A significant success-factor for the use of business and work-related eLearning materials – and by inference for all ongoing professional development activities of staff, is whether they think their immediate manager would smile, be neutral, or frown if they were seen doing eLearning during office hours.
This simple attitudinal inference may be a critical factor in the workplace.
Several years ago at a firm I am familiar with, a global employee-satisfaction survey was undertaken – before the Global Financial Crises, and at a time when workforce retention was one of the top three issues on the minds of operational directors.
What came to light were all the normal issues – lack of training, poor job development, low pay, and so on, and as a result one of the actions taken by the executives was to sign up a sizable contract for eLearning materials from a well-known provider.
When the next satisfaction survey was carried out, training had fallen off the list of grievances, and the top five grievances had shifted to other matters. Training, it was thought, was now satisfied.
Yet an odd thing came to light – it wasn’t actually being used to any extent.
Of the several hundred licenses – initially thought to be too few, hardly 30% were actually used, and even of those people who most aggressively complained of a lack of training opportunities, few had done more than log in once. Of the thousands of titles of training available, and tens of thousands of books, papers, audiofiles, job-aids, and test-preps, only a few scattered examples of use were seen.
It seemed like a scenario from a comedy – or tragedy, the next act was almost in view – the executives would re-visit the budget and after noticing that 70% of the investment was unused, would either trim it to match the usage, or cut it entirely. After which of course a year or so would pass and then lack of training opportunities would climb back to the top-three list of complaints, and so on ad infinitum.
Rather than see the money and opportunity go to waste, we set up a series of surveys and interviews to find out if there was some explanation for the seeming contradiction between how strongly people felt about having training opportunities, and their subsequent lack of use when it was provided.
Three groups were surveyed and randomly selected individuals were interviewed:
- (Group 1) People currently active with their eLearning licenses
- (Group 2) Those who had previously been given licenses but had failed to use them or had abandoned them.
- The managers of people who fell into either groups #1 or #2
In addition to surveys and interviews, the usage statistics were also examined to derive trends and correlations.
The immediate results of this showed:
- Low usage of available eLearning materials (Median of <33%)
- High abandonment rate (>60%) combined with high repeat-requests for license re-issue
- Low consistency in targets of use (foraging behaviour), and fewer than 10 units were used by more than n=5
The group make-up and response was as follows:
Group 1 – Currently Active users
- n = 73
- response rate to questionnaire (rq) = 63%
Group 2 – Previously Active users
- n = 35
- rq = 46%
- n = 36
- rq = 61%
- Significant opinion differences existed between staff that were currently using eLearning (Group 1), users who previously did (Group 2), and the cohort of Managers
- There was Low to Moderate variance within each group with strong clustering around the mean.
- All groups agreed on the whole that ongoing learning is important to the job and the person, and that a minimum of 1-2hrs a week during office hours should be spent doing it
- Both groups thought the materials and infrastructure were good, but felt they weren’t allowed to use company time, managers thought that the infrastructure was poor but that they freely allowed access to it.
- The more staff thought their managers would smile on learning during company time, the more they did it both at work and at home – the single strongest predictor of use was what the staff-member thought the manager’s reaction would be.
While Managers strongly believed that they were driving knowledge sharing, collaboration, and spread of good ideas, users of both groups felt only somewhat that this was happening.
Managers said that they strongly encourage inter-unit collaboration, whereas active users (Group 1) felt only moderately that different units shared knowledge, and inactive users (Group 2) felt moderately that they did not do so.
Managers reported that they incorporated knowledge sharing in staff evaluation discussions. Active users agreed with this but did not feel as strongly that this was happening as the managers did, and inactive users felt moderately that it was not the case.
Both groups of users thought moderately that managers gave them time to use eLearning, but where 86% of Managers reported that they would smile if they saw an employee doing eLearning during office hours, active users felt less sure (67%), and inactive users even less so (38%)
Active users and Managers felt more strongly than inactive uses that eLearning would improve them in their job or as far as their employment security.
Active users felt strongly that their Managers regarded their ongoing learning as important, and more so than inactive users, but neither as highly as Managers said they did.
Managers (53%) and Inactive users (56%) typically felt that less than 30 min a week of learning was actually being done during office hours, and Active users were split between those who did less than 30min (24%), and those who did 1-2hrs (33%)
It was somewhat surprising that 19% of Managers did not know how much time their staff spend outside office hours on learning, and 52% believed that their staff spend less than 30min a week in their private time.
56% of inactive users agreed with that, but active users were spread across all choices with 22% spending less than 30min, but 24% spending 30min-1hr, 1-2hrs, and >2hrs each.
67% of Managers said that the optimal time during office hours is 1-2hrs/week which is similar to inactive users (63%), where active users were split between 1-2hrs (44%) and >2hrs (45%) thus emphasizing that those who actively use the materials found value in it and wished to pursue even more value.
A comments section was provided in the questionnaire, and of specific note was how the response rate in this section was divided and perhaps lends weight to staff perception that Managers were not as engaged as they felt themselves to be.
Managers commented the least (9%), inactive users more (25%), and active users most (45%).
The split between the two groups on this item further accentuates the divide in participation.
Whether or not an employee used available professional-development materials followed what they thought their manager’s attitude towards eLearning at work would be, and this single item could predict staff behavior both at work and at home. Those whose managers were thought by their staff to be positive about learning at work put significantly more effort into their own professional development and showed far higher levels of attachment overall. It could also be seen that what staff inferred their manager’s attitude to be was independent of what the manager reported their attitude to be.
A key to ongoing professional development and staff attachment would then seem to hinge on whether managers themselves showed that they value it by taking care to demonstrate by example that professional-development is important. What manager’s actually do in terms of their own development could well prove to be the most important factor in staff development, but additional research is needed to test this hypothesis.
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Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.