A few years ago, before I decided to head down my now-current career path, I taught English Literature and Business Communications to first- and second-year students.
I’ll spare you the details of that. Well, for now, anyways. Quick example though: during my interview process, I was asked if I used Blackboard for teaching.
And I enthusiastically said, ‘Yes! Of course! I always write notes on the blackboard if there’s one!’ Note: Blackboard is an online LMS.
But enough with the digression. I remember my first day of lecturing well. Firstly because Murphy’s Law hit hard: I pride myself on my rather strong immune system, but, that day, the day I was to start teaching, I was sick and actually lost my voice entirely.
And the best part was that my first lecture was Business Communications, emphasis on the communication part.
The second reason why I remember that day so well was because it felt like someone had thrown me into the proverbial deep end.
It was just me. With no voice. And a lecture-room full of wide-eyed first years waiting eagerly (maybe eagerly is too strong a word) for me to begin teaching.
Now, I’d neither lectured nor taught Business Communications before. The textbook and content were as new to me as it was to the students. In fact, it felt like I was a student too in some ways. Why? Because I also needed training from the university.
I needed to be told what was expected of me, how I should approach the students, and how I should tackle tasks and tests and all that university life entails.
And don’t get me wrong, I was given some training sessions just before I started. But what I was told never stuck. There was information overload at one point. There was not enough info given at another.
And when the time came for me to lecture, I struggled throughout the first semester because I discovered that applying what I had learnt in training (which was purely theoretical) to the actual teaching experience in a classroom setting was definitely easier said than done.
However, to avoid viewing this experience negatively, I used it as a good example of how I could improve upon own teaching by helping learners understand and recognize the importance of applying what they learn to their work and professional development.
Now, if you’re a learning and development professional, I’m sure you’ve experienced similar frustrations with trying to bridge the learning-doing gap and ensuring that employees see the relevancy of their training.
In the following article, I discuss 10 ways to help you and your organization’s employees bridge the learning-doing gap with relevant, valuable content and training methods.
Learning in the Age of Millennials and Generation Z
It should come as no surprise that millennials – also known as Generation Y – are now the largest population occupying the workforce. And coupled with Generation Z beginning to enter the working world, it has become more crucial than ever for employers to meet and support their employees’ expectations, particularly when it comes to learning and development.
Gen Y and Gen Z are familiar with using and accessing technological tools to help them accomplish a myriad of tasks in their daily lives. They are used to accessing information quickly and rely heavily on tools that can make performing tasks easier and quicker.
Yet despite the plethora of advantages that comes with modern technology, including our beloved smartphones, such quick, efficient access to just about everything and anything means that the younger generations have a decreased attention span in comparison to older generations.
However, this reduced attention span isn’t necessarily the problem – it has more to do with the sheer volume of information that’s readily accessible.
When it comes to employee training, the more typical – or traditional – approach requires employees to attend a training session and then return to work and put what they’ve learned into practice.
Now, it’s pretty obvious why this type of asynchronous learning approach doesn’t always work so well, especially for millennials.
Therefore, in an attempt to bridge this disconnect in learning and doing, it is crucial that organizations begin to view learning as a continuous journey where employees reach learning milestones along the way and are given performance support and feedback on the job.
Afterall, as the saying goes, we never really do stop learning.
Learning and acquiring knowledge is synonymous with a deeper involvement of individuals, and, when it comes to bridging the learning-doing gap, it’s often a matter of influencing and changing behavior. And, naturally, changing one’s behavior is a challenging part of the change management process.
Here are some best practices you can implement to ensure that learning and development becomes a smooth, continuous journey, thereby ensuring that all training remains relevant and employees simultaneously learn and do.
Establish a Learning Culture Within the Organization
According to Rajeev Mandloi,
[t]he inability to carry learning back to the workplace is less related to how we measure the impact of programs and more simply a function of workplace culture.
