In an era where time is money and there are countless “productivity hacks,” workforce productivity is actually decreasing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, multifactor productivity growth was negative in 2016, continuing a downward trend since 2013.

While identifying the root cause of this decline has puzzled some of the world’s best consultants, it emphasizes the value of optimizing how your employees spend their time. This is especially true for a firm’s high-potential employees, since it has been estimated that top employees contribute 85 to 1,200 percent more than average employees for roles with medium or high complexity, according to Harvard Business Review.

Similarly, teams with high employee engagement rates are 21 percent more productive than those with low engagement, according to Gallup. Firms spend extensive energy trying to identify high-potential talent and increase employee engagement, overlooking one of the lowest hanging fruit: learning. According to a report from Deloitte, “Learning opportunities are among the largest drivers of employee engagement and strong workplace culture – they are part of the entire employee value proposition, not merely a way to build skills.”

So, despite a market that spends $359 billion on training programs each year, why do most organizations apply a fairly ineffective, one-size-fits-all approach to learning? Because optimizing seat time and personalizing the learning experience hasn’t been possible with traditional training based on video or interactive PowerPoint presentations. Not only are these methods largely ineffective for retaining knowledge, they also hurt productivity. A one-size-fits-all approach means that your most proficient employees are forced to spend the same amount of time “learning” a topic they already know.

In addition to the productivity loss, Edgar Dale’s decades-old, but ever-relevant, cone of experience tells us that we learn best by doing, retaining 90 percent of information learned that way, compared to learning that only relies on reading (10 percent) or seeing, such as watching a video (30 percent).

According to, employees spend an average of 33 hours per year on training. Truly adaptive learning courses take an average of 15 percent (or 4.95 hours yearly) less time to complete. To consider the overall organizational impact, consider that the average Fortune 500 company has an average of 50,000 employees. If that organization implemented adaptive learning across their training initiatives, its average savings could amount to 247,500 employee hours, potentially saving $8.82 million in productivity savings, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics average employee cost.

If your company is seeking such returns on investment, take stock of your current approach. Here are some questions to ask about the learning opportunities you currently offer your employees:

  • Are they based on navigating scenarios and applying knowledge rather than reading or watching?
  • Are they adapting to each learner’s performance and role so that more knowledgeable employees spend less time than novice employees?
  • Are they providing the organization with behavioral insights beyond completion or quiz scores that you can use to optimize the programs year over year?
  • Are they helping each learner attain 100-percent proficiency so the workforce is able to perform effectively in the areas most essential to your business?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you are missing not only an easy productivity hack but also an opportunity to significantly improve your employee engagement and organizational success. Research emerging offerings anchored on adaptive learning approaches, and price out the potential impact of saving time and money for your total number of employees. Even relatively small improvements per employee can result in massive organizational improvements. This is one “hack” that is worth implementing.