Effective workplace learning is for many businesses a key aspect for increasing productivity and maintaining a competitive edge. The learning environment includes both planned activities and learning that occurs naturally, as employees interact with each other. This makes it vital for human resources and department managers to work together to identify and overcome factors that may slow, misdirect or prevent effective learning from taking place.

Mindset and Management Style

An environment where fear, anxiety, intimidation or mistrust are high discourages cooperative collaboration, inhibits teamwork and may lead to conflict situations, which in turn can create barriers to learning. This occurs more often with an autocratic or authoritarian leadership style in which managers make decisions without asking for input and closely supervise and control department employees. One-way communications, a lack of teamwork and an oppressive management style impede learning new skills, processes and production methods.

Insufficient Company Support

Failure to support learning as a company-wide objective can create barriers that may affect long-term success. There’s no denying that providing initial and ongoing employee training, which most often is time- and resource-intensive, can be challenging for small-business owners, at least in the short term. However, attitudes carry, and your employees may be less willing to take learning seriously if they sense that management feels education and training is a necessary inconvenience instead of an opportunity for both the business and its employees to improve.

Focus on Training, not on Learning

Although planned training provides information, presenting information and learning are often two different things. Without practice and follow-up activities such as evaluations and feedback, learning may not ever take place. This is especially true with soft skills training and when teaching hard skills that require a significant shift from current processes or requirements. Teaching that doesn’t provide for adequate follow-up not only is a barrier to workplace learning, it's also a waste of financial resources.

Inexperienced or Unqualified Instructors

Poorly designed formal and on-the-job training programs can increase the time it takes to learn new material or master a new skill. For example, a small business might not have the financial resources to hire a dedicated customer service trainer and instead delegate training duties to an employee who might have good customer service skills but lacks the ability to train other employees. With on-the-job training, a stressful environment and impatient co-workers can create significant barriers to learning.