Employee Learning From Top to Bottom: The Total Guide

In this total, complete guide to employee learning, we will cover the topic inside and out – from top to bottom.

Among other things, we’ll cover:

  • Frequently asked questions about employee learning
  • The definition of employee learning
  • Why it matters, both for employees and organizations
  • Processes for improving employee learning
  • Best practices of employee learning
  • Top employee learning myths
  • How to upgrade your employee learning programs

And much more.

To start, let’s look at some of the most-asked questions about employee learning.

Employee Learning FAQ: Top Questions and Answers

Here are some of the top questions – and answers – regarding employee learning.

What Is the Definition of Employee Learning?

Employee learning is the training and education that employees receive related to their job.

It can be delivered on the job, by the employer. 

Or it can be outsourced and provided through third-party education providers.

“Learning” can refer to:

  • Skills training. The skills that employees need to do their jobs.
  • Behavioral training. Improving employee motivation and engagement.
  • Soft skills. Problem-solving, communication, and other skills that help employees work well as part of a team.

This is a very common feature in many organizations.

Smaller organizations may have less formal training options, or simply “learn on the job” approaches.

Larger enterprises, however, often implement more sophisticated programs, for reasons discussed below.

Why Should My Organization Invest in Employee Learning?

Employee learning programs and departments offer many benefits to organizations:

  • Greater employee productivity and performance. Not only does this produce better outcomes for individual business units, it reduces the need to continually recruit new expertise.
  • Increased employee longevity and loyalty. Around 43% of employees are bored, according to a study by Udemy. Yet 8 out of 10 would be more engaged if they learned new skills – and almost half as likely to leave their jobs.
  • Ability to meet the increasing demand for digital skills. Employee learning is one of the main solutions to today’s digital skills crisis. And in the coming years, the digital skills gap is only expected to widen – adding more pressure to companies to ensure that their workers can meet business demands. 
  • A culture that is more adaptable and agile. Learning, especially when integrated into the company culture, produces workers who are open to continual improvement. This value helps create a corporate climate that keeps workers agile, improving, and adaptable to new changes.
  • Attraction and retention of top talent. The best workers love to learn. And they find companies that will help them develop their skills, talents, and careers.

Among other things.

The real ROI of employee learning programs depends on a variety of factors that are specific to each business.

Later, we will look at how to analyze and develop an employee learning program that works best for your business.

How Does Employee Learning Benefit Workers?

Employees, of course, also benefit from employee learning programs.

On the one hand, these programs help employees meet their career goals and learning objectives. 

On the other, those benefits acts as incentives which can improve their workplace metrics, as covered above.

Here are some of the benefits that employees gain from enterprise education programs:

  • Better skills. Training provides people with the skills that they need to perform well at their job. Without those skills, they will be more likely to stagnate in the workplace.
  • More career prospects. Workers with more skills will be more likely to seek promotions and greater responsibility. For an organization that fosters long-term employee relationships, this can be very beneficial.
  • Increased productivity and confidence. More skills and productivity improve confidence, morale, motivation, and job satisfaction – among other things. This can contribute to a better work environment, more cooperative employees, and so forth.
  • Boosted income potential. Employees with more skills will have better earning potential. And, as mentioned, this is a top concern for many workers, especially in today’s fast-paced, volatile economy.

Some employers may worry that workers will just take that training and leave.

But, as the Udemy study showed (among others), the opposite is true. 

Workers are more likely to stay with companies that offer them training and skills development.

Who Handles Employee Learning in an Organization?

Because training and education is a human-focused endeavor, it shouldn’t be surprising that human-focused business units handle training.

These can include:

  • Human resources professionals. Because human resources deal with all aspects of the employee’s work life, they also have a hand in employee training programs. In larger businesses, this responsibility may be delegated specifically to training departments, though.
  • Training managers. Training managers are dedicated to training and educating employees. They often work closely with interdisciplinary managerial teams.
  • Digital adoption professionals. Digital adoption professionals specialize in digital training and new software adoption. They assist with software onboarding, training, workflow optimization, and more.

