How to Develop, Track and Maintain Learning Consistency in the Workplace
A parking space close to the office. An empty email inbox. Employees who are consistent in their learning and development. All rare commodities in the work environment, but only one of the three impacts your business. (If you guessed an empty inbox, we’re sorry to tell you this is just a dream we included for narrative sake.)
Learning consistency is important for several reasons. It:
- Encourages buy-in from employees;
- Improves your bottom line; and
- Empowers a healthy, happy workplace culture.
And that’s just the SparkNotes version. How you define learning in your workplace will directly impact how your employees approach it and their work. If your organisation is inconsistent with their stance on and delivery of training, employees will be conditioned not to take it seriously. And that kind of mindset leeches into other areas; coworkers start to see each other as unreliable, creating a toxic and resentful work environment, leadership is viewed as unpredictable and employees may then give little weight to their words, and agreed-upon goals are seldom met.
So, what makes learning consistency so important in the workplace, and how can you inspire, track and maintain it? Let’s take a journey through learning consistency together.
Why is consistency important in an organisation?
Most people are hired on the basis of their perceived potential as much as the skills they offer, i.e., what they can accomplish in the days, weeks, months and years after they’re hired. Once a new hire has assimilated, spent a good amount of time building tenure and started to accumulate value for their organisation, the focus then switches to their productivity.
News flash: this is a flawed recruitment and performance review strategy, least of all because it focuses on what an employee can do over how they do it.
While quality output will always have its place as a performance indicator, consistency is an undervalued representor of an employee’s ability to provide the same—if not ever increasing—quality of work over a long period of time. Consistency brings order to the workplace, which:
Why you need to consider this
While not entirely wrong, a mindset that places value solely on employee output disregards the key to achieving quality work: consistency. Everyone can conjure a spark of excellence every once in a while. Consistent employees don’t get caught up in the throes of perfectionism, instead endeavouring to work within a process, produce the best work they can with their knowledge and skillset, and with the aim to further their organisation’s success. How an employee works also directly affects workplace culture, the services you provide and your bottom line. When work falls behind deadlines, other functions of business are impacted like customer or client services, sales, profit and, ultimately, reputation. Simply put: when your employees are consistent, your business is consistent.
Consistency in employee training
The bad news: consistent employees rarely walk into the workplace fully formed. The good news: they can be shaped, moulded and, dare we say it, trained. How do you train your employees to be consistent? Well, the best news of all is that if your organisation has a learning and development program (and if not, why not?), employees are already subconsciously learning how to be consistent through their coursework.
Right up there with the goal of learning new skills, a successful learning program should instil a love of learning and empower people to continuously create space in their busy lives to learn. Without that desire to learn, a learner simply won’t consistently engage with their coursework, and learner who dips in and out of their training won’t get the full benefits the program is designed to provide—and will likely take that flaky ethos into other areas of their lives, too, like their workplace. And after all that, a training program that hasn’t engaged learners isn’t worth the time or money it likely took to set up.
What causes learners to be inconsistent?
There are certainly a number of reasons that individuals may be inconsistent with their training efforts. Everyone has good and bad days, as a start. Most employees are already juggling demanding work and personal schedules. But speaking broadly, many learners can be inconsistent in study because of the way they perceive it. Namely, they may think of training, studying or learning as work, i.e. something they are being forced into rather than choosing to undertake. They could be unaware of the gaps in their knowledge or skillsets, and so stubborn to participate in development.
Think about it: if you don’t enjoy something, it’s an effort to do it once, let alone repeat the process. Your employees might see training as a burdensome addition to their schedules, rather than a freeing one (we’ll explain this later). There may also be a lack of direction or agenda around how often training should be done. A large training program may look scary when they’re at square one, so they may choose not to engage at all. The enemy of consistency is stagnancy and even the most committed learners will struggle to maintain the pace they enter into a program with if they are asked to learn in a dry way over and over.
Why learning consistency is important
If you’re not entirely sold on the inconsistency paradigm almost two minutes in, we’ve got a few more reasons why you need your employees to be consistent in their training:
- It improves the quality of their experience. If learners return to their training at irregular times, there’s a greater chance they’ll have forgotten previously acquired information that could be a necessary element of their progression. They might also develop the view that their training is a) a chore or b) not a priority in their schedules which may affect their willingness to engage. This can ultimately delay projects, workforce planning activities and just general productivity, if the necessary skills are taking too long to be developed.
