speeding up your skills? Get in touch and we might be able to help.