Of course, depending on the nature of the education program, training professionals often collaborate with other specialists, such as:

  • Business units. Each business function has its own function, needs, and skill requirements. Trainers collaborate with managers for those units in order to meet the needs of that specific department.
  • Outside vendors. Third parties may also involve themselves with training. Consultants, specialists, and other such vendors will often provide necessary knowledge. Software professionals, for instance, are often required to provide training during digital software adoption.
  • Private education companies. In other cases, enterprises may outsource part or all of their employee training needs. Today, private institutions offer education and training for every conceivable discipline and field. Business professionals can find training in technology, marketing, sales, change management, interpersonal skills, and so on.

The specific nature of the training will determine exactly who is responsible for developing a given program.

Is Employee Learning the Same as Talent Development?

Talent development is one aspect of employee learning.

However, as mentioned above, employee learning covers other areas beyond skills development.

It can include team building, training in soft skills, and other areas that aren’t strictly skill-related.

Talent development tends to focus strictly on, as the name suggests, the development of job-related talents and skills.

Is Employee Learning the Same as Career Development?

Career development refers to how workers manage and improve their career over the long term.

Many organizations also facilitate career development for their employees.

This can involve career counseling, long-term skills development, mentoring, and similar activities.

While employee learning overlaps with career development in some areas, these are two distinct fields.

How is Employee Learning Different from Organizational Learning?

Employee learning is focused on employee and employee training.

Organizational learning concerns itself with knowledge transfer among several categories in the organization:

  • Individual – How individuals learn and transfer knowledge to one another
  • Group – How groups, such as teams and departments, acquire, share, and transmit knowledge
  • Organizational – How the organization as a whole gains knowledge and transmits it over time
  • Inter-Organizational – How separate organizations share and communicate knowledge

We can see that individual learning can play a role in the field of organizational learning. However, it is only one component.

However, organizational learning tends to focus on knowledge gained by the organization and its members over time.

It places less emphasis on skills training, which is a major part of employee learning.

Employee Learning in Practice

Enterprise employee learning and development programs take a number of forms.

Usually, they contain a mixture of:

  • In-person lectures and classes. Orientation, onboarding, skills training, and seminars are examples of how employee learning is applied in enterprises. This is the “traditional” approach to education. And while it still has its role, it is being supplemented and even replaced by other methods. 
  • Coaching and mentoring. Coaching and one-on-one mentoring is another technique for employee learning. However, this is a very personalized approach that takes time and effort for both the coach and the student. The results can be outstanding, though, for all stakeholders.
  • Group activities and role playing. Group activities and role playing can be used for a variety of purposes. Team building is one example. Another is using role playing to train employees for customer service roles.
  • Learning management systems. Learning management systems are digital platforms that assist with enterprise education. They are, in essence, a combination of content management system and education software. They allow trainers to create courses, grade students, administer tests, monitor progress, and more.
  • Digital adoption platforms. Digital adoption platforms are the future of learning software. When it comes to certain types of learning, such as digital skill-building, they vastly outperform other approaches. These platforms offer in-app tutorials and guidance only when it is needed. This improves knowledge retention, the user experience, and training ROI, among other things.

The type of training in question will determine which teaching approach is best.

Digital adoption platforms, as mentioned, are ideal for digital software training.

While role playing and group activities would be more suited for teaching subjects such as customer service in retail, conflict resolution, and so forth.

How Employees Learn: Employee Learning Styles

One major consideration in employee learning is how people learn.

A person’s preferred method of learning directly impacts their engagement, progress, learning time, and knowledge retention.

For example, people can learn best through:

  • Auditory – Some people pay better attention and learn better through listening. Lectures and other audio content is a good teaching vehicle for auditory learners.
  • Visual –  Visual learners prefer to see their content. They best process information when it is presented through images, video, designs, diagrams, and so forth.
  • Text – Others like to read. For these learners, text-based material is the ideal vehicle for learning. Articles, books, and website content are examples of this teaching modality.
  • Kinesthetic – Kinesthetic learners learn through doing. That is, they learn best by applying information immediately – group activities and digital adoption platforms are examples of kinesthetic teaching approaches.

