5 Myths about Employee Learning

Here are some common misperceptions about corporate education— and how to get beyond them.

Under what circumstances do organizations embrace a learning culture?

Often, it’s when they go through dramatic change, prompting leaders to take the time to uncover what is not working when their company is struggling, or even failing. Yet many organizations find that their time and energy are focused on navigating an increasingly complex global economy and advances in technology, leaving little time to build a learning culture. Building such an environment has never been more critical than today, given those very complexities.

HR practitioners define the value of the learning experience. They are vital partners in developing effective corporate learning programs within their organizations.

Below are five myths about learning and insights that debunk them. Do these statements ring true for your organization?


1Myth #1: Our employees don’t have time to engage in learning programs, especially if it takes them away from work.

Leaders with vast responsibilities will tell you that they learn the most when they have time to think about their work, their challenges, and their values. Getting away from the day-to-day demands and experimenting with ideas has a value that may be hard to quantify. At work, employees find themselves bombarded with continuous emails, tweets, meetings, and information overload that distract them from learning. Research has shown that these constant stimuli hurt short- and long-term memory.

The most powerful learning experiences require all aspects of the learner to be engaged, so organizations must create programs that stimulate learners emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally.

Examine the learning experiences you offer to your workforce, and help employees see why time spent learning will add to their value and to the value of the organization.


2Myth #2: If we offer our high-potential employees learning experiences, they will take that learning and leave.

This is a common fear—but what is really happening when you lose a high-potential employee? People leave when they don’t have the opportunity to practice, to innovate, to experiment with new learning and new ideas. The real question is, “Do we have an environment, a climate, where learning is valued?”

Silicon Valley is the perfect example of the kind of place where organizations are on the edge of learning all the time. Businesses are focused on innovation and competition, and the corporate cultures support and value learning—it is a competitive advantage.

People who learn and leave hurt the organization not because they are taking intellectual property or competitive information but rather because they are taking a mindset, and knowledge drives results.



3Myth #3: To be effective, learning needs to be experiential, not theoretical.

Effective learning is both. Organizations must embrace the experiential part of learning and give learners opportunities to apply theories based on evidence. Employees want learning that is applicable to their day-to-day challenges. HR professionals must grapple with this duality. If theories are too simplistic or overly pedantic, learners lose interest and check out. It’s important to foster a learning environment that helps deepen our understanding of business realities, and what to do about them.

Consider, for example, the role of personal bias in the everyday decisions leaders make. That’s when the classroom comes alive. Everyone has a practical takeaway. The next decision a leader makes will be much more informed.


4Myth #4: Employees learn best online because they don’t have to worry about looking stupid in front of their peers.

Creating learning experiences in the classroom and on the job must give learners a chance to let down their guard and actively engage in learning. Among executives, there is a subtle, often unspoken sentiment that they have a lot more to lose if they show that they still have things to learn. At Wharton’s Aresty Institute of Executive Education, when we get a group of senior executives in a classroom of peers, their image and self-importance often accompany them into the room. Perhaps the popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is driven partly by the reluctance of many adults to reveal just how much they don’t know. While it might be convenient to learn away from peers—and it reduces initial awkwardness—MOOCs do not capitalize on the richness of learning from others and of reflecting on your unique approach to leading. A well-designed online program includes interaction among teams, small groups, and faculty.


5Myth #5: To be a learning organization, we need an initiative around it.

Learning is not something you can package into a program; it’s part of an organization’s culture. It is something you must do every day. To think that someone can operate in a leadership role without learning from his or her mistakes and embracing new ideas is shortsighted. Leaders learn from their experiences. A key reason many executives are derailed on the job is that they quit learning.

For more information on Wharton Executive Education’s programs, contact +1.215.898.1776 (worldwide) or execed@wharton.upenn.edu, or visit: www.WhartonForOrganizations.com



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