- Consistent learning translates, in time, to lifelong learning. Lifelong learners enjoy attaining new knowledge, are more willing to try new things in the workplace and more open to feedback that can develop their skills.
- Along the same lines, consistent learning creates more consistent feedback. This is crucial when creating future courses and even adjusting existing ones that may be lacking. Inconsistent access may distort how a learner views their training and sway the tone of their feedback, which can affect the accuracy of data you collect from it and cause L&D leaders to make ineffective or even detrimental changes to material.
- It builds credibility. Learners who are more consistent on their learning pathways will have a better experience, provide more nuanced feedback, and therefore likely have a better view of the learning experience your organisation provides. It’s then a more reliable, trustworthy and valuable undertaking in their eyes, and one they may be more willing to commit to time and time again.
So, how do you keep employees consistent in their learning?
In five words or less: Through engagement and goal setting. Of course, it’s not that simple, and both of those concepts come with their own subtleties that can make them hard to achieve for an individual, let alone an entire workforce. But it can be done, and it’s best to help your employees become more consistent done through the very thing you’re trying to make them consistent with: their learning.
Identify the problem learning is addressing
This focuses on your organisation rather than your employees, but for good reason. You first need to make sure training is the right solution for the issues you’re addressing. And if you’ve skipped straight past problem identification, you need to go back to the drawing board. Training should never just be done for the sake of training, nor should it be implemented just because you recognise that it’s important—it needs to provide unique value for your organisation and employees alike.
If you don’t have a why you also won’t be able to design an effective or impactful learning and development strategy, let alone execute it right, and you might even end up doing more harm than good (see “Why learning consistency is important”, point 3, above). That’s why we implore you to give your training a meaning and understand the potential pitfalls as much as you do the benefits.
No matter the size of your organisation, training can be a large investment, least of all because it’s an ongoing process. The time you’re asking training personnel and learners to spend is precious. If training programs are haphazardly thrown together, learners will likely focus on the downfalls of the design and spend time trying to learn how to navigate that rather than the learning content.
On the other side of the investment coin is what your organisation is financially putting into it. eLearning solutions save on the costs of face-to-face training events, travel expenses for guest speakers and the commutes for employees, but they still require an investment (they are an evolving software that may need to cater to up to thousands of users, after all). Consider the costs of redeveloping an overly complex platform or repurchasing learning materials that are subject to change, such as compliance training, and you may find you’re out of pocket way more than the budget allowed for.
Time and money are more tangible resources, but morale is a gem often equally as rare in your organisation. A lacking or even frustrating training program can make you worse off than when you began; employees may actively disengage and start to view training as a time-intensive burden if they don’t understand the personal value or impact it is meant to have. And then you’ve just circled back to the original problem you’re trying to avoid.
There are three key factors to consider here:
- The purpose of training is to close gaps in skills, knowledge, aptitude and attitudes. It’s a way to link organisational objectives to employee’s day-to-day work and ultimately impact your bottom line.
- At best, it should be a core part of the value proposition you offer your employees that simultaneously ensures you have the capabilities (and capacity) to grow and remain competitive in your market.
- If you’re implementing training simply because you have an L&D budget that must be spent, a quota to fill or (please, say it ain’t so) you ‘know it’s important’ to have a training program, you’re simply wasting the opportunity to address the gaps in your business that may negatively impact or even halt your future objectives altogether.
Help your employees create personal goals
Finding employees with the right skills fresh off the bat is a hard ask for your recruitment team. But if you focus on finding employees with the right attitudes and foundation of skills, it becomes a whole lot easier to address the skills gap an individual may have, which in turn makes it a whole lot easier to design training that will keep them consistent. Confused? Let’s go back to the beginning.
You may have heard of something called a learning pathway. Just as you can chart a career, you can easily map out the learning journey you want an individual to go on—in fact, the two are complementary. Take that new employee with a good baseline skillset. You see the potential in them. They are driven and express aspirations to ascend in your organisation. A learning pathway allows you to demonstrate the training and development steps they will personally need to take to progress.
