E-Learning along the curve: knowledge worker learning needs

As I discussed in my previous blog entry on this topic (E-Learning Ecosystems in Organizations), formally-structured approaches to learning (including both instructor-led and “traditional” CBT-type e-training interventions), which by their nature are

  1. long in duration
  2. relatively generalized in terms of subject matter

are best deployed to novice knowledge workers in the relevant discipline or skill area.

As such, these categories of learning intervention represent the best value for organizations when a knowledge worker is still in the process of acquiring the skills needed to competently perform their role. In this context, I would suggest that organizations can justify using these learning solutions for situations such as

  • entry-level or new hire orientation and competency building
  • internal transfers to a new discipline (i.e. the worker moves from Production to QA)
  • retraining on a new production system (i.e. a new type of widget-making tool or a new software system)
  • employee career advancement (i.e. from individual contributor to manager)

Psychology tells us that the learning curve obeys what is called a power law (Ritter & Scholler, 2002).

As such they are often said to conform to “the power law of practice”. Cognitive psychology has shown that the power law of practice is ubiquitous, and cognitive modeling has explained both the general speedup and variability in performance.

(The Learning Curve, p.2)

So, as a worker learns a task, skill, or process (“progresses along the learning curve”), their competency improves and productivity increases with some variations but broadly within generally accepted parameters. As workers advance from their neophyte status, they begin to attain what Marc J. Rosenberg (2006) calls “performer” status; the are transitioning from being Novice to Competent, along a path that will enable them to become Experienced, until they achieve Expert (or Master) status.

We can also say that once a worker reaches a certain level of competence, their learning needs are met less by generic courses and curricula, and more by specific, even personalized, learning interventions such as task/skill practice and coaching, access to knowledge and performance resources, and collaboration and problem solving (see Figure 1).

Levels of mastery and appropriate learning strategies (after Marc J. Rosenberg, 2006)

Figure 1. Levels of mastery and appropriate learning strategies (after Marc J. Rosenberg, 2006)

As an extension of this (and effectively demonstrated by Rosenberg), organizations failing to move beyond the classroom or traditional CBT-type courseware for their ongoing learning and development needs are “probably” (p.2) impeding the development of their workers, as well as negatively affecting their (the organization’s) own potential (see Figure 2).

Advantages of workflow learning (after Marc J. Rosenberg, 2006)

Figure 2. Advantages of workflow learning (after Marc J. Rosenberg, 2006)

In order to provide effective learning and performance support to workers after they become competent, organizations must strive to develop their workers’ skills as employees undertake their regular workplace activities. It is my view that this level of performance support can only be provided through access to networked knowledge assets.

And that is what I’ll be discussing next time, my friends!



Dillon, P. & Hallett, C. (2001, October). Powering the leap to maturity: The eLearning ecosystem. Cisco Systems white paper.

Ritter, F. E., & Schooler, L. J. (2002). The learning curve. In International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences. 8602-8605. Amsterdam: Pergamon. [Internet] Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B0080430767014807 (subscription required). Accessed 12 August 2017.

Rosenberg, M. J. (2006) Beyond e-Learning. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.