It’s really hard to just sit down and study.
You’ve been there before. For example, in high school, there was always a class that bored you, and you would daydream instead of watching the teacher or doing your homework.
Or in college, it was almost always impossible to focus on the material for an upcoming exam–all of a sudden, it was time to get some coffee, dust under the bed, have lunch, or simply wonder, “Why do I have to learn all this anyway?”, “What’s the point in life?” and so on. During one of his lectures, the famous psychology professor, Jordan Peterson, gives a fantastic example of this thought process.
Boredom and lack of focus are typical examples of barriers to learning. Such barriers make people feel unmotivated, and as a result, they miss the opportunity to learn what they need to know to develop themselves. Sadly, learning obstacles don’t just go away after college, as adults are required to continue their learning journey in the professional world, too.
Learning challenges employees face could make training a not-so-pleasant experience and put the entire learning objective at risk. Simply organizing and delivering training hoping it will be effective, won’t do the trick. Following best practices isn’t equal to learning. It’s mandatory to turn the spotlight to learners and provide training that boosts their experience.
Thus, it’s essential to discover how to address learning roadblocks to foster growth and development.
9 barriers to learning and how to overcome them
Learning roadblocks can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic barriers that block an individual’s learning process or negatively impact its results can be personal attitudes, beliefs, or health conditions. Extrinsic barriers are those found in the individual’s community (i.e., their workplace) and can distract or prevent learners from achieving their learning goals.
So, what are the most common barriers to learning in the workplace, and how can they be identified and addressed?
To discover the barriers to learning, it’s important to look for signs in learners’ behavior that show resistance to training, poor attendance rates, and unmotivated participation.
But just identifying the indications won’t suffice. It’s necessary to find the root cause. For instance, finding out that a training program has low participation numbers is a sign you need to dig deeper and explore any barriers to learning.
1. Resistance to change
Sometimes, training can make people feel like stepping outside their comfort zone. Perhaps your employees might not be ready to grow and develop when you want them to, which is why they’re (self) sabotaging the learning process.
For example, your teams might have a “know-it-all” attitude. They presume there is nothing new in the industry, and it’s unnecessary for them to attend more courses or take further training. Or, especially in online training, they are somewhat hesitant to use new technologies. Meaning they feel non-tech savvy, and thus they cannot adapt to the digitization of training.
Sadly, such beliefs can hinder the success of your much-needed organization’s learning and development program.
Solution: First, let your learners know beforehand how the specific training program will help them and how. Include all the benefits it offers but also the training formats (quizzes, short videos, coaching sessions, etc.)
Then, if you are using technology, provide assistance (video tutorials, emails with clear instructions, IT support) so that learners won’t have to worry about how to access their online courses.
Last but not least, opt for learning software with a user-friendly interface so that all teams can use it with little or no discomfort.
2. Inability to focus
One of the biggest challenges to learning is that even if your employees are willing to take up training, they have difficulty focusing during the process.
Workplaces are hectic and noisy environments. Employees (in-house and remote) have much to juggle during work hours, and distractions slow down task completion. According to a study by Teamstage, 98% of employees claim they are interrupted at least 3 or 4 times a day, and 50% of employees get distracted explicitly by phones.
As a result, the time your people have available for training during their workweek decreases.
And if they find some time to spend in training, such noisy environments make it impossible for employees to really focus during training.
Solution: If training takes place in the office, remove any distractions and dedicate a quiet place for training purposes–be it a conference room or just a “focus hour” that every individual can take advantage of.
At the same time, you can move learning online by making it available on mobile devices so that learners can have their training anytime, anywhere. This allows your learners to dig into training during a period of time they can focus, even on the go.
Or focus on communicating and encouraging people to book some time on their calendars specifically for training. For example, it should be acceptable for learners to turn off notifications for a specific amount of time to complete a course or attend a presentation.
3. Fear of failure
It’s tough for people to take risks that lead to unknown results. As such, not trying is a much safer option. But this makes people reluctant to learn new, valuable skills and discover more opportunities for growth. And this is one of the most important barriers to learning your people may face.
From new hires to seasoned employees, it’s scary for people to make mistakes. But mistakes are a valuable part of the learning process, and it’s essential to encourage your people to try, even if this means they might fail.
Solution: By using empowering language and fostering a learning culture in the organization, you can help learners grow a more positive attitude toward learning. Let them know that by practicing and making mistakes, they will be able to grow and develop, as they will know what to avoid next time.
