What’s Missing in Workplace Learning?


People’s ability to learn effectively at work is essential. It is critical in the workplace as Baby Boomers give way to Gen X, Gen Y and now iGen (the internet generation, born 1986-2006, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics). Average length of employment is now 3.3 years per job, that means up to 17 jobs and 5 different careers in a work-life. Learning and development must be constant.


The 70 20 10 model is the go to model for workplace learning. However, there is a real danger that learning won’t happen or will not be effective, if a vital element is overlooked.


The Missing Element


Perhaps demands for constant stimulation, incessant action and instant achievement have made reflection unfashionable. Maybe non-stop meetings, unrelenting emails and 24/7 screen time has debilitated the ability to think deeply – or even to be alone with one’s thoughts. Studies by Wilson et al found that people so did not enjoy being in a room alone with their thoughts that 67% of men and 25% of women preferred to give themselves an electric shock! It seems we’d prefer to do something (even if it is painful) rather than nothing – and thinking counts as nothing.

Reflection is a precursor for learning. Reflection means hitting the pause button to review an experience, understand what happened, why it happened, and how good outcomes can be made great and suboptimal results improved. Reflection means celebrating and replicating success and taking the lesson from failures.


Without reflection, new and challenging activities, solving problems and practice means little is learned from experience. Experiential learning without proper reflection is not much more than trial and error. Mistakes are learning opportunities but they can be dangerous.


Without deep and critical, reflective thinking, communities, networks and sharing become mere echo chambers where only positive feedback is heard and coaching and mentoring are simply words. Social learning may mean picking up other people’s bad habits, poor attitudes and undesirable behaviours.


Without a reflective conversation afterwards, only 16% of participants transfer education and training to the workplace in any practical way. Less than 1 in 5 have manager-led conversations about what they learned and how they can apply education.


The Role of Mentoring


Good mentors and managers who mentor teach people to be effective learners. They model and facilitate reflection. They lead conversations that draw out learning and help people apply it in their work.

If you want workplace learning to work, managers and mentors must know how to:


  1. Build a learning mindset
  2. Engage employees in continuing development
  3. Lead reflective conversations


Learning Mindset


Daily review sessions have been shown to increase performance, productivity and happiness. Help people to find the lessons in in their work experiences with monthly, or better, weekly conversations. Encourage them to do their own daily review – perhaps using their commute to reflect, think and plan.


Engage in Development


Help them see their own role and responsibility in continuing development. Have them set their own learning goals, discuss personal benefits of learning, talk about their development progress. Provide positive and corrective feedback so that they get used to non-threatening conversations about development.


Reflective Conversations


Provide time and space to talk before and after formal learning. Prime them for the learning experience by discussing the objectives of the course, their expectations and yours and how the content relates to their world and work. Post-course, discuss what they gained, how they can implement it and the support they need. Follow-up with regular check-ins and progress updates.


We can’t afford to be “too busy” to learn at work. We must have learners, managers and mentors who are effective, focused and able. Our future depends on it.

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About Ann Rolfe

Ann Rolfe is internationally recognised as Australia's leading specialist in mentoring, and is available for speaking, training and consulting. Here Ann shares her knowledge and allows you to ask your most pressing questions about mentoring.

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