Most companies who offer training provide formal courses for which employees take time away from work. Formal training has advantages, but often, employees take the classes, understand the content, and then continue doing exactly what they’ve always done. Actions, and thus results, don’t change much. If we want measurable progress, training programs need to operate in the reality of work.
Couple work and learning more closely.
Many L&D experts have long advised moving learning programs closer to the work environment. Research has shown that the real world, complete with stress and distractions, actually helps people master and apply new skills.
And when employees are trying to remember a new procedure or process, the brain naturally draws on the environment to trigger associations. So, whenever possible, it’s easier to learn in the same environment where new knowledge will be applied.
Micro-learning introduces small bursts of content into the work day.
Micro-learning takes a step toward linking work and training more tightly. With micro-learning, employees can watch short videos during the day and apply the concepts right away. This approach gets training closer in space and time to work, but the videos only share concepts and examples. Learning doesn’t take root until someone actually uses that information as part of the job. And often, training programs leave people completely on their own for this crucial process.
In addition, course-based materials, even when delivered in short bursts, don’t address many of the tasks people have to juggle as part of business. A recent study of medical school graduates in the UK found they felt prepared for what they’d been taught, such as clinical skills and communications. But they did not feel prepared for the practical requirements of work, such as paperwork, time management, and clinical prioritization.
Recognize and support the reality of learning.
So training needs a way to support learners as they walk the bridge from concept to practice. Consultant and L&D thought leader, Charles Jennings, describes 4 ways of “extending learning into work.”
- Adding learning to work, as with the micro-videos, makes bits of course material accessible during the workday. It lets people access information from their workstations, but still doesn’t support that final learning step.
- Embedding learning within work makes use of checklists, FAQs, and other references that can help someone complete a task.
- Extracting learning from work asks employees to reflect on their day or write in journals. They start picking out the tiny lessons from everyday experiences and adding them up.
- Sharing learning with work colleagues extends learning and teaching through the work culture. Peers share their experience and knowledge with each other through mentoring, coaching, or team reviews. The organization focuses on collaboration and cooperation.
Extracting and sharing learning turn work experience into the “course content” for employees. It comes complete with the distractions, exceptions, and little annoyances of life on the job. The learning “program” is the structure, support and accountability that helps employees make the most of their “lessons.”
[Read about a low-cost, easy way to extract learning from work.]
Structure and support turn reality into learning opportunities.
Of course, employees are learning from their work experience, their colleagues, and their customers every day. But it’s hard to track or guide those experiences so the learning path is left to fate.
But managers and L&D can help their employees in several ways:
Match up key competencies with common work tasks.
Many companies already have lists of key competencies and assessments for their employees with respect to those skills. Identify for each team how you expect employees to use those skills and lay out a plan for each person to take on the relevant assignments. Then use mentoring, coaching, or reflection to determine how they improved and what they still need to do.
Identify mentors for key capabilities.
Some experienced peers can work with others as they take on new responsibilities. They can teach others how to use equipment, manage software, create reports, or run customer meetings. Again, you’re matching employees who need skills and peers who have them with the tasks that require them.
As an added benefit, you can identify and recognize your “teachers.” Every company has certain employees who voluntarily take new team members under their wings, show them the ropes, and support their progress. These people generally work under the radar and get little recognition or reward for their efforts. But they’re absolutely essential to strong team performance.
Keep a log of employee experiences.
Ask employees to keep track of their assignments and the skills they used. Ask them to assess their needs for additional practice. Review their progress and consider their learning goals when assigning work. If you follow this process, every employee ends up with a personalized learning plan and the opportunity to pursue it.
Create practice plans after courses.
It’s not necessary for formal courses to disappear. If your company has some good content that you’ve been using successfully, it’s probably still worth continuing. But after the course, whether it’s by video or classroom, ask employees to identify work tasks in which they will use each concept. Work with them to assign jobs that will help them practice and pair them with coaches who offer immediate feedback for their efforts.
It may seem like a lot of effort to weave skill development into daily assignments. But managers don’t have to take on all the work. Employees can take responsibility for their own learning paths. And L&D can provide guidance and accountability.
If you’re asking employees to take training or develop competencies that are important to your business, isn’t it worth the effort to make sure new skills make a real difference?
At Pract.us, we’re dedicated to helping employees apply what they learn and see real results. Learn more.