We use the word personally because a learning pathway should be tailored to an individual. It can be helpful and efficient in this case to have pre-existing pathways that chart the general path of progression through job roles in your organisation, as these can be easily tailored as needed for individuals while providing a clear overview of succession for your HR leaders. The idea is that a learning pathway gives your employees a direction and goals to work towards and puts the power in their hands to achieve it. (Keep this in mind for later)
Focus on small milestones
Being consistent is not an inherent human quality. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—most often, consistency is surrendered in favour of adaptability, which is itself a highly attractive quality in an employee. You want employees who can adapt to both internal and external environmental change with minimal disruption (and you can train for adaptability, too). But that doesn’t mean you can’t have it all; you just need to give small but enticing breadcrumbs that imbue consistency into your workplace culture.
The key is to focus on incremental improvements. That whole schtick about breaking big tasks into smaller, more easily achievable chunks? It has legs. The more scientific term is microproductivity, and it refers to the phenomenon of achieving a large goal through smaller tasks. This is particularly important when it comes to employee training. We’re working in an ‘always on’ work culture. Forbes rather aptly calls it the age of freneticism, and it’s directly linked to higher work-related stress levels. It’s just not feasible to ask employees to block out large chunks of time in their calendars to dedicate to work—especially if you’re aiming to foster consistency. What does a multi-day training program teach them about being consistent, for example, if they don’t have to replicate those efforts?
So, back to our original point. Microproductivity is the best friend of an eLearning staple, microlearning. Breaking learning down into smaller, more digestible morsels is a great way to encourage consistency because:
- It gives learners control by allowing them to schedule training when it suits them. The sneaky benefit here is that by breaking down long courses into a number of short ones, learners will need to return time and time again to understand an overarching concept—which means they will have to be consistent with scheduling time for recurring training.
- Smaller tasks, like a 10-minute video or quiz, are much more enticing than an hour-long lecture simply because the perceived demand on the learner is lessened. This helps boost knowledge retention by 20% since learners don’t suffer from information overload or fatigue.
- Microlearning enables instant information processing and self-reflection because it lends itself to social interaction and knowledge sharing, especially when employee learning is supported by tools such as instant messaging and on-the-job training.
We’ve talked about giving employees a reason to start and maintain learning. How do you make sure they’re consistent post-training? You need to give them the context in which to apply it. Many employees will lack the initiative to apply learning instantly in the workplace, they simply forget what they’ve learned or even fail to see how it can be applied to their day-to-day tasks. So, the way to make learning stick is to make it sticky.
Provide opportunities for on-the-job learning
Training transfer is a hands-on approach to teaching the skills and knowledge employees need to perform a certain job role in the workplace. It’s particularly useful because it helps employees learn how to adapt their knowledge to the context and environment in which they’re working. There are many skills you’ll likely be training for that lend themselves to on-the-job training: Leadership, communication and manual handling skills are often better demonstrated first-hand and complemented by written materials. It also gives employees the opportunity to turn mistakes into lessons, particularly if they have access to a mentor or coach who can help them utilise critical thinking skills.
Encourage knowledge sharing
When we talk about context, we’re talking about the workplace culture in which these skills are either needed or will be introduced into. Culture is often difficult to define since it’s omnipresent, shaping job satisfaction, work processes and the relationships between coworkers. And as culture itself is learned through interaction, it’s important to weave knowledge sharing into the fabric of your workplace.
When you talk about developing skills, behaviours and attitudes in terms of the culture in which they will exist, you have a chance to stop bad habits that may form from cognitive strain. Shared interactions (e.g. team projects and meetings) are a learning activity requiring minimal effort and allowing employees to easily absorb information and act on it repeatedly. And, again, since shared interaction dictates workplace culture, the more employees, managers and executives alike affirm what they’re learning against what others have learned, the more you can trust the right skills and knowledge are being reinforced.
The challenge of a distributed workforce
It’s more and more common for organisations to have geographically diverse workforces. Remote workers, multiple offices and a dash of contractors, casual employees and volunteers in the mix make for an incredibly diverse workforce. There’s also diversity of nationalities and disabilities to consider as well.
This can throw a spanner in the works of large-scale training and development programs. It’s certainly a challenge to maintain standards across a diverse workforce when the goals individuals, teams and even different locations have are different. The way around this is to utilise an online learning management platform.
Personalised learning pathways
Yes, we’ve already spoken about personalised learning pathways. But we’ll enumerate again on their benefits when it comes to establishing learning consistency in a diverse workforce because they’re a popular mainstay of eLearning solutions. And when it comes to fostering learning consistency across a highly diverse workforce, tailored training programs become all the more crucial because:
- The learning pathway is underpinned by the ethos all learners can build on personal strengths while developing skills or knowledge that may be lacking—given the right conditions.
