What We Have Learned About How Employees Learn

A teacher is reading one of a pile of books to see what he has Learned About How Employees Learn

We’ve Learned About How Employees Learn
We have finally learned about how employees learn.  There’s “old school” learning and there’s “new school” learning.  Learning by the old school method involved a lot of lecture, repetition, memorizing and a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

It worked to a degree.  But we have since learned how employees learn more effectively – specifically about the process of learning that leads to better understanding, lasting retention and measurable on-the-job behavior change.  In a nutshell, effective learning is far more interactive.

Learning Can Be Learned
The good news is that learning is a skill that can be learned.  A recent study found that learning strategies and instructional design approaches are more effective than raw cognitive ability in acquiring new skills.  When it comes to learning new things, your ability to master a new skill is 15% more significant than IQ.

An Example from the Elementary School Classroom
Many parents today are at a loss when they try to help their children through Common Core Math.  Multiplication tables used to be memorized.  Now students arrive at their answers through a new and often  puzzling problem solving methodology.

A recent San Jose Mercury News article states that “The good old days of memorizing math formulas or multiplication tables are gone. Instead, Common Core math requires students to show how they reason their way to the right answer. As a result, many parents say homework is far more complicated than it used to be.”

But today’s kids get it and are far closer than their earlier counterparts to being able to set up their own equations, work with unknowns, and understand what a number array is.

What This Means for Corporate Learning
Those of us charged with developing the talent our company needs to thrive, need to pay attention to what we have learned about how employees learn.

Most now know that to truly prepare workers to learn and acquire new skills, lecture should be at a minimum.  We recommend that it be no more than 30 percent of any training session.  As soon as concepts are introduced, training should shift toward interactive learning…practice exercises, role plays, real-world scenarios, simulation, individual coaching, feedback, reflection, and performance tests.

Far more learning can be carried back to the job if learning is relevant and active…with upfront analysis and real problem solving followed by ongoing reflection and reinforcement activities.

The 5R’s to Help Make Learning Stick
Once you understand how employees learn, don’t forget to focus on skill adoption and retention.   Our learning research has identified five attributes that must be present for the sustainable transfer of skills from the workshop to the job:

  • Relevance – the learning should have high comparative relevance to the learner, their boss and the company as a whole
  • Resources – there should be sufficient time, information, tools, technology, supporting processes, and structures made available to help produce the desired result
  • Reinforcement – you need an environment that will consistently monitor and support new skill and behavior application
  • Renewal – you need to ensure continuous improvement through coaching, refreshers and follow-up
  • Review – it is important to review the effectiveness of the learning intervention at both the individual and group levels

The Bottom Line
We’ve learned about how employees learn. Learning is a learned behavior.  Learners benefit from thoughtful planning, effective decision making, active reflection and experiential practice.  Just make sure the new skills and behaviors are highly relevant to success for the learner, their boss and the business as a whole.

To learn more about effective learning strategies, download The Pros and Cons of 3 Training Rollout Strategies

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