There are different models that describe learning styles – and some people may prefer one style over another.

However, the important takeaway is this: learning modalities impact knowledge retention.

And, therefore, teaching styles impact the ROI of employee learning programs.

For best results, employee learning programs should mix modalities and approaches. 

Stages of Learning

The four stages of competence is another useful concept when designing employee training programs.

The four stages are:

  • Unconscious incompetence. People don’t have a skill or ability and don’t know it.
  • Conscious incompetence. People are aware that they lack a skill or ability.
  • Conscious competence. People have a skill and are aware of it, but must stay consciously engaged when applying that skill.
  • Unconscious competence. The final stage is when people attain a skill and it becomes “second nature.” They no longer have to stay consciously engaged to apply a skill.

Understanding these concepts – as with understanding different learning styles – can result in better training, reduced costs, and improved outcomes.

How Employee Learning Has Evolved Over Time

The evolution of employee learning is another topic that can help businesses train more efficiently and effectively.

  • Pre-digital. Before the digital age, classroom teaching and personalized instruction were common. Apprenticeships, for example, used to be a standard approach to learning a trade. As mentioned above, classroom teaching and personal training still occurs. But with the advent of digital technology, it is becoming less and less common.
  • Digital. The digital revolution has transformed education and communication. Today, online courses are common, allowing teachers to deliver video courses to thousands of students at a time. And the technologies mentioned above, such as digital adoption platforms, are transforming workplace training.
  • Post-digital. In the future, we can expect more automation, contextualized training, and personalization. WalkMe’s digital adoption platform and Apple’s Siri, for instance, will likely become standard training approaches.

The purpose of this short history is to help trainers to look ahead.

If you understand what employee training will look like in a few years’ time, then you can adapt your approach now.

The First Step to Designing Employee Learning Programs: Assessment

When designing or re-designing employee training programs, the very first step is assessment.

After you understand where you are, then you can develop a strategy for where you want to go.

Here are a few places to start.

  • Assess your existing training programs. Do you have any formalized training programs? If so, what do they teach? How sophisticated are they? What results do they achieve?
  • Assess skill needs and skill levels. Assess skill needs within your organization. The implementation of a new software program, for instance, would likely leave many workers with a skill deficit.
  • Assess your culture’s commitment to learning. How committed are employees to learning new skills? Do they see benefits in learning new skills? Or are they closed to new ideas and learning new things?
  • Understand leadership’s commitment to learning. Another key component is understanding the leadership’s perspective on learning. Do they see training as a cost center? Or as a potential revenue center? Are they clear on the potential ROI of employee learning?

Such questions will help you lay the groundwork for creating your own training program.

How to Develop Employee Learning Programs: A Step-by-Step Approach

Let’s look at a straightforward method for designing an employee training program:

  • Assessment and analysis. Use the points above as guidelines when assessing your needs and current skill levels.
  • Obtain executive support. Gaining sponsorship is critical to the success of many programs. Using your assessments, you can build a case for an employee learning program.
  • Develop solutions and set learning goals. Set goals that are achievable and measurable. Then design a strategic training program to help you achieve those goals.
  • Engage and sell employees on the training program. It is also important to get employees on board with your new program. One good tactic is to sell them on how the program will benefit them personally.
  • Execute and optimize. Roll out your training program incrementally. Begin with a test group, then use that data to make improvements. Continually adjust your training over time.

When designing your program, make the most of the other information in this article.

That is, understanding learning styles, the ROI of employee training, and so forth.

All of this information can help you create great training programs that are modern, effective, and profitable.

5 Challenges to Effective Employee Learning 

Anyone building an employee learning project will run into a number of obstacles.

