3 Best Practices Of Bridging The Learning And Doing Gap

3 Best Practices Of Bridging The Learning And Doing Gap
Summary: Executives don’t have confidence in our ability to make an impact, and only 50% of learners feel training helps them improve performance. We call this the learning-doing gap. Read on for best practices to address this persistent problem.

How To Manage Bridging The Learning And Doing Gap: 3 Best Practices

We’re all in business to help organizations achieve their goals by making sure their employees have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. However, research consistently shows that executives don’t have confidence in our ability to make an impact, and only 50% of learners feel training helps them improve performance. Clearly these are not the results we want to achieve.

While there are many reasons for these results, we have found that one of the challenges organization after organization comes up against is what we’ve come to call the learning-doing gap. They are clear on the importance of helping develop new skills and build knowledge, they feel good about the quality training content delivered, but a large majority are frustrated by the lack of transfer back to the job after participation in training. To address this issue, we’ve defined a set of 4 best practices for bridging the learning-doing gap.

1. Shift The Perspective From "Event"  To "Journey"

Think about when you have become proficient at something new. Was it as simple as taking a training session? Or was it more of a journey? As people develop proficiency in a new skill, there’s a repeatable and systematic journey that they go through.

That journey typically will have at least some of the following steps:

  • Engage.
    Decide if I’m interested, and decide to engage
  • Target Improvement.
    Assess my current level of competency, and focus on knowledge and skills I want to improve.
  • Learn.
    Take part in a learning activity (classroom, eLearning, reading, etc.) to build close knowledge gaps.
  • Practice.
    Put my new knowledge to work either through rehearsal (role-play, simulation, etc.), or back on the job.
  • Measure.
    Reflect and assess progress to determine if a goal is met, or if additional training is necessary.

This is a journey that goes through systematic steps from engage to measure. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get everyone to behave this way for every training program? While we can’t expect everyone to create their own journey to proficiency, we can create a structured journey they can follow. An improved solution shouldn’t just include the learn stage. It should start before the presentation of knowledge, and go beyond it. It should take participants on a structured learning journey.


2. Wire In Deliberate Practice

In many training programs, participants learn something new, and go forth into the world with their knowledge. And then, we just cross our fingers and hope that they apply it on the job. All too often, that just doesn’t happen.

We all know how awkward it can be to try out new skills. You may not be very good at them yet. You may stumble over the process, or miss a step. Someone may contradict what you were taught, calling it into question. You may forget a key concept. You may even doubt yourself, and get frustrated along the way.

A critical step in the journey from a new skill to proficiency is taking the time for deliberate practice. Deliberate practice means intentionally putting new skills to use on the job via a highly structured activity with the specific goal of improving performance. We’re not leaving anything to chance with this model; we’re not just hoping people will apply their new skills, we’re making sure they practice these new skills for better transfer back to the job—and ultimately to create better outcomes.

For those of us that design learning experiences, we should design the opportunity for deliberate practice into our programs. We need to provide the structure for deliberate practice and -more importantly- provide the structure for debriefing afterward where the participant can reflect on and learn more from the experience.

3. Build A Partnership Between Each Participant And Their Manager

So, let’s ask a meta question right now: who’s really responsible for development? The training department? HR? The talent development team? Maybe. But isn’t it primarily the responsibility of the employee’s manager and their manager? Isn’t the role of the talent development group really to provide the system and environment which systematically enables that front-line manager and their manager to succeed?

Unfortunately, participants’ managers are not typically part of their development plan. Instead, talent development takes on the responsibility to own solutions end-to-end. But for a participant to become "good", he or she will likely need hours of coaching and guidance in the field. And who’s best suited to that process? The participant’s manager, of course!

Effective training solutions should provide structure for a learning partnership between front-line managers and their managers. A program should lay out just how a participant will receive guidance and support from their manager. This means that managers-of-participants will also likely require support in the form of training, guides, and instruction. It takes a village, sometimes. Let’s be sure we design development programs that take that village into account.

4. Make Progress Concrete And Visible

Clearly, the results of learning solutions matter. According to the ROI Institute, 96% of Fortune 500 CEOs want to know the business impact of their learning and development programs. Shockingly only 8% feel they do now.

And yet, it’s hard to carve out time for employees to work on their development plans. We’re all busy, often caught up in the chaos of trying to complete day-to-day tasks. To gain buy-in to your development program, and sustain that commitment to developing skills, we need to make those gains concrete and visible to your organization.

An improved solution for development should provide a scorecard of impact measures. These may start with "did we enable learners to become proficient?", but should also reach to metrics that business sponsors care about such as productivity, errors, and employee engagement.

Check out this case study to learn how Coats PLC wires practice into their management development program.

Putting It Into Practice

Ready to put these principles to work at your organization? See what kinds of changes your organization makes in how you develop tomorrow’s leaders when you:

LD Gap


Taking a broader perspective, how much value would you unleash in your organization if all of the investments you made in training actually transferred into performance on the job? Would the ideas we propose here help you systematically cross the learning-doing gap?