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Learning at work is broken. In the US, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year on employee training – and most of it is wasted.

A study by the Harvard Business Review found that 70% of employees claim that they: have not mastered the skills need to do their job; only 25% believe that training measurably improves performance; and only 12% apply the new skills learned in learning and development programs to their jobs.

But the fact remains: employees need workplace learning to be successful at work. So what’s the best way to improve the situation? The first step to solving the problem is understanding why it exists at all.

Related: 4 Reasons for Low Exercise Participation (and How to Change It)

How we learn at work today

When employees receive training these days, it often looks like long, exhausting seminars, multiple videos or mandatory lectures. Often, this content quickly becomes outdated and is not often updated.

But how do we actually learning is closer to the concept of forage information† According to this model, people calculate the probability that a source will give them the answer they are looking for, compared to the time it takes them to get the answer from that source.

So if your employees need to remember something that was presented to them during training, are they more likely to look up the recording of that training session or video? Or are they more likely to go directly to someone who can answer their question quickly?

Employees quickly forget what they learn

One of the main reasons traditional training doesn’t work is called “the forgetting curve.” In the late 19th century, the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus experiments performed on memory. His findings highlighted how quickly the brain loses new information, along with a visual representation of how learning fades over time — the Forgetting Curve.

Essentially, once we’ve learned something, there’s a sharp drop in retention if we don’t reinforce what we’ve learned. Most of us can recognize it if we’ve ever taken a long presentation or LMS course, only to find that we don’t remember much about it later that day.

We know from research that we need to reinforce learning regularly to avoid losing knowledge. But what does this reinforcement look like for an organization that tries to arm its employees with knowledge that helps them to be successful in their work?

It’s different in every situation, but there are steps we can universally take to improve the learning experience at work. Most people prefer to learn by doing, and the best time to learn this information is when it’s actually relevant and needed. Once we can connect learning to a real-life situation, it becomes easier to absorb.

Related: 3 Ways to Make Corporate Training Fun

5 steps to improve learning at work

The greatest benefit of researching how we learn as adults is that information must be presented that is relevant when it is needed, and in digestible or “snackable” bits. This is where “just-in-time learning” comes into play.

Just-in-time learning aims to deliver actionable bits of information the moment your employee needs it – remember, adults prefer to learn by doing. And because we all struggle with selective attentionwe need to deliver that information in a way that isn’t overwhelming.

Let’s take a look at five steps that can help make learning on the job successful.

  1. Make training relevant and current. Your employees want to learn information that actually helps them. Focus on how the information will benefit them and be more successful at their jobs. Why is this worth their precious time? Rather than bombarding your new hires with hours of information they probably won’t remember, provide microcontent information in small batches when they really need it. We have a limited attention span – the more digestible the information, the better.
  2. Consider the value of your employees’ time. Take into account the hourly wages of your employees and the time they are in training today. If you factor their hourly rate into the hours of training, how much will your lessons cost if the employee is not getting value and retaining knowledge? And if your employees think the training is a waste of their time, it’s even worse. They will likely multitask their way through the course. When considering your training program, make sure that the benefit is clear to your employees and that you develop your training with specific and measurable goals in mind.
  3. Involve your employees in the learning process. Are your employees actively involved in training or are they passive participants? Involving your employees in the training process is more effective for many reasons. First, peers respect peers. Second, colleagues naturally communicate more fluently with each other than with upper management or an instructor. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when your employees are involved in the process, they take responsibility for the outcome.
  4. Balance learning with physical needs. For your training to be successful, your employees need to be in a good place both mentally and physically. If you provide intensive personal training, make sure you have enough brain fracturestime for a walk or stretch, healthy snacks and encourage everyone to stay hydrated.
  5. Structure your learning program with a multifaceted approach. The need for your employees to retrain and upskill will continue to be important to your team’s success, especially as your organization strives to thrive through unpredictable change. But when it comes to learning, there is no magic bullet. The best method is to build a learning strategy that is versatile and broad for the benefit of the majority of your employees.

Learning on the job is broken today, but it doesn’t have to be. With these five steps, your employees can be more engaged, prepared and primed for success.

Related: 3 Corporate Training Resolutions for 2022

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