How to Motivate Employees to Learn at Work

Get Employees to Participate in Learning Benefits

Employee Learning and Development
••• © karelnoppe -

Learning is a critical component of any workplace. When employees are supported with ongoing learning benefits that enhance their skills and knowledge this leads to greater productivity and future innovation.

Perhaps this is why more than half of all US organizations are spending upwards of $1,000 or more per learner each year, based on research from Brandon Hall Group. Technical training tops the list of learning needs, follows by leadership development and compliance education. However, it can be difficult to get employees actively engaged in and participating in their learning benefits. 

Why Employees May Not Be Motivated to Learn at Work 

Sometimes, personal ideas, negative past experiences, and other factors can get in the way of effective employee learning programs. NST Insights shares the nine common barriers to employee participation in training, which must be overcome in order to get them to engage in learning benefits. These barriers include:

1. Over-Independence
Some employees do not want to be forced to participate in learning. They’d rather learn naturally and join in when they are ready to. Respecting employees and honoring their independence can help avoid this issue. 

2. Negative PerceptionsEmployees may have had a negative experience in the past with an instructor or some other form of learning. They may not bereave they are learning capable. They may just hate memorizing facts and taking tests. 

3. DistractionsThere are many adults who find it difficult to stay focused on learning efforts, and even more who have trouble finding time in between work tasks and other personal demands. Learning needs to be very flexible. 

4. Resistance to Change
Change is not always something that all employees embrace. In fact, many resist anything that’s new. This can come from past experiences that went poorly or just the way a person is built. Adults can become comfortable and avoid making changes. 

5. Selective Filters
Human beings generally only pay attention to things that they find stimulating. The may filter other things out. If the learning material is boring or irrelevant to their career, they are less likely to participate. 

6. Unclear Motivation
If an employee cannot answer the “why” behind the learning, they are less likely to be interested in it. After all, it takes effort to participate. Training is best presented as a way to solve a problem or satisfy the needs of learners. This is information that needs to be clear from the start and easy to apply to the work experience. 

7. Participatory Fear
Adults may experience anxiety over being involved in a social situation of learning with others. They may fear being judged or not being as smart as their peers. This barrier is a very real problem that instructors need to be mindful of. 

8. Established Preferences
Each learner has their own style and preference for learning, which is what comes naturally to them. They may resist other types of learning because they know this. For example, they may prefer visual earning as opposed to audio lessons. 

9. Fear of Failure
Nearly all people worry about failing at some time in their lives, but the fear becomes more real when faced with performing at work — in front of their peers. They may have testing anxiety as well, making it difficult for them to focus on learning instead of the assessment phase.

Strategies for Getting Employees to Take Advantage of Their Learning Benefits

Fortunately, it is possible to overcome the above and other barriers to learning in the workplace, in order to get employees to participate in their learning benefits. The following tips come from Christopher Pappas, the founder of eLearning Industry. In most cases, the subject matter of corporate learning doesn’t matter as much as the way that companies present learning to employees. It should be a regular part of the corporate culture and not the exception. 

Focus on the Benefits of the Learning for Employees 

When employees can see the real value and benefit to them as a result of participating in the learning effort, they are more apt to get excited about it. The learning should introduce the on-the-job application of the material so that employees understand how it will improve their career and effectiveness. Continue to emphasize this throughout the lessons to keep employees motivated and interested. 

Make It Easy for Learners to See How Far They’ve Come in the Learning Process

Learning modules can seem long and arduous unless there is a way to show progress for each learner. One way is by providing a completion timeline that shows learners what they have completed and what is left to complete. Another method is by rewarding completion badges to learners as they move through units. This can make them feel more motivated to learn more and earn recognition for their efforts. 

Develop a Foundation of Learning as Part of Your Corporate Culture

Employees who understand that learning is an expectation and part of the overall success of your company who have a better time accepting it. Learning should be a positive, community-building effort that brings talents and people together. Make this a benefit that all employees participate in, not an option that they can choose later on. Market learning across the entire organization by highlighting the achievements of employees who are pursuing their learning goals and career dreams. 

Make Learning Interactive and Introduce Variety

One of the chief complaints about learning is that it can become dull over time. This happens when learning and design teams neglect to mix things up using a variety of media and lesson layout. It’s important to include many types of learning content that honors the unique earning style of each person. For visual learners, written content, images, video, and live whiteboards work well. For audio learners, listening to the lesson plans combined with handouts are a great way to break things up. Tactile learners do best when they can practice hands-on lessons.

Try Incentivizing the Learning Process

As mentioned earlier, learners are most willing to complete learning by seeing progress. Adding an element of reward can also help them to achieve more in less time. Use regular incentives, like milestone and salary bonuses, peer recognition, graduation celebrations, and more to keep your employees learning. Gamification can also produce better results as learners earn immediate satisfaction for completing lessons and jumping through levels. 

Develop a Community Learning Experience 

All learning can be enhanced by introducing a social element to learning campaigns. Many companies set up an exclusive network of learners via a “secret” social networking group, where learners can collaborate and talk about their learning efforts. Others have in-person groups that help learners prepare for assessments, work on group projects, and more. Make this a fun effort with corporate swag that includes learning branded t-shirts, mugs, pens, and more. Introduce new students to the group and assign mentors from this social peer group.


Gather Feedback and Improve Learning Benefits

Make it a regular practice to ask for feedback from employees on what steps can be taken to improve the learning benefits your company offers. Find out what other companies are offering their employees too. This can be as simple as bringing in experts for lunch and learns, hosting conferences or sending employees to industry events, and finding out what employee want to learn the most. If they are college bound, work on creating a learning path that will help them earn credits towards their degree program.

Offer tuition assistance to your most motivated employees in exchange for their loyalty to the company. 

Treat your employees with respect as the capable adults and learners they are. Use the above methods to encourage them to make the most of their learning benefits at work.