Employee performance, enhanced through learning, must directly align with corporate strategies, goals, and performance targets. To make this happen, learning programs must be measured against actual workplace performance enhancements. However, gaps between learning and performance result in non-transference of learned skills and knowledge at work leading to inadequate performance outcomes.
So, how can you ensure that learning programs drive performance in the workplace? What strategies should you adopt to improve the application of learning on the job?
In this article, I review why the gap between learning and performance matters and showcase strategies to bridge this gap to drive performance. You will learn:
- Why there is a need to establish a link between training, learning, and performance gain.
- What is the difference between learning and performance.
- How to ensure that your learning programs lead to desired workplace performance.
- What are the different aspects to consider to drive performance with learning.
- What strategies to adopt to drive performance through your learning programs.
Why Is There a Need to Establish a Link Between Training, Learning, and Performance Gain?
It’s a well-known fact that during the learning phase of new skills and knowledge, newbie practitioners (employees) often don’t perform to their full abilities. As employees strive to learn new skills and concepts, there is a visible disconnect – an inverse relationship between learning and performance. Yet, it is this gap between what learners should know and what the business needs that holds the key to performance enhancement.
When a learner is exposed to a new skill, they initially perform poorly at it. The act (or process) of learning, practicing, and remembering is painful, often leading to performance gaps in the workplace. However, it is the act of persistence in learning that ultimately leads to workplace performance enhancements. When designing performance-driving learning ecosystems, therefore, psychologists and educators are unanimous on one aspect – there is an inexplicable link between learning and remembering, and those links can be exploited (or leveraged) in the context of workplace metacognition.
What Is the Difference Between Learning and Performance?
Often, one can trace workplace performance deficits to gaps in employee knowledge or skill. By renewing the focus on knowledge acquisition and practice, L&D teams can help bridge those learning and performance gaps.
To understand what interventions are most effective to bridge the gaps in those two aspects of workplace dynamics, we need to appreciate the theoretical differences between each of them:
- Learning: It is the target of learning interventions, and it is what causes a seemingly permanent change in knowledge or understanding of the targeted skills in the employee.
- Performance: This is a measure of how employees fulfill their tasks and responsibilities, in line with accepted or desired behavior changes in the workplace.
Improved workplace performance is the target of specific employee learning interventions. At a very high level, learning is what (supposedly) drives performance. However, many such interventions fail to achieve their targeted goals. That’s because, despite attending specific learning programs, learning transfer does not occur – there’s still a learning and performance gap!
How to Ensure that Your Learning Programs Lead to Desired Workplace Performance?
Learning programs are typically just one (often a small) segment of an enterprise’s operations. Unfortunately, while other aspects of the business, such as manufacturing and sales, are directly measured against org-wide performance targets, learning outcomes aren’t held to the same standard.
To measure how learning contributes to performance, it’s important to tie learning objectives to learning outcomes and performance. Here’s how:
- Broaden the focus of Training Needs Analysis to enmesh learner asks and expectations: Recent events (post-COVID) have proved that the focus on only learning objectives is not adequate. It is critical to augment the traditional Training Needs Analysis (TNA) with a detailed Learning Needs Analysis (LNA) to align what the employee expectations are. Furthermore, how businesses can prepare them (employees) to meet those expectations through better training. Learning program objectives must be realigned to transform business practices and drive individual (employee) and collective (org-wide) performance. However, without first aligning the training to learner asks/expectations – with the aid of an LNA – success will be elusive.
- Tie learning objectives to learning outcomes (what the learner will be able to do upon completing the learning program): Thus far, learning programs were focused on “teaching” learners a set of skills/knowledge points mapped out in a syllabus or lesson outline. If learning leaders wish to drive organizational performance, it’s important that they focus, not on what the employee will learn – through training, but on what they’re expected to do with that learning once they return to the workplace.