And contrary to popular belief, staff training shouldn’t just rely on L&D professionals or HR.
Management, at all levels, should be a part of the overall learning and development experience within the organization. This is why executive buy-in of training initiatives is a must as it sends the right message that the training has relevance and is aligned with the company’s – and by extension it’s employees’ – goals.
According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report, 56% of employees would like to take a course recommended by their manager. Therefore, management and supervisors also need to take an active role in the training.
They should be present. They can co-host training sessions too. Supervisors need to ensure that his/her colleagues are engaged and meeting their goals.
Feedback between employees, management, and supervisors is also essential because it facilitates open communication where both problems and successes can be identified and applauded.
Organizations need to create a company culture where employees are not only inspired but also challenged to align themselves with both personal and professional goals.
And if you’re looking for some inspiration, one company that focuses on creating an outstanding learning culture is Pixar. The company’s Pixar University (how sweet?!) offers both mandatory training and optional classes for a variety of disciplines.
And according to Pixar’s president, Ed Catmull, ‘Pixar University helps reinforce the mind-set that we’re all learning and [that] it’s fun to learn together.’
Define the Outcome of the Training Program
What does your company want to achieve? What is the objective of the training program, and does it align with the company’s goals? What are the benefits of the program for both the employee and the business?
It is important to note that implementing a training program should be the responsibility of both management (as mentioned above) and the one delivering the training.
If the business can’t understand the benefits and define the outcomes of the training, then the employees won’t be able to see the value in what they’re learning and will likely forget what they’ve learnt as soon as training is over.
This is all about being relevant and is based on what outcomes the business has defined for the training and also on what future goals employees set for themselves.
Employees need to see the value in what they’re learning and how it will help them achieve goals not only in the workplace but in their careers as well. How will what they learn now also benefit them a few years down the road?
To give a personal anecdote (again!), I completed my first internship in Financial Journalism a few years ago. I remember attending a workshop with the team where we had to set goals and learn from our fellow colleagues.
To cut things short, I still remember this training because it helped me set both short- and long-term goals, goals that I still aspire to today. The training was relevant to me, it was personal, I got to connect with my colleagues and learn more about and from them, I could see the value in what we were being taught, and the approach incorporated a mixture of learning tactics.
I also remember the training because there were dogs involved, but that’s besides the point.
Employees need to be encouraged to set goals continuously, long after the training is completed, and they need to see not only how what they’re learning will benefit them but also why it is important for them to learn such a skill.
It all comes down to simple psychology really: motivation, reward, and achievement of both personal and professional goals – essentially, appeal to the ‘what’s in it for me’.
Create Awareness and Interest
Research indicates that creating awareness and generating interest for individuals are some of the most critical steps when it comes to implementing a learning program.
As a L&D professional, it’s important to capture employees’ interest and make them see the relevance of the training program from the get-go.
From here, confidence and motivation become key to bridging the learning-doing gap and behavior/attitude change. Many training programs fail because of resistance to change.
This is why you need to inspire confidence and motivate employees with incentive and personal value.
Back to my lecturing stories, I tried to create as much interest when giving my lectures as possible. I wanted my students to be interested in what they were being taught and see the relevance in what they were learning and how they could apply it to the business world one day.
(Personal note: trying to generate interest in a subject for first-year students is almost as easy as leading a fully-hydrated horse to water and then making it drink.)
Tailor the Training Program
While it may not always be possible to completely tailor employee training programs to everyone, it is important that you, as the L&D professional, customize each training program as much as possible to match your staff’s needs.
Instead of using a one-size-fits all approach, understand who your audience is and what would be engaging for them – and then tailor your plan accordingly.
If the employees are engaged and can see value in what they’re learning, this will mitigate the forgetting curve we are all too familiar with.
And if there’s one thing you take away from this article (but hopefully you’ll take away a little more!), then let it be the word purpose. Because this is what it all fundamentally comes down to.
