How can we close the learning gap?

How to close the learning gap? First step, make it relevant, says Andrew Heath.

HR and learning teams can often feel like they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. They’ve invested time and budget in an expensive learning management system, it’s full of useful content, but no-one’s using it.

Employees, on the other hand, feel overwhelmed by what’s on offer and so ignore it, missing out on learning that could help them do their jobs and feel more engaged. It’s the learning equivalent of Netflix – they’re bombarded with thousands of options but have no idea where to start. 

If employees are struggling at work, it impacts them on a personal level. Particularly in this period of remote and hybrid working, they may feel uncomfortable forcing a conversation with their manager about a part of their role they find hard.

At the same time, those in-person interactions where a manager might notice they’re unhappy are few and far between. They may feel as though managers aren’t listening to them or supporting them, which increases stress levels and potentially increases their likelihood of leaving or developing more serious mental health issues.

Because they feel overwhelmed by the choices offered by their learning system (or don’t even know if there might be something relevant), they either Google it or soldier on doing something the hard way, putting in extra hours and feeling increasingly disconnected.

It’s not about mandating training or creating pathways; often workers don’t know what knowledge or skills they need until the point at which they need it.

There’s a gap between the learning on offer and the learning that is being consumed and applied. 

But how can organisations know who needs to learn what and when, particularly when they can’t ‘see’ people? It’s not about mandating training or creating pathways; often workers don’t know what knowledge or skills they need until the point at which they need it.

Outside compliance or regulatory courses that must be taken, employees are likely to rail against being forced to complete ‘Line Management 101’ when the problem they’re dealing with is a technical one or they’re struggling to connect with their own superior.

Perhaps they have a presentation coming up and they need support on creating visuals or on building public speaking confidence and fast-tracking that resource to them in a timely way could make all the difference. Forcing them to access other courses just to get to that point will have the opposite effect. 

Empowering employees to self-diagnose where they need support has a double benefit: they use the LMS more because they can be signposted to content that’s relevant for them at that moment and they’re happier and less stressed because they’ve received support to overcome a difficult challenge.

And if they feel supported by that piece of content at that moment, they’re more likely to come back for more. Bit by bit, teams become more productive and feel more in control of their stress levels, in turn making them more appreciative of their employer.

Knowing where their areas for development are also makes for better performance management conversations – if managers know someone is working towards a goal on, for example, how they give instructions to their team – they can offer individualised support and make allowances while they build their confidence. 

Centring your learning offer around the system, rather than the employee, will never have the same impact. HR’s idea of how someone should acquire a particular skill may be completely different to the learning style of that individual or at odds with their working circumstances.

Aligning your learning content to the needs of the business is one thing but expecting employees to follow it in a certain way could alienate them rather than engage them. Imagine there are seven aspects of ‘having a performance conversation’ and seven pieces of highly useful and applicable content available to develop that skill.

Perhaps at that moment the employee needs the fifth piece of elearning on the language they should use because they’re about to go into a meeting and don’t have time to cover the other elements. Acquiring knowledge is rarely linear, so why should learning content be that way? 

Ultimately it comes down to asking the right questions, both as an individual and a manager.

The answers to those questions mean employees can be directed to pieces of learning that may make a small difference on their own but cumulatively can transform how someone feels about their work, reducing sickness absence, attrition and creating a happier workforce overall. 


About the author

Andrew Heath is CEO of WeThrive.


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