20 Myths About Learning At Work (Part 2)

In the first article of this 2-part series, we looked at 10 myths of learning at work. Many of those unsupported assumptions have been accepted by professionals in the learning and development field as well as by the general public for decades. Now we continue to look at the next 10 myths . . .

  1. Performance problems are best solved with training.

Management and HR alike may call for training as soon as performance lags, but the real solution could be better resources, performance aids, or employee perspective. If you’d like some good examples of common problems that can be fixed without training, take a look at Training Industry Magazines’s recent article on the topic.

  1. Training is done when the class is over.

Although a classroom presentation or video can communicate a lot of new information in a short time, employees will still need help applying what they’ve learned to their work. Training World Magazine recommends manager coaching and refresher courses to help employees turn knowledge into ability.

  1. Learners do best if they’re entirely self-directed.

While many learning and development experts today think people should take more accountability for their growth, employees still need guidance. Not everyone knows how to learn, what they need to learn, or even why they need to learn it. And we all need support and reminders when acquiring new skills.

  1. Repeating, reviewing, and highlighting information helps you learn it.

Benedict Carey, author of How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens, reveals that our “good” study techniques don’t work very well. Re-reading materials or highlighting doesn’t help us remember what we’ve read.

What does work? After you’ve been introduced to new information once, wait a day and try to recall as much of it as you can without looking. It makes you feel pretty stupid, but struggling to remember something actually helps cement it in your long-term memory.

  1. There’s no time for training.

Many of us in the L&D world have just accepted this assumption as fact. But the truth is that we choose to spend the time in ways we think are more valuable. If you can demonstrate the value of training, the time will become available.

  1. There’s a “best” way to learn.

Educators spend a lot of time arguing about the best way to learn, but with all our years of research, no one method has stood out as the undisputed best. More often than not, a combination of approaches works well.

  1. People who did a similar job at another company don’t need any training.

Managers want to hire for experience, so they look for people who’ve done well in similar positions with other companies and expect them to perform immediately. But great performance doesn’t necessarily translate from job to job.

Harvard Business School professor Boris Gorysber found that star investment analysts who moved to another company rarely did well in their new positions. Their strengths at one company depended on their networks, resources, and colleagues, not pure ability. If you’re paying a lot for experience, make sure you help people learn how to be a star at your company.

  1. I’m just not good at that.

Employees will claim over and over that they can’t learn a new skill because they’re just not good at numbers or technology or writing or whatever. But Carole Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has demonstrated that learning has more to do with attitude than talent.

According to Dweck, People who learn well don’t necessarily have more intelligence or ability than others, but they believe that with hard work, they can get better at most skills.

  1. If you’re bad at something initially, you don’t have the talent for it.

Similar to myth #18, this mistaken belief stops many people from making real progress with new skills. Erika Andersen, author of Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future, reminds us that if you’re going to be good at something, you have to start by being bad. She recommends helping people push through beginner frustration by redirecting their self-talk from “I’ll never get better at this” to “I’ve gotten better at lots of things; I can get better at this, too.”

  1. People are either naturally motivated to learn or not.

Motivation comes from several sources, such as support from management, understanding of the purpose of training, or feeling that learning will make your life easier. Anyone can get motivated to learn if they see a benefit in it. Giving learners a larger role in the process from training development to skill application can help get them excited about it.

There’s plenty of advice about how to successfully train a workforce, and some of it is not well-grounded in reality. But as L&D professionals, we can stay aware, open our minds to new ideas, and test assumptions with our employees. The worst that can happen? We’ll learn something from the experience.


Carol Bleyle
Carol Bleyle
CAROL handles client services and marketing for Software, a training platform designed to promote experiential, on-the-job learning and development. She works to realize the vision of turning the 70% of informal learning we do at work into a powerful training and development tool. With an M.A. in Cognitive Linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley, Carol views skills development through the lens of cognitive science and psychology And over the past 23 years, whether in traditional classrooms or on-the-go mentoring in her own company, Carol has constantly searched for realistic ways to make learning more natural and engaging. As a writer, trainer, consultant, entrepreneur and public speaker, Carol helps business owners find practical solutions to employee performance. She and her husband reside in beautiful Loudoun County Virginia with three energetic dogs and two lazy horses.

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  1. I asked a director, “how much training do you do?” The director told me, “it’s 5% of the employee’s annual salary”.

    Training is traditionally seen as a cost. If it was seen as a revenue generator then that conversation would be very different.

    • Carol Bleyle Awesome point, Chris! L&D has struggled to show its value in dollars. That’s why it’s so important to tie training to specific strategic capabilities and at least find correlations between training given and strategic behaviors adopted.