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Robin Hoyle

Huthwaite International

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

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Engage or die


How can organisations breed a strong culture of ‘self learning’ and what can training managers do to engage and support staff? Robin Hoyle explains.

It’s no secret that most people find it difficult to self-learn. It is not easy. Regardless of this organisations increasingly expect employees to do even more learning on their own; in their own time and often in addition to their normal daily workload. Unfortunately many businesses set themselves up for immediate failure by spending more time thinking about the content of the learning programme and not enough time on supporting and nurturing the culture of the business and the individuals who are expected to complete it.

Unfortunately many employees might have convinced themselves that they don’t need to learn (or that they don’t really want to), so why should they complete a programme off their own back if they don’t believe it will benefit them? Food for thought, but in reality the trend is going in the self-managed learning direction and learners need to begin to accept that – communicating the real benefits of any learning is therefore crucial if training managers are to get buy in from those expected to embrace it. Of course employees have the opportunity to create a better learning experience for themselves via feedback and engagement, but they need to be encouraged to do so.
Many organisations may find that they are constantly battling the same scenarios so here are a few reality checks as well as some hints and tips on how training managers can encourage and support more productive self-managed learning across the organisation:

Some common scenarios:


1. Support and give advice in terms of what employees might need to do differently to juggle their workload with learning.

  • Encourage staff to diarise their learning. It sounds obvious but if employees plan time to complete learning (perhaps on the same day/time each week) it will help. 
  • Suggest that learners make a commitment to someone else. “I’m completing my learning on Tuesday between 3pm and 4pm”. Highlighting the fact to others that an employee is in the ‘process of learning’ will ensure others respect their space during the process, allowing them to focus on the task in hand. “I’m doing my learning at the moment so please don’t interrupt me”. If you were in a meeting people wouldn’t disturb you, so encourage your employees to treat learning in the same way so you can give them some quiet time to concentrate. This may mean communicating more effectively with line managers so they too are in support of learning and will allocate time for this to take place.
  • Don’t push employees to complete training in one chunk – just so you can tick off another box. Remember it’s ‘self managed learning’ and the value lies in allowing employees to take things at their own pace, which suits their own personal style of learning. Make sure employees understand this and reassure them that it’s okay to organise their learning in small chunks of around 20 minutes per session as it will be much easier to digest. Ploughing through reams of material for hours on end will have little benefit.


2. Is this module really mandatory for everyone?

  • Unfortunately many businesses become so absorbed in the content of the learning programme that they overlook the fact that they may be teaching people things they already know or don’t necessarily need to know. That’s why it is vital to give your employees the opportunity to feedback on their learning. You need to establish if; the learning is really relevant for them, and if it is or isn’t working for them. It is very unlikely that every learning module created needs to be mandatory so you need to find out from staff first, if it’s really relevant for them.
  • Think about putting some relevant tools in place to allow staff to give feedback. This could be as simplistic as a feedback form, or email template which can be sent straight back to the training manager.
  • You could move your training into a Web 2.0 arena.  Implementing a Learning Management System on Web 2.0, would dramatically change the world of learning in your organisation. It would mean all the features we take for granted on web sites such as Amazon can be brought into play, with recommended learning options rather than dictated learning with no options.
  • Most importantly it will allow the learner to give feedback about the learning they have received via the system, star ratings, users’ reviews and recommendations to other learners. This could prove invaluable information for training managers to review, update and improve training for their employees.
  • It will also allow for line managers to review and track what e-learning programmes have been undertaken by their teams.
  • If you already have these tools in place encourage staff to use them and to give honest feedback. Don’t ignore feedback; use it constructively to make improvements where necessary. You need to ensure that the time and money invested in training delivers some real value to your business.

3. Are we right to be encouraging learning online? Or should we move back to the classroom? 

  • This is an argument that in the current climate, is becoming harder to win. Organisations have long realised and universally accepted the benefits and efficiency of online learning. Besides, there will always be people that complain about learning and development regardless of where or how it takes place. This is usually because learning involves change, which many people are resistant to.
  • Make it clear to staff why online learning may be better than traditional learning methods and that there may in fact be something in it for them. Learners can work at their own pace, they don’t have to spend time travelling to and from different locations and they don’t have to endure a ‘lecture style’ training session complete with reams of Powerpoint slides that are likely to go ‘in one ear and straight out of the other’.
  • Highlighting these benefits to the learner will ensure a positive attitude towards learning, or at the very least they should appreciate the benefits that it can bring in terms of personal career progression.
  • Actively encouraging ‘self managed learning’ has its many benefits, but this doesn’t mean you can just sit back and relax once the training programme is set up. There is still an element of management at every stage of the learning process. Breeding a culture of self managed online learning may even mean implementing a stricter policy for employees. Checking that the learner has completed the pre-work for the training for example, could be an important element and may mean you have to pull an individual off of a course if they haven’t done so. The training will offer little value if the learner hasn’t put the time in to do the ground work.
  • These measures may seem extreme but will ensure that employees and managers alike recognise the value of the online training process.

4.Your employees have completed their learning. Now what?

  • Once an employee has completed online training make sure they do something with what they have learned, even if it is simply explaining it to someone else. Learners need to use their newfound knowledge quickly to consolidate and reinforce it. If they don’t, it will just become something they once looked up (that they will need to look up again). But the likelihood is they won’t, because they believe they’ve already learned it, so they will carry on regardless doing it in a half-remembered way or worse case, they will revert to doing it the way they always did it in the past. 

If training managers can encourage and support ‘self managed’ learning then they can ensure real value from their training investment. Employees are more likely to have successfully completed their online training and actually put what they have learned into action.   Listening to feedback will help assess the value of the training for those individuals and ultimately improve training for the future.

Learners will also start to understand that it is a financial and economic reality for businesses to use online self-managed learning – and it is going to happen more. So rather than fight it, with the right support and encouragement from management they can rise to the challenge, understand, recognise and embrace change via the process of providing constructive feedback.

Robin oversees all learning design activities within Infinity Learning and was nominated for outstanding contribution to the training industry in successive years 2006 and 2007. A regular judge at the World of Learning Awards, Robin has also been a key speaker at the European eLearning Conference in Monte Carlo, Learning Technologies, Word of Learning, CIPD’s HRD conference, and the HR Forum.  Read Robin's blog on TrainingZone.

Author Profile Picture
Robin Hoyle

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

Read more from Robin Hoyle

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