Ease fear of failure during training by using quizzes and assessments that allow for multiple attempts on the same question. So, even if your learners make a mistake, they will still have the option to give the correct answer and learn. Or, design personalized learning paths so your learners know what to expect next.
4. Being unable to see the bigger picture
To help learners stay focused during training, it’s important to set clear training objectives, goals, and expectations so that they understand why learning is one of the biggest priorities. Allow them to see the point in training, have a clear vision of the organization’s goals, and understand how they can help reach them by advancing their skills through training.
Solution: Share with learners the company’s mission, vision, and values and explain how training will allow them to boost their skills and bring more value to the organization. A great idea is to provide coaching sessions to learners so that they experience firsthand a sense of community. Choose more experienced employees to become mentors and offer more learning-on-the-job opportunities for your teams.
5. Poor course format
Another common learning challenge is the lack of engagement in training. Never-ending text-based courses make training dull, monotonous, and repetitive. Learners need a variety of training formats to stay engaged and motivated.
Solution: Feature different learning formats in your courses, like images, videos, presentations, live sessions, and podcasts. Training will become more engaging, less time-consuming, and rich in content.
6. Training topics unrelated to the job tasks
Boredom is the most prevalent indication that demonstrates the existence of barriers to learning. This occurs because some topics aren’t fun for learners; but absolutely necessary for businesses. For example, compliance or cybersecurity training. It’s essential that learners really grasp the content but also be able to apply it daily successfully. And to be frank, such topics contain a lot of hard-to-grasp information that gives little to zero room for misinterpretation, leaving employees bored and uninterested in them.
But if learners are bored and disengaged, they will inevitably miss crucial information, and the organization’s safety will be at risk.
Solution: Invest in interactive learning solutions that make such topics more appealing to learners. Game-like activities prompt learners to interact with various objects, icons, or characters, making the learning experience more fun, engaging, and credible.
7. Variety in learning styles
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. What works for one learner might not work for another. Learning styles vary. In an inclusive workforce, different generations of learners have different preferences in the way they learn. For example, Baby Boomers opt for more traditional training, like lectures, while Gen X employees prefer eLearning solutions and self-study. And yet again, this may vary among individuals.
When learners don’t receive training the way they understand it, they lose interest. It’s hard to keep focused, motivated, and engaged to complete it. And as a result, you’re left with a significant learning challenge that must be addressed.
Solution: Bring diversity to the training delivery. Opt for blended learning solutions that combine traditional and modern approaches to learning. Also, offer training in different formats and learning paths so that each learner can pick their preferred way of learning.
Offering training in different formats doesn’t mean you have to do everything from scratch, but rather repurpose your existing material to assist learners with different learning styles. For instance, when you host live instructor-led sessions, make sure to record them so that employees can watch them on their own time, pause, and re-watch as needed. You can also share the presentation slides and a transcription, too, to accommodate people who prefer reading rather than watching.
8. Training unfit for people’s preferences and goals
Sometimes learners don’t have the opportunity to receive training on topics they’re interested in. This is one of the most common barriers to learning that can result in uninterested, stressed, and unmotivated learners. Or, upper management might be pushing instructors to achieve certain goals through training without knowing if they’re feasible.
Solution: Make sure you deliver learning aligned with your learner goals. To succeed in this, conduct a pre-training survey and ask your employees what they want to achieve through training and how they would prefer it to be delivered. Then, after training is completed, ask them for post-training feedback or send employees a post-training evaluation email so that you’ll be able to bridge training gaps and meet their specific needs.
9. Impairments and cognitive challenges
Sometimes, an individual’s health conditions might affect their learning experience. With diverse teams being more and more popular worldwide, it’s possible that some of your people might be facing cognitive or physical challenges, which make learning uncomfortable.
You must adjust the training content for employees who face hearing, visual, or learning impairments or concentration, problem-solving, and decision-making challenges. Otherwise, learners will struggle to follow the training material and meet the learning goals.
Solution: Create training courses using plain language, provide clear instructions, insert pictures and videos in large scale and high resolution, provide subtitles and captions to all videos, and have well-structured and concise texts.
Working with your teams toward success
Learning and development is essential to your organization. And employee training is a core part of it. But for it to be effective and successful, you need to work together with your teams to remove any barriers to learning that hinder this process.
From workplace distractions to boredom, and fear of failure, challenges in learning come in a variety of forms and can be highly damaging to your business.
But just because something is challenging doesn’t mean you should give up on it. Or ignore it and hope for the best. Removing those learning barriers is essential to help people truly grow.