Five common challenges include:

1. Executive sponsorship.

Executive support is key to the success of projects such as this.

But business leaders are busy. And it can be difficult to see the ROI of employee training.

In many cases, you will need to convince them of the benefits of training, versus alternative solutions, such as outsourcing or rehiring.

2. Employee resistance.

Employees fear and often resist change.

When it comes to learning new skills, employee resistance is a common obstacle.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • They don’t want to learn new skills
  • They see no benefit to training
  • They don’t feel that they can learn new skills

Tackling this resistance should be a top priority, because it can significantly obstruct your training efforts.

3. Obsolete training methods.

Older companies may cling to outdated training methods.

When it comes to digital skills, for instance, in-person classroom training is rarely the right solution. 

Efforts should be made to use modern training methods, strategies, and technologies.

4. Lack of time or budget.

Budget and time constraints are an ever-present barrier for virtually every new business idea.

In some cases, these constraints are real. In others, they are due to a perceived lack of ROI.

Either way, the best approach is to build a case for employee learning and make do with whatever budget you are given.

After demonstrating the benefits of employee learning programs, it may be possible to obtain more resources.

5. Demonstrating ROI.

The best way to demonstrate ROI is to focus on the benefits of training – and the drawbacks of not training.

Benefits, as mentioned, include enhanced employee productivity, better performance of business units, increased efficiency, and so forth.

Drawbacks can include hindered innovation, an inability to meet business objectives, business inefficiencies, and so forth.

If you have a track record, demonstrating ROI is easier. 

If there is no history of success, start small or use other companies as examples.

5 Myths About Employee Learning

Many business professionals have ingrained misconceptions about employee learning.

These can also prevent businesses from seeing the value of employee learning initiatives.

For instance:

1. Orientation is training.

Orientation is just the first step in the employee life cycle.

It is certainly not the same as training – employees don’t learn how to do their job or perform well.

This misconception often drives businesses to adopt a “learn on the job” mentality. 

2. All teaching methods are created equal.

As we have seen above, training methods are not created equal.

Each type of training delivers different results depending on:

  • The content of the training
  • The employee’s learning style
  • How sophisticated the training program is

Among other things.

3. Training is a cost center.

Training is an investment.

The more structured and sophisticated your training program, the better employees will learn.

Viewing training as a cost center will result in lackluster training, which decreases:

  • Knowledge retention
  • Employee performance
  • Business process outcomes

Among other things.

It is important to reframe employee learning as a profitable business function, not just a business expense.

4. Training is a waste of resources, because employees eventually leave.

This idea drives many businesses to seek alternatives to employee training – such as outsourcing, rehiring, or automation.

However, as mentioned, research has shown that employees prefer to work for companies that offer training.

They are more engaged, satisfied, and productive.

And, as a result, they will stay with companies longer, reducing recruitment and training costs over the long term.

5. Training ROI can’t be measured.

In fact, it can.

Effective measurement is essential to demonstrating the business value of employee learning programs.

Metrics such as the following can help demonstrate and measure the ROI of employee learning:

  • Employee performance and productivity metrics – Output levels, the quality of worker contributions, and so forth
  • Engagement metrics – How engaged employees are at work, which can be derived from software usage data, feedback, attendance, and other metrics
  • Time to competency – How long it takes workers to learn a new skill or workflow
  • Time to full productivity – How long it takes workers to become fully proficient and productive 
  • The impact of training on specific business outcomes – The effect of a training program on specific metrics, such as sales quotas or technical support calls

And so on.

Measuring and analyzing employee learning programs is essential to understanding that program’s value, progress, and results.

Employee Learning Dos, Don’ts, and Best Practices

Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind when developing a training program.

