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5 Strategies to Support the Application of Learning on the Job and Improve Employee Performance

August 4, 2021 | By Asha Pandey


5 Strategies to Support the Application of Learning on the Job and Improve Employee Performance

Training must enhance employee performance. Formal training alone can’t achieve that – without measures for knowledge improvement, practice, peer learning, and feedback. In this article, I share 5 strategies to support the application of learning.

What Are the Limitations of Formal Training?

When employees are freshly onboarded, or existing ones are tasked to take on new responsibilities within the organization, the L&D team usually prescribes a set of trainings before they commence their new assignments. These formal programs are often role-specific and designed with the aim to introduce the “dos and don’ts” of a task, subject, or role to a learner. However, they aren’t geared to demonstrate the application of learning immediately upon course completion.

Training is supposed to enhance employee performance. The expectation is that employees, who enter a formal training program with little to no subject matter knowledge, must exit the program with a much higher level of performance than when they signed up for the program. Learners with relatively new exposure to a subject or skill, through a limited-duration formal course, must take that newly learned knowledge and immediately apply it to the workplace. And here lies the challenge!

Why Must L&D Teams Look Beyond Formal Training to Improve the Application of Learning?

When it comes to the application of learning in the workplace, the “train them and unleash them” approach has limited prospect success. Here’s why:

Most formal training programs are structured in a linear form and are of a limited duration. When there’s a significant amount of new information, knowledge, and skills to acquire, and subsequently apply to the job, formal, linear training does not work well.

And that’s why, typically, formal training programs aim to equip employees with just the baseline knowledge required to perform their roles. Employees develop the foundational knowledge needed through such programs.

However, that knowledge isn’t sufficient for immediate on-the-job application and performance improvement. Learners undergo a non-linear process to accumulate performance-improving new knowledge. This process includes ongoing learning, continuous practice, constant feedback, and frequent unlearning and relearning. It is only through this learning journey that the application of learning improves the performance on the job.

Facilitating performance enhancement in the workplace requires that L&D teams implement a purposeful strategy of on-the-job application of learning.

What Strategies Can Help You Improve the Application of Learning on the Job?

The 70:20:10 Rule explains how learning and development leads to on-the-job performance improvement. While formal learning is important, it only accounts for 10% of learning and development in the workplace. Most performance improvements (70%) occur through learning and experience on the job, with additional performance improvements (20%) attributable to learning from others as well as through feedback, coaching, and mentoring.

To enhance employee performance, through the application of learning in the workplace, L&D teams require to put strategies in place that offer:

  1. Continuous Learning: Help employees progressively improve their knowledge.
  2. Practice: Offer them opportunities to constantly practice what they’ve learned.
  3. On-the-job Experiences: Ensure learners enhance and refine their formal learning through on-the-job experiences.
  4. Social and Collective Learning: Create environments and networks through which employees learn from others within and outside the workplace.
  5. Feedback Loops: Share formal and informal feedback that learners then use to improve performance through better application of learning.

Here are some specific performance improvement strategies that employers may wish to consider, along with supporting post formal training tactics to improve the transfer of learning into the workplace:

  • Help learners build upon what they have learned in formal training.
    • Content curation: Carefully curated, relevant, and pertinent learning content helps save learning time. Use personalized learning paths to help learners learn in their own style.
    • Continuous learning: Make it easy, quick, and efficient for employees to continue their learning journeys. Microlearning, which embodies short, bite-sized learning content, is a great way to ensure continuous learning.
  • Create avenues for safe practice and learning through experience.
    Simulated environments offer learners a safe place to practice what they need for the application of learning on the job. Tools available to facilitate such learning include experiential learning, game based training, branching, scenario based learning, and simulations.
  • Enable learning on the job – by providing learning resources in the learner’s workflow through just-in-time learning aids.
    Learning in the Flow of Work (LIFOW) helps deliver learning at the point where there’s need. With Just-in-Time (JIT) learning, employees access knowledge on-demand, facilitating the application of learning and improving performance in the workplace. Using Performance Support Tools (PSTs), including learning aids, microlearning nuggets, and short-form video learning, also facilitates the application of new knowledge on the job.
  • Informal learning/social learning/coaching and mentoring so that learners can interact and learn from others. By facilitating – but not necessarily formalizing – L&D teams have a better chance of transferring knowledge to the workplace. This can be accomplished by offering self-directed learning, facilitating collaboration with others, enabling communication with SMEs, and generally encouraging observing, listening, enquiring, and connecting with other peers/colleagues.
  • L&D teams should enable progressive feedback sharing and ongoing periodic check-ins with the employees. Continuous (positive!) feedback can ‘nudge’ employees to adopt positive behavioral changes, thereby facilitating the application of learning in the workplace. Activate feedback loops throughout the flow of work – not just during milestone events (performance reviews or promotion interviews). To be effective in performance improvement, the feedback system must provide an opportunity for employees to act on feedback and then follow up with feedback providers – peers/coaches/mentors.

Parting Thoughts

Contrary to what some may believe, formal training alone isn’t the panacea for performance improvement. Employees, who receive formal training, must then translate knowledge into action through the application of learning in the workplace. I hope this article helps you apply the strategies discussed above, including ongoing learning, practice, reinforcing feedback, and informal and social learning, to help that application process.

Meanwhile, if you have any specific queries, do contact me or leave a comment below.

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