- Personalised learning improves motivation and engagement by demonstrating how training complements or enhances the learner’s working life (including their interpersonal relationships, skills and career prospects).
- Personalised learning pathways are inherently tailored to and dictated by the learners’ needs, motivations and aspirations.
- They convey a sense of confidence in learners, because not only are they built off the idea knowledge gaps can be closed, they demonstrate it.
A learning pathway maps the course an individual needs to follow to achieve certain learning milestones and goals. Generally speaking, the content tied to each step along a pathway becomes more and more advanced as the previous knowledge learned is used to inform future assessments. And to ensure that there is value assigned to a learning pathway, content is usually curated to be highly relevant to an individual’s current skillset and the organisation’s ideal future skillset.
We’d also ask you to consider prompting employees. Sometimes one’s cup runneth over. A key part of the learning pathway is guiding learning to embed consistency in application. This could look like pop-ups that ask employees to ‘pick back up where they left off’, notifications of overdue work or email reminders that gently nudge employees back into the present.
When you tailor achievable learning steps to an individual’s career and knowledge needs, you demonstrate your care and investment in their development. This is more likely to inspire motivation to complete their work, especially when the pace of learning can be moderated by the learner.
It is crucial to assign coursework to learners that is entirely relevant to them. Generalised content has its time and place, but the challenges a diverse workforce faces vary wildly. Say you have an entry level employee in a marketing role. They’re a new grad, so they have a good foundation of theory but not a lot of practical knowledge. You can create a pathway that includes on-the-job training with various other departments, so they can be understand how marketing is informed by different functions in your organisation. This might be supplemented with other short courses, via third party content providers, that develop their marketing, management and leadership skills, ultimately helping them progress in their career. You may even connect them with a mentor who can be a source of truth and instruction for them, especially when it comes to relating training to their day-to-day tasks. Now, you wouldn’t necessarily offer this exact learning pathway to someone working in human resources or finance, but you can see how important it is to ensure the content employees are learning is unique to their role and aspirations.
Your employees are individuals, so treat them as such. Many LMSs even utilise AI to learn what employees are already consuming and source content that will help them progress along their pathway. Take the time to understand the challenges each job role is facing and you’ll better encourage learning consistency amongst employees needing solutions to everyday problems.
There’s also the question of what types of content are appropriate. Where possible, provide multiple options for accessibility—especially if you have employees with disabilities. Complementing in-built device options like screen readers, many LMSs will allow you to create or upload the same content in multiple formats. You may have transcripts for lectures or audio recordings with written materials. Maybe you hadn’t considered those amongst your workforce who are colour blind, and therefore need high-contrast text and colours for content to be legible.
Accessibility also plays into discoverability (and both contribute to usability). Consider:
And lastly, humans are simple creatures. If something is not easy for us to navigate, we will check out. Consider the table of contents at the beginning of a book or how supermarkets are organised. The information we need is easy to find. A poorly designed learning program will further inhibit the consistency with which learners engage. Best practice is to utilise microlearning techniques, create opportunities to learn in the flow of work, and present information in a way that an individual would ordinarily consume information.
Content should cater both to an individual’s learning needs and style. Making learning as easy to use as possible makes it more engaging, more readily accessible, less of a demanding process and inspires a higher level of learning consistency.
Consistency in compliance training
If there’s one area of employee training and learning where all participants need to be consistent, it’s compliance training. It’s rarely the highlight of anyone’s time at work, least of all because the subject matter is often dry, it’s mandatory and it can often be a time-intensive endeavour. Without it, though, liabilities can arise that ultimately affect clients, customers and your organisation, should hefty fines, loss of licenses or damage to reputation occur. Still, most employees see it as boring and a leech on their precious time, which can cause snags in consistency and engagement.
So, now we’ve outlined the not-so-good, how can you ensure employees are consistently engaged with compliance training? It’s a matter of making sure your organisation is consistent with delivering a certain standard of training.
