How to Craft L&D Programs that Motivate Employees to Learn

Posted on November 9, 2017

Yvonne Chen

Yvonne Chen

Head of Marketing, Udemy for Business

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We always get asked about the best way to motivate employees to learn. Everyone at work is busy running from meeting to meeting or checking email and trying to meet project deadlines. To get to the root of it, we surveyed 263 learning & development (L&D) managers, 425 employees, and conducted in-depth 1:1 interviews to get a better understanding of what motivates employees to make time for learning at work. All of the qualitative and quantitative data resulted in our new report that I’m excited to share with you today, What Motivates Employees to Learn: New Survey Insights.

What we discovered about workplace learning

People don’t learn at work based on who they are, what their title is, or what industry they’re in. Instead, employees are motivated to learn because of specific situations that arise at work.

We conducted our research through the lens of the Jobs-to-Be-Done framework—pioneered by Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen and used successfully by marketers at Snickers, Airbnb and Amazon. This framework is particularly effective to get inside customers’ heads and really understand how and why they use specific products or services. What I love about using this marketing approach in the world of L&D is that it goes beyond personas and demographics. Instead, by focusing on the work situation or moment employees find themselves in when they decide to start learning, we can begin to create meaningful learning experiences at work.

Why the work situation matters more than the person

More often than not, marketers look at who buys their product or service in the context of their demographics. But in the corporate L&D context, it’s not enough to know that an employee is male, age 35-40, and an engineer. That’s not how or why people choose to learn. Male engineers aren’t learning solely based on their age or department.

Instead, people at work are learning because of specific situations that arise at work. Perhaps it’s a recent promotion into a management role that sparks them to begin learning leadership skills, or maybe they’re scrambling to keep their programming skills fresh so they can continue to do their jobs effectively.

Whatever the work situation, in order to really motivate people to learn, we must craft our L&D programs around specific, recurring moments in the workplace.

What are the 4 key learning moments at work?

Based on our research, here are the 4 key workplace learning moments that drive employees to learn.

  • Learning to grow. Almost half of surveyed employees (45%) said they wanted an exciting challenge, project or new role to tackle and as a result, wanted to learn new skills. Employees in this learning moment have positive and optimistic feelings toward learning. They view learning as a tool they can use regularly to grow and get better. They’re excited to learn new skills and improve. Employees that are looking to advance their careers or get a promotion are often learning to grow.

  • Learning to catch up. A third of employees said they were learning because they needed to fill missing skills (31%). In this learning moment, employees are a bit more anxious, but they are still excited to learn. They view learning as a tool they can use to fill in any skills gaps they need to complete a project or simply perform in their role.

  • Learning for external change. 8% of those surveyed turned to learning as a result of an external change at work, a situation outside of their control. For example, the company may have decided to change programming languages, reorganize the team’s structure, or introduce a new tool. These external changes force people to learn. That’s why in this learning moment, people are a bit annoyed at having to take the time to learn. They didn’t instigate the change, something else caused it. They just want to learn what they need to know so they can get back to their normal work routine.

  • Always learning. An even smaller group of employees, 6% of those surveyed, were learning simply for the sake of learning. These individuals are your constant, motivated learners and natural evangelists for L&D. They find learning moments and opportunities everywhere and seek to learn in every work situation.

Crafting L&D programs and integrating processes

How can you leverage these 4 learning moments to motivate your employees? Create the right experiences and integrate processes around these learning moments. Here are a few examples of how to do this.

For learning to grow employees, creating the right experiences means working with your HR/People team to encourage managers to assign stretch assignments as well as enable horizontal and vertical growth opportunities within your organization. It also means investing in a learning platform that can provide meaningful learning recommendations to help individuals understand what they need to learn next. You can also integrate processes around this learning moment – for example discussing career development plans during weekly check-ins gives employees in this learning moment the visibility they need into what’s required of them to reach their career goals. As always, we must measure the learning outcome, not just the learning moment. Focus your metrics on whether the employee achieved his or her goals through learning, whether it was a promotion, completing a new project or learning a new skill.

For your more reluctant learners, like those who are learning for external change, you’ll need to be more creative to get them to learn. Create the right experiences like scheduling company-wide “Learning Hours” every month to encourage them to make time for learning. (See how we introduced monthly learning hours at Udemy). Or consider integrating Virtual Reality (VR) or gamification into your L&D programs to make learning more fun and engaging. Make sure your employees have bite-sized online learning videos so they’re able to get answers to quickly troubleshoot issues on the job. Integrate processes like introducing new tools or systems with step-by-step training guides to ensure quicker tool and system adoption.

Focus on creating L&D programs to motivate your learners

The Jobs-to-be-Done approach highlights your employees’ learning moments at work as they strive to reach their career goals or fill skills gaps. Rethinking L&D programs around these 4 learning moments can help boost employee engagement.

For more information on the 4 key learning workplace moments and how to craft L&D programs around these learning moments, download our latest report What Motivates Employees to Learn: New Survey Insights.

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