- Ensure learning objectives and outcomes lead to performance: One of the biggest challenges of ensuring learning programs deliver measurable performance improvements is the disconnect between learning and performance goals and objectives. L&D teams train to one set of metrics, while business leaders watch for a different set of KPIs to measure performance. Harmonizing these two barometers will more effectively establish a link between learning objectives and outcomes, and resultant performance improvement.
Employee performance, enhanced through learning, must directly align with corporate strategies, goals, and performance targets. To make that happen, learning applications must be measured against actual workplace performance enhancements.
What Are the Different Aspects You Should Consider to Drive Performance with Learning?
Learning-facilitated performance improvement is a cycle of knowledge acquisition, retaining and practicing newly learned skills and knowledge, and applying those skills to the workplace. That’s the learning and performance lifecycle: Employees must acquire new knowledge, they must practice what they’ve learned, and they must apply it to work-related situations.
- Understanding and integrating learner needs and expectations: We’ve already underscored the need for an LNA. That process will set the stage for integrating the business expectations (of the employer) with the learning expectations (of the learner). Regardless of how well-thought-out a learning strategy is, if it doesn’t include aspects of learner needs and expectations, performance enhancements are unlikely to occur.
- Knowledge acquisition: Breaking content into bite-sized chunks; leveraging in-the-flow-of work and on-the-job performance support tools; and providing post-learning support through knowledge bases, job aids, and on-demand learning help learning and performance goals.
- Information retention: Learning retention facilitates its transference to the workplace. Information retention strategies include in-course quizzes, assignments, post-training reinforcement materials, and in-field performance support aids. They all help with learners’ ability to retain information and use it effectively in workplace situations.
- Learning transfer: This needs to align the extended definition of learning and must include:
- Practice: Practice makes perfect, but it can also be made “fun” through innovative learning strategies, such as Gamification, providing practice environments that closely mimic the workplace, and offering safe environments for learners to practice, fail, and re-apply their learning repeatedly.
- Application of learning on the job: A system of frequent reminders and nudges, about practicing, reviewing, and applying newly learned skills, can greatly help enhance performance. Establishing full-circle feedback loops – up, down, and sideways – also helps coaches, mentors, and trainers quickly correct flawed performance behavior. Embracing Agile learning projects, instead of longer lifecycle Waterfall approaches, can expedite the do-learn-perform-fail-redo loop by making learning and performance improvement adjustments earlier.
What Strategies Should You Adopt to Drive Performance Through Your Learning Programs?
- Support formal training through informal learning: Most formal training is linear-structured, time-limited, and produces limited performance improvements. To bridge that gap, support your learners through informal learning strategies, such as mentoring, coaching, and social learning.
- Nudge your learners, reinforce learning, and leverage spaced repetition to ensure learning retention: Performance enhancements do occur when learners continually practice what they’ve learned, retain that knowledge, and then apply it constructively to workplace situations. “Nudging” learners to review and revise prior learning and encouraging them into repeated practice can help modify deficient behavior, which leads to better performance.
- Invest in immersive and experiential learning programs to drive deliberate practice: Unlike static PowerPoint slides, audio instructions, or text-based page-turners, learning based on Simulations, Virtual Reality, 3D content, and Augmented Reality provides highly immersive learning experiences. Learning based on “learn by doing,” “learn and fail safely,” and practice in immersive environments can help bridge the learning and performance deficit.
- Leverage performance support tools/job aids to drive the application of learning on the job: Once on the job, it’s important to support learners with on-the-job performance enhancing tools, including templates, microlearning content, checklists, interactive PDF content, and other job aids, which help improve their performance through better application of learning in the workplace.
Gaps between learning and performance result in non-transference of learned skills and knowledge to the workplace. The best way to ensure learning results in better performance outcomes is to not just design learning programs that bridge skills deficits, but ones that also align with broader organizational performance metrics. When you ensure learning transfer occurs, and that transference translates into better workplace performance – that’s when learning outcomes will support organizational KPIs.
Learn how to design L&D programs that drive business performance.
Download this research brief developed by Brandon Hall Group in partnership with EI. The strategies and approaches shared in this research will help you create a stronger link between training investments and performance.
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