Tracking and reporting
Tracking and reporting are different sides of the same coin. Tracking is a real-time process, and while reporting can be, it’s often an aggregate view that provides meaningful insights to help improve the learning process. The onus is on you to monitor performance and progress for all of your employees, and the reporting and tracking functions of your LMS can really be your saving grace. Let us count the ways:
- Reporting can enable effective monitoring of individual learning progress, so you can keep make sure individuals are accurately assessed in understanding and awareness of compliance issues.
- Tracking learning means you are training the right people at the right time, and not after the fact or entirely unnecessarily.
- These two combined enable you to provide well-informed and ongoing constructive feedback to learners, so they can understand their own limitations, strengths and better self-reflect on their own progress.
- Reporting and tracking give you the benefit of both micro and macro viewpoints, so you can see the statuses of training programs and individuals and more proactively manage issues in either.
Why this really matters
The range and diversity of compliance courses that may be necessary in your organisation is daunting. Combine this with a workforce that may number thousands and it’s a mammoth task to ensure your organisation is consistently tracking individual compliance. You lead by example, so if your organisation lets compliance fall to the wayside, employees will follow suit—and compliance is the one form of training you really don’t want to be inconsistent.
Consistency is also important when you have to approve the certifications, qualifications and licenses of all of your employees as well. The more consistent you are with tracking learners’ compliance training, the more consistent they will be with staying compliant, and the more consistent you’ll be in keeping your organisation qualified. It is, quite literally, a cycle (and it’ll only be vicious if you let it).
Aligning learning with business outcomes
Look, there’s no way around this one. Learning outcomes should always be tied to business outcomes. The Harvard Business Review talks about this in terms of measuring the business outcomes created by training the right people to learn the right thing and for the right reasons. People learn best when they have to learn. There’s a motivation, a sense of pressure, and intrinsic determination to complete training in order to apply it. We’re not telling you to make all training mandatory, but rather to be open about why employees need to be consistently learning.
Think about it: your goals and objectives are usually tied to a fairly inflexible timeline. You want to achieve X in Y amount of time from now. Consider then the impact a lack of consistency in learning and development—that is designed to contribute to the success of business objectives—will have on achieving X in Y amount of time. It could be as simple as a project not being completed on time, because a key employee didn’t complete a necessary course on time. Maybe a person you had highlighted for succession demonstrated an inconsistent commitment to their learning pathway, and this has left them without the skills needed for the new position and you without a candidate for a crucial role. Your industry has experienced a sudden change in trends and your workforce at large didn’t have the skills to adapt, putting your organisation in a precarious position. We could go on, but you get the picture.
Why this really matters
An engaged workforce drives business results, yes, but this isn’t possible if:
- You don’t connect your workforce to your business outcomes through training, which is irrelevant if…
- Learners don’t engage in a consistent schedule for that training.
It’s particularly important when it comes to compliance training (though still relevant to all employee development) to ensure employees understand how their work, ethos and attitudes impact your bottom line, and in turn, how that bottom line also impacts their own career growth. But if learners aren’t consistently accessing that training, they may forget small but crucial information that contributes to the larger picture (aka business outcomes).
To sum it up
Here’s the thing: inconsistency is much more noticeable than you think. It’s a silent, permeating phenomenon that convinces people to do something tomorrow that should’ve been done today. (Or perhaps the day after. Or even next week if you’re really busy.)
But it takes time to build learning consistency, which makes it a long-term investment some organisations put off or don’t even consider. Inconsistency, on the other hand, is much more obvious upfront. It’s a silent, permeating phenomenon that convinces people to do something tomorrow that should’ve been done today, showing up everywhere from leadership not following through on promises to employees missing deadlines. On the other hand, a consistent person:
- Is a role model.
- Does exactly what they say they will.
- Honours commitments.
- Strives for improvement.
- Sets high standards above what is expected.
A consistent person is also a consistent learner. They continually show up for training sessions, revisit work and seek out new opportunities to progress—not just for themselves, but in order to drive success for their organisation. And this is why you want to develop employees to become more consistent in their learning (via means of learning pathways, on-the-job training and astute reporting). Not only will they apply their newfound skills and knowledge better, but the quality and frequency of their output will be more consistent—which means your business will ultimately and consistently achieve its goals, too.
Book a call with the team at Acorn today and let’s build the best LMS for you, together. We’ve maintained a 100% retention rate since launching thanks to our incredible platform, great customer service and people-focused approach. So get in touch with one of our eLearning experts for a free discussion about how we can help you truly unlock the potential of your employees.
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