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What Is The Knowing-Doing Gap In Online Training?

A few years back, two Stanford Graduate School of Business professors, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, suggested in their book The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action (Harvard Business School Press, 2000) that the gap between knowing and doing is more important than the gap between ignorance and knowing. Specifically, they described the Knowing-Doing Gap as “The challenge of turning knowledge about how to enhance organizational performance into actions consistent with that knowledge. Improving organizational performance depends largely on implementing what is already known, rather than from adopting new or previously unknown ways of doing things.” It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

More often than not, companies practice this exact method of “doing” things: we all talk about what should be done, but very little is actually accomplished. But what does this have to do with online training? As professor Sutton stated in a very interesting interview, “Talk is not enough, so learning something just by looking at it on the computer is not enough either. (…) To the extent that you’re trying to learn something from eLearning and then apply it in a different or a more complex way, such as anything from biochemistry to learning how to lead a group of people face to face, it doesn’t work very well. (…) eLearning shouldn’t be a substitute for actually thinking and doing something. However, when interwoven with what people actually do, it can make the learning experience richer.” That being the case, is there anything that can be done for your online training course to minimize the Knowing-Doing Gap? In this article, I will discuss about the factors and effects of the Knowing-Doing Gap in online training and then suggest some key ways to minimize it, so that you can offer your employees a richer and a more effective online training experience.

Causes And Effects Of The Knowing-Doing Gap In Online Training

  1. Too much talk, no action.
    Just providing employees with all the information available is not enough. Information overload can not only be exhausting for employees, but also make them lose focus of what is really important. When your online training course teaches your audience to do something just by talking about it rather than learning by doing it, it is just like saying that once a decision has been made, there is no need for additional work. Furthermore, you don’t need to impress employees by presenting complex ideas and heavy blocks of text in your online training course. Clear structure, focus on key elements and realistic eLearning objectives are the essentials of an effective online training course that helps enhance your employees’ motivation to put what they are learning into use.
  2. Memory as a substitute for thinking.
    Undoubtedly, memory is a critical element of identity. Whether we’re talking about a person or an organization we need to remember who or what we are, in order to keep going. But sometimes memory may sabotage our ability to change and further evolve, because the concept of “this is the way that things have always been done” restricts critical thinking and questioning. The same frequently happens in companies, where problem solving normally derives as a result of the organization’s standard operational procedures, or already established patterns and norms. This can also affect online training, where by writing all the company’s constraints down and delivering them online makes the company’s dogma even more explicit, which may get employees stuck in a certain path and limit their imagination and potentiality to be innovative. Simply put, when memory serves as a substitute for thinking in online training, it can make it inadequate, and thus prevent employees from reflecting.
  3. The problem of fear.
    Employees rarely take risks. A professional risk to be taken requires a trusting and safe environment, which is not often the case in companies. Employees carry this fear with them in online training. They hesitate trying new ways of dealing with the online training course assignments, because they fear of failure. Feeling only secure to do what they have done in the past, they block their ability to act on their knowledge. But this also reduces their ability to learn. Fear causes repetition of past mistakes and, of course, eliminates any potentiality of trying out different and possibly better ways for work to be done.
  4. Ineffective measurement systems.
    Another thing that prevents knowledge turning into action in companies is focusing on assessing individual job performances and final outcomes rather than factors critical to organizational success. Respectively, when an online training course evaluates the learning performance of employees only after the completion of the online training course or event, it misses the chance to focus attention on key elements during the online training process. Online training evaluation, in order to be effective, should be ongoing and facilitate learning through experimentation. Furthermore, it needs to be flexible and open to continuous revisions and improvements, so that the online training itself becomes better and more effective every time. Only this way the data provided by the evaluation can help eLearning professionals create content that motivates employees to turn knowledge into action.
  5. Competition Vs Collaboration.
    Internal competition for professional status is a common strategy that companies follow in order to motivate their employees to perform better. However, ruthless competition in the name of a promotion or a salary raise can destroy the organization’s moral fabric, and may have negative consequences. Regarding the online training courses, the encouragement of employees to share their ideas with their colleagues is often also neglected in the online training design and development. When the benefits of teamwork are not emphasized during an online training course, employees feel that that they are working in the presence of direct competitors, as well as that they are constantly being evaluated. As a result, they get stressed and thus miss the chance to learn new things by asking others in online discussions or to experiment by collaborating with their peers. This way, turning knowledge into action is once again discouraged and the Knowing-Doing Gap remains unbridgeable.

How To Minimize The Knowing-Doing Gap In Online Training

In order to deal with the problems mentioned above and minimize the Knowing-Doing Gap from your online training courses, consider the following 5 simple tips.

  1. Put Why before How.
    Always take the time to clarify your eLearning objectives at the beginning of your online training course in order to explain employees why they need to learn what they are learning. Then, provide them with the tools to retain this knowledgeEmployees need to know exactly which is the context for the skills they must improve, so always include clear objectives and concrete examples in your online training course.
  2. Emphasize action instead of planning.
    Simply put, online training becomes inefficient if not grounded in real experience. Theory without practice is useless. Use stories and branching scenarios that offer real world benefits, that require from employees to take action by making choices with specific consequences. Show them how to put their skills into use, so that they can see what works and what doesn’t. If they fail, encourage them to try again.
  3. Eliminate the fear factor.
    Design your online training course or event in a way that encourages experimentation by taking advantage of mistake-driven learning. “Failure” in risk-free environments, such as online training, boosts effectiveness in dealing with actual problems in real life. Encourage employees to explore different paths and to make mistakes. If they have dealt with breakdowns in a safe environment, they will feel more confident to take risks in real life.
  4. Encourage collaboration.
    Encourage employees to make a common effort with their colleagues and link their success to the success of others. Integrate social learning into your online training strategy, for instance by transferring online discussions to social media, and by encouraging your employees to keep asking, advising others, and sharing their ideas and concerns.
  5. Offer feedback that turns knowledge into action.
    Do not wait till the end of the online training course or event to provide employees with feedback about their performance. It is much more efficient to give feedback during the online training course in order to motivate them throughout the entire learning process. Reward them if they’re doing well and encourage them if they’re not. Evaluate their learning process, not just its outcome.

Minimizing the Knowing-Doing Gap in online training means to understand that your most important task, as an eLearning professional, is to create an online training course that turns knowledge into action in a simple and natural way. Follow these tips so that you can offer employees an effective online training experience that helps them not only learn, but also put their learning into use.

 

(article written by Christopher Pappas)