Maximizing Learning At Work Holistically

Making the most of the learning we should be experiencing within the workplace requires looking at learning as a whole—from the organization’s perspective right down to the individual’s needs.

What did you learn at work today?

Sometimes that seems like a tough question to reflect on and answer. It is difficult to realize that learning should be happening on an ongoing basis. Too often, we think learning only occurs in a classroom or through some online-delivered learning content.

Learning should not always be about theoretical approaches and trying to integrate new knowledge and skills into our workday. Learning should be happening in the real world each and every day at work, home, and play.

Maximizing the learning we should be experiencing within the workplace requires looking at learning as a whole—from the organization’s perspective right down to the individual’s needs.

Let’s explore this topic through two categorical lenses and with some questions you can use to evaluate learning in your own organization.


1. What are the overall learning objectives and expectations from the company? Most formal educational courses have established specific, behavioral learning objectives. From these criteria, learners and organizational leaders can evaluate an individual’s skills and knowledge and the instructor’s effectiveness.

However, other than possible performance development needs, rarely does leadership articulate what the organization expects from learners going into a learning experience or what they will do with what they’ve learned afterward.

Leaders need to provide more of a strategic focus of what the company needs employees to be learning. That way, employees can decide if their personal interests mesh with what the company needs.

2. Is the learning aligned with the strategic goals and organizational culture? Most often, learning comes from an individual motivation or need. What if those desires were meshed with the company’s strategic goals, so you could feel your learning would make a difference?

Let’s look at the learning programs we sponsor as an organization and ask how they enable a participant’s ability to reinforce the living of our values. Sometimes we need to develop conflict resolution skills and collaboration, so we can have those hard conversations that identify neglected problems and lead to innovative solutions.

3. How is learning synchronized with the job design and work expectations? Typically, many of the training and learning programs we send people to address compliance needs or required new skills. What we also should be doing is sculpting the career path with employees so learning is preparing them for future job demands and potential.

Many employees share how their jobs have evolved over time, along with the nature of the work itself. But they often are not being trained to do these new tasks well. Improving the quality and effectiveness of the work through appropriate learning can help employees be more productive.

4. What are the talent and performance management requirements? We keep hearing about the challenges of finding skilled and prepared people to fill positions. The greatest resource strength comes from within your own organization. Map out your talent acquisition needs and see if you can’t develop the people you already have with the right learning content.

The same goes for developing people following performance management reviews. Natural development needs can be identified through these reviews and signed off on as an employee’s learning plan over the next year or so.


1. What does the employee want to learn? You might think you know your employees. But ask them what they would like to learn and you might be surprised. Consider some learning opportunities as pure recognition of the individual’s contributions.

Certain subjects might appeal to several of your employees. When you identify this for a few of your employees, it might merit creating a group-learning situation.

2. Is delivery of the learning at the pace and style they prefer? Ever been in a course where you wish the instructor would finish already? We need to do a better job of assessing each employee’s learning preferences. Armed with this knowledge, you can assist employees with finding the desired learning content delivered the right way just as they would like it.

Some people will do better with in-class instruction and require some follow-up and homework. Others are self-motivated, independent learners who like and can navigate online e-learning programs without difficulty.

3. What are the rewards or benefit for taking this learning? You can’t ignore the “what’s in it for me?” motivation of the learner in taking selected learning programs. There will be personal benefits for doing so, of course. But where will this learning program take this employee along his or her career path? It could elevate chances of promotion or taking on new job responsibilities.

By making learning a part of the organizational psyche, peers will look favorably upon their colleagues acquiring knowledge and skills that fit their needs. Learning should be an inclusive rather than exclusive experience. This allows friends at work to encourage one another to keep learning.

4. How are employees encouraged and recognized for completing the learning? It goes far beyond the certificate of completion. What about setting some personal learning goals shared with your manager before attending the learning program? Then you can share a report and the outcomes of your goals with your manager afterward.

With permission, managers can highlight employees’ attendance at the learning opportunity at a staff or team meeting. Consider inviting them to give a lunch-and-learn session on what they learned or write a review to be shared with team members.

When a company provides supervisory or management programs and leadership curricula, we tend to think of the learning opportunities given to the employees. We must turn this idea around and allow employees to teach us what they’ve learned formally and informally on the job, so we can all progress and grow.

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at or visit

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