A company will only earn a solid return on investment in its employee development programs if all employees are engaged and participating in the learning process. Once employees grasp concepts, they can then transfer this new knowledge to actual productivity at work.
In order to facilitate this, the learning and design team needs to create content that specifically addresses the unique learning styles of adult employees. Understanding how individuals absorb new ideas and how and why they learn is the first step in a successful employee development program.
On top of this, employers must understand that employees want some type of formal training in order to be successful, especially new hires. The Association for Talent Development highlighted a study published in Human Resource Development Quarterly, involving a team of researchers at Colorado State University who found overwhelming evidence that onboarding programs were not meeting the needs of employees due to lack of structure.
What research says about how the workforce learns
Scientific research conducted in the mid-90s by Neil D. Fleming, Professor at Lincoln University, Canterbury, NZ; and Colleen Mills, Associate Professor of Management, at Lincoln University; established 4 modalities of learning that are common among adults. Also referred to as ‘VARK’, the four styles of learning include Visual, Auditory, Read/write, and Kinesthetic sensory. Much of today’s e-learning is designed around these learning styles, with visually and aurally stimulating content combined with hands-on learning activities.
But there is more to the story. Today’s workforce needs to be convinced that the time invested in their employer’s learning initiatives is worth the effort.
Understanding what drives learning in workplaces
Award-winning Degreed, a lifelong learning platform that helps users manage all their learning endeavors, conducted new research examining how the workforce really learns and powers their careers. Their research is poignant for employers who are increasingly developing corporate universities to manage full-cycle onboarding and training programs. In their findings, Degreed revealed 3 important truths about workplace learners and what learners really want. In other words, if companies want employees to embrace learning, they must deliver content in a manner that appeals to learners.
Degreed calls these ‘themes’, which were universal across their study. They discovered that:
Adult learners will make time for learning if it promotes their career growth
On average, workers spend 37 minutes each week on their employer’s training vs. 3.3 hours each week learning on their own, and nearly 75% of workers spent their own money on career-related development – an average of $339 a year. To summarize this finding, there may be a gap between what employees view as valuable to their careers and what employers are currently providing.
Traditional methods aren't obsolete - they're just incomplete. When it comes to delivering e-learning, it's not just about videos or courses, it's about bringing it all together (articles and courses, books, blogs and videos, tutorials, etc.). Degreed research says it’s about the 'and’. Are employers creating a rich environment that includes many different forms of learning and letting people choose? Consider that Degreed found:
- 70% of people take courses from their employers at least once a year, but bite size content dominates learning habits.
- Over 70% of workers reported learning something for work from an article, video, or book in the last 24 hours.
The responsibility for learning should be shared. This learning effort needs to be an effort between the learning and design team, managers and employees. Degreed uncovered that when workers need to learn something new, 69% ask a boss or mentor for direction, 55% go to their colleagues, 47% search online, and 21% go to their L&D department. It starts with employees and management working together to create learning that’s directly related to the success of each job type, not the other way around (this also addresses the first theme).
What can employers do to make sure employees are getting the learning they want?
There are a couple of lessons to take away from the latest research on employee development and motivation. First, employers need to regularly connect with employees on their individual learning needs and establish training programs that address all 4 learning modalities so no one is left behind. Secondly, employers must communicate the career-value of any training that they roll out and directly associate participation with promotion.