7 Reasons Participants Don’t Apply Learning On-The-Job

by Preethi B. Rao

Michelle attended a workshop on Assertiveness. Two months later she met her facilitator and when asked how her journey was progressing, Michelle looked dejected and said she has been unable to apply any of the learning despite putting in all efforts. The facilitator asked what the issue was and she had a lot to say. In this article, let’s explore some of the reasons why participants like Michelle, are unable to apply their learning on-the-job.

After all the design, drafting, and strategy which goes into creating a training program, the usual expectation is that in a few days — or a couple of months after — participants attend a session, there will be a miraculous transformation. The on-the-job equivalent of the duckling to swan transition.

From being a pushover, the employee will transform into an eloquent, assertive person after attending assertiveness training. Or from being unable to close simple deals, the newly trained team member will be able to perform advanced negotiations, after participating in a program on effective negotiation skills.

Unfortunately, in reality, that doesn’t always happen (in fact, it happens in less than 15% of most cases!). Participants attend the required training, but we don’t see expected behavior change. So, what exactly is happening here?

In Telling Training’s Story, Dr. Robert Brinkerhoff shows research that without adequate pre- and post-training preparation, only 15% of participants achieve sustained behavior change. Whereas 70% of them actually try to change – but fail!


The research clearly tells us that there is more to behavior change than just undergoing a training exercise. In this blog, we will explore seven reasons why participants don’t apply learning on-the-job, and how can you change these results.

Note: For the purpose of this blog, we are assuming that all participants have the intention to learn and want to make a difference on-the-job.


1. They are not committed to the program:

For behavior to change on-the-job, it is crucial that participants see value in taking the learning and applying it afterward. One of the most common reasons for participants to attend a program is “because my manager told me I must.” Usually, they fail to understand the motivation and the benefits that they will derive from the program, let alone what is expected from them on-the-job after the session. To expect such a participant to demonstrate behavior change is simply unrealistic.

Bring about the change: 

You can conduct some interventions before the start of the session to help build commitment. For instance, an expectations meeting with the manager wherein the manager outlines program expectations, benefits of the program, and expectations from the participants post-program can be very helpful. Another way is to get participants to craft out a benefits list of how they believe the program can help them in the short and long-term, how it can align with their life goals, etc.


2. They don’t see the applicability of the learning:

Some programs are done in an aspirational manner, with the expectation that participants will apply the learning in future. Examples of this could be; training for the leadership pipeline or training for possible new technology in the hope that the company will soon create projects with that new technology, etc. Since participants don’t see immediate applicability, and they have very limited opportunity to practice the skills they are acquiring, they forget the skills they were trained in. Eventually, by the time they have to apply them, they are unable to do so.

Bring about the change: 

It is best to allow participants to work on dummy projects or train/mentor others in the subject in order to keep their interest and skills alive.


3. Their manager doesn’t do it, so why should they:

The other common thing we hear in training sessions; particularly the managerial skills-related ones is, “Is my manager undergoing a similar training?” The moment they don’t hear a convincing answer, their interest levels get impacted. They feel their managers display the exact opposite behavior of what we are recommending them to apply. Hence, it would be a waste of time to learn these skills and apply them to their own work.

Bring about the change: 

While embarking on creating learning journeys, it’s important to be cognizant of the overall culture of the organization. Try to align the course material with the culture of the team/ organization. If there is a disconnect, it is best to take a top-down approach and conduct the training sessions for the managers, before taking it down to the team. We have seen the best results in organizations where level-by-level the sessions were attended by the C-suite to the CSRs. When everyone shared a common language, it was easy to drive organizational behavior change.


4. There was too diverse an audience in the training session itself:

Sometimes organizations have regular calendarized programs which are open to all. So, people may find themselves in a session where participants come with 0-20 years of experience. However skilled the facilitator, they find it a challenge to cater to the needs of all. This leads to a disconnect between attendees and the program which can occur during the session itself.

Bring about the change: 

For sessions where behavior change is critical, don’t open them out to everyone. Do focused sessions that will add immediate value to a target group. There is no harm in having calendarized, open sessions, but don’t expect individual transformational change to occur from them.


5. The course wasn’t designed well. It was all about the star power of the facilitator and not so much about the learning:

Unfortunately, despite best efforts, some programs are just badly designed and do not afford participants to learn the skills they need to take away from the session. Sometimes the facilitator conducting the session is so charming and has such a big personality that it is neither about the content nor about the learner, it is all about the facilitator. At the end of the day participants feel wonderful, but when they reflect on the learning a day or two later, they really can’t list out what they have taken away. In both cases, since learning itself has not happened, there is little chance of behavior change happening.

Bring about the change: 

It is about L&D being involved in the design of the program along with the learning partner. It is about using tools such as the Brinkerhoff High Performance Learning Journey during the design of the journey to ensure behavior change. In addition,  Accelerated Learning principles to ensure that learner is the rock star of the session. These guidelines are about observing sessions as they are in progress and providing feedback to facilitators, etc.


6. The manager is telling them to forget what they learned in training:

Some managers have a very fixed (sometimes even borderline unethical) process. This is often to build in some perceived sense of efficiency that leads to challenges in the long run. Such managers often tell their participants to leave what they learned in training in the classroom and to follow their own prescribed methods. Even though participants try to apply learning they soon give up due to manager and peer pressure.

Bring about the change:

This is more of a tougher fix as it involves analyzing team culture, making systemic changes to ensure people don’t feel the need to take short-cuts, and often having tough conversations with team managers. But unless fixed, this problem can lead to a  fall in morale, employee frustration, and eventual attrition.


7. There is no post-training support:

Participants attend the training; where they practice the skills, apply them beautifully in role-plays, etc., and then go and spectacularly fail on-the-job. The single biggest reason is that after the training they are sent out into the cold world of reality where nothing is as it was in the controlled environment of training. They try, flounder, and then drown since there is no helping hand in terms of a coach, buddy or follow-up session to pull them out of troubled waters. This is the most regrettable of all fails in this list as the participants are actually trying, but failing, due to us not having planned a support system for them.

Bring about the change: 

Have the ‘level of effort’ conversation with management, line manager, etc., before the program to ensure there is clarity in terms of their role in the post-training support as coaches/observers/monitors, etc. Pre-plan and roll-out a driver package with elements of monitor, reinforcement, reward, and encouragement to help the participants. This is the key element in enabling behavior change on-the-job.


Do any of the above sound familiar to you? What other reasons have you noticed for lack of behavior change on-the-job in your workplace? Please share your techniques in the comment section, that you have implemented to ensure that behavior changes occur.

Preethi B. Rao

Visit our website: www.c2cod.com

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