Why Learning Can Fall Flat …

Let’s face it: most organizations put a lot of effort into creating a learning program that they hope achieves at least two things – 1) up-levels their colleagues’ skills and 2) increases their colleagues’ sense of engagement in their organization. However, many organizations are also left with a feeling of lackluster to even poorer results / a feeling of low return on investment from their learning efforts.

Why is that? As a learning provider for over 25 years, we see some common themes and patterns, and we believe that if you know these in advance, you can design your learning efforts to avoid the following common pitfalls.

  1. Not systematic

Like building a brand, learning efforts that are one-offs or occurring sporadically, without a continuous building-block, reinforcing effect, will rarely if at all generate much change. Think like a school curriculum: there is a continuous build and reinforcement on what the students previously learned.  This is how you inculcate learning and work toward true assimilation, adoption, and even behavioral change. We see organizations do this all of the time. By way of example, a common mistake is something like running unconscious bias training once a year, and hoping there’s immediate adoption and behavior change.  This rarely happens, if ever, with one-off efforts.

  1. Unstructured

This is your “why” of learning and “what you want me to do with it.” When we don’t link learning programs with the capabilities we’re trying to build and share some sort of construct with our colleagues along these lines, your colleagues don’t really know what you want them to do with the learning.  In the very least, without this construct and alignment, your colleagues are deciding for themselves why the learning matters and what they’re going to do with it.  Building a learning curriculum that aligns (and therefore directly shows how the learning programs build) the capabilities your organization needs may seem daunting, but in reality … it’s really not.  You’re simply taking what likely already exists, such as your organization’s values, or core competencies, or the behaviors you already list in your performance management system, and then aligning learning that enables and bolsters these capabilities. Being explicit about this alignment (capabilities your organization needs versus the learning topics being offered) cannot be overstated in its importance.

  1. Subpar format

Format or delivery is everything with adult learning. Adult learners are among the most impatient and unforgiving learners there are.  That’s not a bad thing, it simply is what it is.  And to recognize this up-front means you can deploy learning efforts that are more likely to achieve your end goals.  By way of example, as much as you may prefer in-person learning sessions, the vast majority of your learners may not.  Since COVID-19, we’ve seen many organizations attempt to shift back to in-person, only to find a poor turn-out on the day.  It’s important to recognize where your organization is successful in learning delivery and stick with that successful pattern. Whether it’s virtual, in-person, or the length of time allotted, do what works for the majority. (Think consumerism 101: if the majority of your customers don’t want something, it’s probably not going to work well.)

  1. Esoteric

When learning is too theoretical and learners don’t know how to directly apply this to their work, you’ll also end-up with lackluster results.  Ensuring that whatever learning programs are in place incorporate practical applications and tools learners can use after the session for ongoing application is critical as well.

  1. Lack of follow-up / follow-through

Finally, not checking-in with learners after a program to understand how they’re applying their learning and responding to their follow-up questions is another cause of ultimately lackluster results from your learning activities.  Checking-in with learners after a program not only helps your organization understand successes and challenges with learning application, and therefore what you may want to do next, but also enables you to hold learners accountable for their learning application.

Understanding and proactively addressing these 5 common pitfalls will elevate your learning efforts and help your organization achieve your strategic learning goals.

Learn more about Kathryn, one of our senior partners, and our other thought leaders by contacting us at [email protected].