Do…

Here are some best practices to follow when designing an employee learning program:

  • Focus on the employee experience. Training programs that are built around employees will produce better results. Workers will be more engaged if the employee experience is better. And, as a consequence, they will learn more effectively and more quickly.
  • Help employees achieve their goals. Another technique for improving program results is through career development. That is, by helping workers achieve their specific career aims, they’ll be more engaged. And, as a result, they will learn more quickly and effectively.
  • Offer hands-on, practical learning. Many people claim that they learn best by doing. While some may have other preferred methods, learning by doing often delivers the best results. In the digital age, digital adoption platforms are examples of teaching systems that help people learn through action.
  • Offer multiple learning modalities and channels. Diversify your teaching mix. The more options that learners have when it comes to modalities and channels, the more likely they are to engage.
  • Use the latest digital training solutions. Digital training solutions have exploded in recent years – and for good reason. They exploit the latest advances in technology to deliver quality training at low cost.

Ultimately, employee learning should be viewed – and treated – as a profitable business function.

The more effectively and efficiently you design and execute learning programs, the more effectively the organization will function.

Don’t…

Here are some common employee training fails to avoid:

  • De-personalize the experience. Using technology can help you improve training results. But if training becomes too impersonal, you risk alienating students. That will, in turn, have the opposite of your intended effect. People will become disengaged and learn more slowly.
  • Offer ineffective training methods. Classroom teaching is not an effective way to teach software. Likewise, a customer service representative couldn’t learn empathy from a computer. Choose the best methods for your training content as well as your students.
  • Do the bare minimum. Going through the motions will not help your training programs achieve real results. Just providing information will not be enough to achieve tangible productivity. Though motivated employees may put in the extra effort, if you only put in the minimum requirements, you will only get the minimum results.
  • Forget to measure, analyze, and optimize. Measurement and analysis are absolutely critical. Data, feedback, and analytics can tell you many things about your program. You will learn what works. You’ll know what needs fixing. And you will be able to demonstrate the value of your program.

When considering such obstacles, the takeaway remains the same…

Done right, training programs can improve employee learning, employee productivity, and, ultimately, organizational effectiveness.

A Learning Culture: The Ultimate Employee Learning Solution

Another crucial factor that impacts the effectiveness of training and development is organizational culture.

The culture and behavior of employees can be receptive and conducive to learning. Or it can be the opposite.

As with any other organizational change project, cultural change is not easy.

However, the benefits are often worth it:

  • Employees are more open to training and development. Employees often resist change and learning. But learning becomes a fundamental value within that culture, they will embrace both.
  • Learning new things becomes expected and normal. In most cases, organizations don’t change very much. Change, therefore, would be considered “out of the ordinary.” Cultures that build learning into their DNA, though, will be more resilient and open to change.
  • Training and development will become more efficient and effective. A pro-learning culture will also learn more effectively. When training and change are part and parcel of business operations, training will run into fewer obstacles, get better results, and cost less.
  • Organizational changes and digital transformation projects go more smoothly. Organizational change, such as digital adoption and digital transformation projects, very frequently involve training and skills development. In a pro-learning culture, such transformation projects will also become more cost-efficient and cost-effective. 

This is not to say that you should change employees’ existing beliefs and values.

However, a corporate culture built upon learning and growth will be more competitive in the years to come.

Conclusion: Effective Employee Learning Is More Relevant Than Ever

Historically, employee learning, training, and development have never received much attention. 

Like human resources, these business areas have been viewed more as administrative functions.

Today, however, these business functions are becoming more central to organizations’ revenue models.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • Today’s world is constantly changing. Digital innovation is driving disruption and transformation across organizations and industries. 
  • New technologies are emerging faster than ever, increasing the demand for digital skills. Each new software solution, platform, or tool further adds to the complexity of the day-to-day work environment. Today’s complex workflows require constant learning and practice, making skills development a must.
  • Soon, today’s skills may no longer be relevant. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, one estimate suggests that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working at jobs that don’t even exist yet.

In short, employee learning and development are becoming central to an organization’s effectiveness.

Employee learning will play a major role in how workers operate within their organizations. 

The effectiveness of those training programs, in turn, will impact an organizations’ ability to adapt, stay relevant, and deliver its products and services.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.