Agile companies accept that change is constant and necessary. Leaders who anticipate and adapt to disruption are the ones who can help their companies navigate it most successfully. And they help their employees to do the same by fostering a culture of learning and adaptability.

When you encourage employees to learn at work, you’re not just future-proofing your organization. You’re also increasing their productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction. But to make learning stick, it can’t be separate from employees’ day-to-day activities. Instead, it must fit into the flow of work. This won’t happen automatically, though. Here are a few common obstacles to learning in the flow of work and ideas for overcoming them.

Preview of obstacles to learning in flow of work

Obstacle #1: Lack of time

“Lack of time” was a top obstacle for learning and development (L&D) according to 61% of respondents to Udemy’s 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report. And throughout the pandemic, employees reported working more and having even less time for learning. 

How to overcome it

A cultural change needs to take place across the entire organization where time for learning is prioritized. Managers and company leaders must set the example that learning at work is expected and encouraged. They can make time in team and one-on-one meetings to share resources and discuss what their employees have learned recently.

Obstacle #2: Too many distractions

Feeling unfocused and distracted? If so, you’re not alone. More than a third of millennials and Gen Z employees say they spend two hours or more checking their smartphones during the workday. And employees say stress about the pandemic, economy, and the stability of their jobs makes it incredibly challenging to focus on learning new skills right now. 

How to overcome it

We may not be able to remove all distractions while learning at home, but we can at least take steps to limit them. Audrey Espey, Lead Learning Designer at Udemy, shares the following suggestions: 

Obstacle #3: Shifting internal priorities

When your organization is in a transitional phase, it might feel like everyone’s attention is fractured, and there’s no overarching vision. In these situations, it can be tempting to postpone learning. But don’t give in. Delaying learning will ultimately hurt your employees — and your company’s performance.

How to overcome it 

Encourage a growth mindset throughout your organization. Can you turn failure into an opportunity for self-reflection? Set a regular cadence of retrospective meetings to give your employees the chance to consider how they might approach a project or initiative differently in the future.

Obstacle #4: Learning content is outdated

The pace of change in the working world can be dizzying. Sixty percent of employees worry that their current skills will be outdated in three to five years. And formats can quickly change, too. Consider all the in-person training that had to become virtual due to the pandemic. Learning content needs to be fresh to keep employees engaged and give you the best return on investment.

How to overcome it  

Stop expecting your L&D team to create all the content in-house. Instead, keep training fresh and relevant by providing content from outside experts who can stay up to date with the latest trends. Bonus points for making this content available on-demand so employees can engage with it when and where it works for them.

Obstacle #5: Learning takes place in person and offsite

Traditional training took place in offsite workshops or educational sessions that lasted days or even weeks. But extended time away from the office for training is disruptive to work and employees’ schedules. 

How to overcome it

Use microlearning, which is the practice of gaining the exact skill or knowledge we need to meet a specific goal. It enables employees to learn a new skill and immediately apply it — without disrupting their workflow. 

Obstacle #6: It’s hard to prove the ROI of learning

If your organization is resource-strapped, executives will want to see how every dollar they spend will lead to business results. They might be quick to dismiss L&D initiatives — unless you can make a case for how they’ll see a return on their investment.

How to overcome it 

Identify the desired outcomes of workplace learning and report on the metrics that speak to that. For example, you can measure employee engagement through surveys and attrition rates. You might increase billable hours by upskilling consultants. Or you can measure your sales team’s productivity and effectiveness before and after they participate in specific trainings.  

Obstacle #7: No budget for learning

If you’re finding it hard to prove the ROI of learning, it can be challenging to get the resources you need to invest in new training programs. And some companies simply don’t dedicate their budget to L&D because it hasn’t been a priority.

How to overcome it 

Rather than thinking of L&D as a budget line item, you want to make a case for how it pays dividends over time. You can find plenty of resources on why it’s better to “build” than “buy” your talent. For example, HR consultant Josh Bersin argues the cost of hiring or replacing people can be six times more than the cost of training current employees.

Prepare to tackle workplace learning challenges

Learning in the flow of work helps employees stay competitive and meet business objectives. When you allow time for learning on the job, it doesn’t just give employees the skills they need today. It also sets them — and your organization — up for success in the future.

Need even more concrete ways to face these common workplace learning challenges? You’ll find helpful tactics to try out in How to Overcome Learning Obstacles in the Workplace.