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How to Shift Employees’ Learning Mindset from “Must do” to “Want to”

06 July 2021

5 Min Read


When was the last time you went to a workplace training session full of employees whose learning mindset was to be excited to learn?

Even those who love learning can sometimes struggle to motivate themselves to learn. It’s a common problem across all industries, and one reason is because training is usually a must-do, not a want-to.

Even when training isn’t mandated, a lot of people are still stuck in that same mindset. It may come from school or other workplaces where training is seen as a necessary evil. It’s something that distracts you from your routine and responsibilities.

How do we get employees to want to learn? How do we teach them about the joy of learning for learning’s sake, not just as a box-ticking exercise? The best way to achieve success with training is to have enthusiastic and open employees, but for that to happen, some mindset retraining needs to take place.

In this episode of The Learning Xchange, Schoox’s Matthew Brown, VP of Learning and Brand Success, discusses just that. He shares some reasons why employees are hesitant about learning and what we can do to change their learning mindset.

Listen to the episode below or keep reading to learn more.

Current mindset: Learning is often compliance-heavy

Since the first moment we were introduced to the concept of learning, we have been pre-programmed with some very specific expectations.

Going back to our school days, the teacher would stand in the front of the room. They had all the answers. They told you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. But they didn’t always say why.

As a result, people have years of habits and preconceived ideas whenever they approach learning later in life. They associate learning with something they must do.

In an organization, this continues. When we think of learning activities, it’s all phrased in a similar way:

  • You MUST do your security awareness/anti-harassment training
  • You MUST complete your new hire training by a certain date

These phrases all have an undertone of compliance, so we need to be careful in choosing our language.

If we want highly engaging learning environments, we need to figure out how to reprogram some of those ideas. We need to democratize learning and build excitement.

A simple way to start is to try and adjust the language you use when talking about training. You’ll then want to try to tackle some of the bigger culture issues to help shift that compliance mindset.

It’s not that employees don’t want to learn. They’re not completely averse to it. It’s about breaking the muscle memory and retraining their brains to accept learning as a want-to, not a have-to.

Common excuses and barriers against learning

People often come up with reasons against spending time in a training session. One of the most common ones is “I’d love to, but I don’t have enough time.”

Everyone’s busy with their usual responsibilities, so it can be a big ask for them to take time out from their day to learn.

Another one is, “I’ve already done something similar. I already know the content.”

Do any of those sound familiar? We live in a world where workdays are already crammed, and so trying to squeeze learning in there feels more like a chore. It becomes a box-ticking exercise where no one really absorbs the content or wants to be there.

The issue of trust affects employees’ learning mindset

On a similar note, one roadblock could be a lack of trust in the workplace.

If your employees don’t trust that you have their best interests in mind, they will be less enthusiastic about getting involved in learning.

When organizations push training, it’s usually to tick boxes or to fulfill items on a job description list rather than to benefit the employee themselves.

Employees may not trust you because they feel you’re only giving them training for selfish reasons.

A different approach to learning

Our main job is to help employees learn how to be learners again.

In their own personal time, they will have no problem seeking out information they need to solve problems or learn something new. For example, if they need to fix a home appliance, they might watch a few YouTube videos.

The issue isn’t that they’re averse to learning as a whole. It’s all about how it’s presented and integrated into the workplace.

Another approach is to think about making employees excited to learn. Instead of just focusing on the job they currently have, introduce opportunities for them to learn and grow for the job they want to have. Perhaps even make time for them to learn about their own personal interests and hobbies.

Make learning and development a benefit for the learner, not just the organization. This will achieve two things. One, it earns their trust, and two, it can drive some exciting transformation.

As an employer, you could provide a library of content to satisfy a wide range of needs to help earn their trust. You might want to encourage employees to each carve out a protected hour or hours per week just for learning and development.

By doing so, you can start to remove some of those obstacles to learning and make it more integrated into everyone’s work lives. It won’t be a quick fix, but subtle changes in the way you approach learning and the language that you use can slowly start to shift your employees’ mindsets.

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