Balance Between Core Knowledge and New Skills
Research by HR Technologist suggests that employees will make time for building skills if they believe that these skills will enhance their job performance. This comes down to balancing training programs with core knowledge requirements.
For example, employees already have a certain level of core knowledge when entering the workplace. So they need to learn new skills that will help them be more efficient at work – they don’t want to learn things they already know.
Not only will this waste their time and impact their productivity, it will also bore them – and that’s the last thing you need when trying to keep your employees engaged.
(And trust me, teaching a room full of bored students, even when you were close to performing acts that would make Cirque du Soleil proud, is not something you ever want to experience.)
Think back to when you were a child. I’m quite sure that you still remember some of your beloved childhood stories from decades ago. Why? Because these stories were either entertaining or educational or both.
For example: Cinderella taught you that no other person in the entire kingdom will have the same shoe-size as you and that if you’re ever stuck for transport, you can use a pumpkin.
Or how about Snow White and its teachings on not to eat delicious, abnormally red apples from strangers (but who doesn’t, right? I mean, hello local fruit and veg store).
So, there’s an important lesson to be learned here.
Tell stories. Give real-life examples to your learners. Connect with them. Considering that a whopping 71% of millennials are either totally unengaged or actively disengaged at work, it remains mission-critical to keep employees engaged when training them.
Keep in mind that when something has meaning or emotion associated with it, the more likely employees will want to engage and participate in the training.
The Importance of Microlearning
To provide employees with an optimal learning experience, you need to give them training and content in bite-sized proportions.
A microlearning approach is therefore appealing because it doesn’t take up as much time as the more traditional methods of learning, helps with knowledge retention, and provides just-in-time learning.
For example, a university study indicates that the younger generations – Gen Z in particular – have the best learning experience when a video, for example, is under six minutes. The average length of a video on YouTube is approximately four minutes and twenty seconds, so keep these stats in mind when next preparing your video content.
In the near future, it is estimated that 80% of what we consume will be video content. Therefore, it is clear that applying visual learning will be an essential component of learning programs.
Visual learning is engaging and can be interactive, which are key aspects of knowledge retention.
(Should I maybe a bit concerned that this blog post is written and not a video …?)
After the training program is completed, it is important to touch base with the employees. See if they’re meeting goals they set during the training. Obtain feedback. Help them stay on track with the learning objectives. Reward and recognize where due. Remind employees of their commitment to achieve learning goals and develop professionally. Offer constant support. Having a follow-through system in place can work wonders.
Not following up after a training program could almost be the equivalent of training Roger Federer for Wimbledon and then not being there to see him win his matches. Or me teaching my students and then not sticking around to find out how they do in their exams.
Remain Competitive in the Market by Bridging the Learning-Doing Gap
Bridging the learning-doing gap is, of course, not easy. But remember, bridges do take time to build (I’m trying to say here that Rome wasn’t a built in a day, but could I get any more cliche?!).
And once your bridge is built, the results will be worth it.
The digital era demands that organizations constantly update training programs for skills development. Learning is absolutely crucial to remaining competitive – there is a direct correlation between learning and development in the workplace and productivity.
That’s why learning is a never-ending journey. Set the milestones, set the goals, achieve them, and encourage and challenge employees to walk the journey with you. Don’t direct all your energy into the actual program – you need to invest in bridging the learning-doing gap too.
Organizations have all the tools and Electronic Performance Support Systems in place to make learning easier and more enjoyable (think gamification). The challenge is to integrate these tools to create a unique learning journey filled with purpose and value.
With a staggering 93% of employees stating in a study by LinkedIn that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their training, development, and careers, it is essential that employers set out to establish continued learning programs if they want to stay competitive, retain top talent, and keep their employees engaged and productive.
Want to know more about enhancing the employee experience? Watch our recent webinar in which best selling EX author Gethin Nadin talks about The Power of a Great Employee Experience and its effects on company performance!