Posted: 02 Nov. 2021 10 min. read

The HR playbook: A need for in the moment workplace learning

In the moment workplace learning expands employee potential

By Michael Griffiths and Gretchen Alarcon

The widely cited learning pyramid asserts that most students remember only about 10% of what they read and 20% of what they hear, but 90% of what they do. 

However, most businesses structure their training around a week or two of classroom education each year. Classroom trainers are challenged to anticipate every possible scenario that may require expertise, and even if they’re successful, the likelihood an employee will retain the necessary information when needed diminishes over time. Given this, there is a need for in-the-moment workplace learning.  

Classroom learning is best suited to creating a foundation of knowledge on which students may build. This has value, but training requirements are often situational. Adult learning theory holds that mature learners need internal motivation as well as a clear understanding of why they should learn something and how those skills will help them. Adult learners are also typically self-directed and benefit from task-oriented learning that aligns with their needs.

Consider how you might approach repairing a leaky bathroom faucet. Having a basic grasp of the mechanics of plumbing is useful in understanding what might cause a leak. However, repairing a particular make and model of faucet requires specialized knowledge that may be found in a manual or on a video. The combination of the “why” and the “how,” reinforced by the experience of fixing the faucet, makes it much more likely you’ll be able to solve a similar problem again.

Context is critical

We’re all familiar with the concept of teachable moments, which are events or experiences that present opportunities to learn something that has long-term value. In-the-moment training addresses the times when people are most receptive to learning because it applies to a current task or problem. Sometimes these moments are specific to a task at hand, but that isn’t always the case.

The context in which training is delivered creates a lasting impression and better long-term retention. For example, an employee preparing to go on maternity leave is likely to be more interested in learning about company policies related to childcare reimbursement and family leave than one who isn’t. A person getting a new laptop is probably more receptive to instructions on good cybersecurity practices. Annual review time is a good opportunity to teach new managers about conflict management.

We learn in the moment every time we consult a help screen or look up an entry in an online encyclopedia, yet few organizations integrate this type of training into their employee development plans. A self-directed approach to education gives people the tools they need when they need them. Rather than putting the onus on HR to furnish all the training, HR professionals take on a more curatorial role to find and provide resources people can consult on their own time.   

The business, HR, and employees reap the benefits

Achieving the potential of in-the-moment learning requires rethinking the traditional workplace education model of the “Four Es”: education in traditional classroom settings; experiential training on the job; exposure through interaction and relationship-building; and environmental training using tools and systems that support workplace success.

It applies a market-based approach to the entire journey that matches learning tactics to the situation and adapts to how each person learns best.

Consider moments that matter: the events in an employee’s career that most influence their overall perceptions about their experience with an organization. For example, a promotion to a first-time manager role is a landmark event for most people. Newly promoted managers have many questions: How will their performance be judged? How should they relate to people who were formerly their peers and now report to them? What are the ins and outs of performance management? How do they prepare a budget?

Placing a new manager in a weeklong training course may address some of these questions but that firehose approach can be overwhelming, and the skills they learn may not need to be applied until months later.

An in-the-moment strategy may look at the employee’s transition to a manager as a yearlong process. Training is applied when it matters most and in a form that’s compatible with the person’s needs, availability, and preferred format.

For example, at budget time the manager may sit down with a seasoned executive for a two-hour tutorial or a half-day class. Preparation for performance reviews may be best achieved through a lunch meeting with a more experienced manager, one-on-one role-playing, or a series of short videos. Learning should be self-service wherever possible and delivered in bite-sized nuggets that adapt to individual schedules.

HR’s changing role

HR departments have a key role to play in setting up the journey and defining what steps can be augmented with in-the-moment learning. That doesn’t mean discarding classroom learning but rather using it where it has the greatest value. Classrooms are great for teaching theory but not as much for applying it in the field. HR professionals have a wide range of tools available—from traditional classes and workshops to contextual videos, community forums, games, one-on-ones, and even augmented reality.

In-the-moment learning isn’t a wholesale transformation of workplace education, but an extension of it. And it pays long-term dividends. For example, Deloitte Insights has reported that the companies that invest most aggressively in learning and development also rank highest in areas like worker retention, innovation, and customer service. They also outperform their peers threefold in long-term profitability.

The need to provide a positive journey is particularly compelling in a post-pandemic environment in which the US is facing its worst labor shortage in 50 years, and 40% of global workers are considering quitting their jobs, according to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index.

Organizations need to think of their people in the same way they think of their customers and imagine experiences that delight them and keep them coming back. Find out how by visiting Deloitte here.


  • Michael Griffiths, partner, Lead of Workforce Development Practice, Deloitte Consulting LLP
  • Gretchen Alarcon, VP and GM, HR Service Delivery Business Unit, ServiceNow

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Michael Griffiths

Michael Griffiths

Principal | Deloitte Consulting LLP

Michael is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP with more than 20 years of experience, working with organizations on key transformational programs. Within the Human Capital practice, he leads the Workforce Transformation offering, helping clients with learning transformations, workforce planning, workforce experience, becoming skill based, in addition to other workforce-related issues. He is well published in the field of learning and talent, and is the leading market voice on becoming a skills-based organization. He is an author for Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends research and report, co-leading the report in 2023 – the largest global report, of its kind, in market.