While there are several compelling reasons for organizations to invest in professional development, employees must be engaged in the learning process before anybody can reap the benefits.
In a recent article for Go1, I considered the barriers to learning that organizations come up against and how to mitigate them. One of the most significant hurdles employees face is failing to see the bigger picture. They don’t understand why they need to learn or how it is relevant to their work.
Many employees might also have had negative experiences of learning in the past. School might have been tedious or stressful, and they aren't interested in more formal study.
Part of the challenge for L&D professionals is selling the idea of learning, and helping employees connect to the broader purpose is a crucial part of the process.
Ultimately, if learners are engaged, they will retain information, be able to apply it, and be more satisfied in their jobs.
How does learning benefit employees?
Data from the LinkedIn Learning 2019 Workplace Learning Report reveals that 74% of employees want to learn during their spare time at work. The desire to learn is not an issue for the majority.
If the drive to learn is there, employees can be intrinsically motivated to engage with content. It is the systems around learning which are preventing them from connecting.
The report also shows that there are broader benefits to learning at work. When compared with ‘light learners’ (those learning less than one hour per week), ‘heavy learners' (those learning five hours or more per week) were 78% more likely to know where they wanted to go in their career, 48% more likely to have found purpose in their work, and 47% less likely to be stressed at work.
Sharing this data with employees could help them to connect with the process of learning on a deeper level and understand how it will benefit them. Other strategies can also be useful.
Helping your colleagues connect with the purpose of learning
1. Develop the learning culture in your organization
For employees to connect with learning, those in leadership need to focus on the learning culture in the organization. While employees both want to learn and have the best intentions to do so, they will find it challenging if the rest of their team or superiors are not interested. Everyone has a role to play in developing a strong learning culture, but it begins with those in leadership prioritizing and valuing learning.
2. Communicate the broader benefits of learning
There are many benefits to learning beyond being a diligent employee. A regular learning practice can alleviate stress, help employees to define the direction of their career, and help them to find purpose in their work.
If employees understand that learning can have such a positive impact, they are far more likely to connect with the purpose. Immediately, they will be able to see how it can benefit them, their colleagues, customers, and the organization as a whole.
3. Make sure the content is relevant
Before employees can connect with learning, resources available to them have to be both relevant to their role in the organization and appropriate to the level of knowledge or skill.
Lev Vygotsky, the psychologist whose theories underpin educational practices today, developed the concept of a ‘zone of proximal development’. This term describes the point at which a learner can use their current experience to construct new knowledge or skills, through interaction in an appropriate social environment. Along with suitable content, the environment or organizational culture needs to enable learning and keep employees moving forward.
4. Look for opportunities to personalize the learning experience
Personalizing learning is the difference between content being engaging or boring. Content needs to address an individual’s learning needs as accurately as possible, and advancing technology is helping to simplify this process.
If your colleagues have access to learning materials appropriate to their learning journey, they are far more likely to see the purpose in the activities and understand why the content is meaningful to them.
5. Ask for feedback regularly
The best way to understand whether or not employees connect with the purpose of learning is to ask for regular feedback on their experience. Of the employees who engage with learning platforms, find out why they choose to log on regularly or ask what they think the purpose is.
You can ask for feedback through informal conversations, but anonymous surveys may give more accurate results as respondents will feel they can be more honest. Also, be aware that their time is limited, so finding a way to glean feedback quickly would also be beneficial.
6. Advocate employee-led learning
In the current workplace environment, employees want to direct their learning. Deloitte Insights explains that corporate learning departments are changing from education providers to content curators and experience facilitators. Their task is to develop innovative platforms that turn employee learning and development into a self-driven pursuit.
Employees should keep track of their professional development and manage their time. The more independent the process is, the more organic and engaging it will be.
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Sophia is a freelance writer who specialises in thought leadership, opinion pieces and content creation for learning publications. Her work focuses on the latest research in learning theory and practice. She regularly contributes articles on workplace learning and professional development to the Go1 blog. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.