The Increasing Demand for Effective Learning at Work

In an ever-changing world of work, employees, especially millennials and Generation Z, are increasingly passionate about professional learning to improve their skills and accelerate their careers. In a 2019 LinkedIn Learning Report, millennials cited learning as the No. 1 most important employee benefit, and 93% of millennials and Gen Zers said they would stay longer at their current company if they felt that it invested in their development.

Not only do employees care about learning at work, it’s also an increasingly important strategic priority for executives. Executives believe that investing in learning at work will both help retain their top performers and help their teams stay competitive. 90% of executives cite L&D as a necessary benefit, and only 27% of L&D leaders cite budget concerns as an issue, down 50% in the last five years, the report found.

The Impact Crisis in Work-based Learning

Given employees’ passion for and executive prioritization of professional development, the L&D industry has grown dramatically, with companies spending over $300B globally on work-based learning. But what does this spend generate? Does work-based learning really transform employee, team and operational performance?

It depends.

With many current L&D approaches relying largely on online learning libraries, we are facing an engagement and efficacy crisis. The facts are staggering: A Degreed survey found that learners give their organizations’ L&D departments an average net promoter score of just 25. Further, a Gartner survey found that 70% of employees don’t have a mastery of the skills they need to thrive in their job, and only 25% of respondents in a McKinsey study reported that training is measurably improving their performance.

The Opportunity: Evidence-based Learning Journeys

Learning at work is no longer as straightforward as booking a conference room and sharing a few clever PowerPoint slides. Quality professional development is a complex experience with varying learner motivations and instructor modalities.

At times, learners may want comprehensive, lengthy courses that will help them develop skills they will use for years to come. Others might want a two-minute instructional video to help them overcome an acute problem they’re facing in real-time. Others still may want to choose which skills to learn themselves. However, companies must dictate targeted learning paths to achieve broader company transformation.

Simply offering employees access to a large learning library does not solve the complex requirements of learning at work. Instead, L&D leaders should think of learning at work as creating flexible learning journeys, combining multiple learning modalities to meet modern learners’ needs, including in person, online, self-paced immersive and self-paced microlearning.

Individual learning journeys will look different depending on the learner’s unique need. For instance, executives, managers and individual contributors should receive training that meets the challenges they face in their roles.

Regardless of the content’s subject matter and delivery modality, there are underlying science-based principles you can leverage for maximum learning impact.

After decades of research on how people learn, we have come to realize five evidence-based approaches to corporate training that L&D leaders should incorporate as they build learning journeys for their teams. They include:

1. Aim for Active Learning, Not Passive Learning

Most people don’t learn by passively consuming content. The most effective learning occurs when learners actively engage with and investigate challenges alongside instructors, coaches, peers and managers.

For example, a recent study found that students performed 12.5% better on average when instructed using active vs. passive learning techniques.

It’s important to note that active vs. passive learning is not the same as live vs. asynchronous learning. You can have passive live learning and active asynchronous learning (although it’s more difficult to deliver). When organizing live learning experiences, be sure you’re not hiring a sage-on-a-stage lecturing at your learners.

Impactful learning experiences encourage, empower and excite people to participate, and active learning experiences encourage learners to reflect on their own experiences and discuss and debate ideas through interactions like role play.

2. Intentional Application

For people to truly understand, incorporate and retain what they learn, they need to practice applying it in context. We refer to this as “far transfer,” the holy grail of learning. Thus, while it’s important to create active (i.e., engaging, inspiring) learning experiences, content absorption is only the first step.

This concept of intentional application comes by many names – deliberate practice, the Kolb experiential learning cycle, the 70/20/10 rule (70% of learning happens on the job, 20% from discussions with other people and 10% from the actual coursework). A recent study showed that application-centric learning led people to retain 2.5x more information.

L&D leaders need to focus on challenging learners to apply lessons in the real world, even (especially) when it’s hard or uncomfortable. Classroom-based – whether virtual or in-person – learning is only one step in a larger learning journey.

3. Accountability Buddies

Learning at work is hard for many people. Everyone’s overwhelmed with a million little fires to fight, emails to send and slack messages to respond to. As such, learning at work is the canonical “important but not urgent” activity on everyone’s to-do list. When people do carve out time to learn, the real-world application of new lessons is uncomfortable for many learners – it’s a new skill outside the comfy classroom confines.

Using accountability buddies is an effective way to increase employees’ commitment to learning generally and its application, specifically. Accountability raises the stakes for failing to follow through on learning. After all, we are more likely to achieve a goal or stick to a plan if we’ve committed to it alongside a trusted friend or teammate.

4. One-on-one Tutoring

A famous education psychology researcher, Dr. Benjamin Bloom, discovered in 1984 that one-on-one tutoring with mastery-based learning generated learner outcomes that are two standard deviations from the mean of normal instructional approaches. Since then, education researchers and entrepreneurs alike have been chasing “Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem,” trying to find alternative approaches that are as effective as one-on-one tutoring but less expensive.

If your organization can afford it, offer learners tutors or executive coaches to help them work through the most thorny, intractable, high-impact issues. If you can’t afford coaching at scale, allow learners to personalize their learning journeys or help them pair with other internal experts so they have a tailored learning experience.

5. Spaced Repetition

Companies often spend substantial time, energy and money creating engaging learning experiences, but fail to reinforce them over time. Pioneering educational researcher Hermann Ebbinghaus coined the term “forgetting curve” after discovering that students forget 56% of what they learn within one hour, 66% of what they learn after a single day and 75% of what they learn after six days.

Overcome the “Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve” with spaced repetition of information, sending reminders to learners about the materials at increasingly spaced distances over time (i.e., over one week, one month, three months, one year, etc).

Ultimately, learning at work is essential and exciting but also challenging for workers with limited time and energy to dedicate toward professional development.

While many L&D leaders focus primarily on content and instructors, they must consider the employee’s entire learning journey and utilize science-based principles to solve the learning impact crisis once and for all.

Receive a free trial of FranklinCovey’s Jhana for Individuals. Now, every employee can easily fit learning into the slivers of their already jam-packed days and develop critical, next-level skills to become a key asset in driving their organization and career forward.