Failure is not always a bad thing. We can learn from our mistakes and grow stronger as a result. But when it comes to your learning and development (L&D) strategy, your goal is to succeed.

When you get L&D right, you build a strong learning culture. You empower employees to grow their skills and adapt to new challenges. You save time and money by developing talent within your organization instead of hiring externally.

Unfortunately, many L&D programs are likely to fail. Why? There are a few common culprits. Discover some of the top reasons L&D strategies fail — and how you can learn from these mistakes (without actually making them yourself).

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L&D Fail #1: Learning occurs a few times per year

The old-school way of approaching L&D meant offering dedicated training sessions a few times a year. But if the L&D team controls exactly when and where learning happens, your employees are missing out. Growth opportunities and skills development shouldn’t be constrained. In the modern workplace, it can be hard to justify letting employees take several days or hours away from their daily tasks. And spacing practice into smaller, more frequent bursts leads to more proficiency according to research like this study by the University of Sheffield.

Solution: “‘Learning in the flow of work’ is taking shape as arguably the most disruptive change that learning and development has ever experienced,” writes Vice President for Enterprise Learning and Development at Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina Adri Maisonet-Morales in CLO. Deloitte describes this trend as “making content relevant, personalized, and available to learners when they need it.” 

You can further facilitate learning in the flow of work by encouraging managers to discuss learning with their employees regularly and reinforcing learning with consistent feedback. 

L&D Fail #2: Employees are told what to learn 

Another problematic approach to training involves telling employees exactly what they need to learn. This is unavoidable in some cases — you may have specific company-wide reskilling needs. Managers may also have a role in helping employees to identify skills they should develop and learning opportunities. But generally speaking, employees should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to their learning. 

Solution: Empower employees to set their own learning goals — and write them down. Writing down a goal makes you 42% more likely to achieve it. And committing to actionable steps leads to even greater success. 

Udemy Learning Designer Jess Alderman offers the following tips: “Write down a specific, demonstrable goal that is tied to real-life outcomes, and identify the steps you will take to complete it so that your path to success is clear. Keep your written goal and plan somewhere you can view them frequently.”

L&D Fail #3: The program’s purpose is unclear

Why are your employees learning? If you can’t answer that question within 15 seconds, there’s a problem. When you can’t tie learning to business outcomes or clearly explain the return on investment, it’s much harder to justify the investment. To have a continued budget for L&D, you need to prove that it’s a necessary endeavor.

Solution: Create goals that can be directly linked to business performance. When Udemy surveyed global L&D leaders recently, their top learning program goals included “close the skills gap,” “improve engagement,” and “drive growth.” You can also look for ways to center training programs around your organization’s business objectives. 

McKinsey recommends this approach to help stakeholders across departments understand the importance of learning. For example, try to move away from outputs like “Train 250 employees in data science skills.” Instead, focus on an outcome like “Increase customer retention through targeted data-driven advertising.”

L&D Fail #4: Learning is completed in off-hours

Are you expecting employees to do all their learning in their own time? If so, you’re depriving them of the opportunity to learn in their moment of need. As Deloitte puts it, “That moment of need might be when workers are getting ready to complete a task or as they are in the process of doing the work. Learning tends to come naturally with experience and from direct work.” To help your employees absorb new skills, support frequent repetition and access to learning during work hours.

Solution: Get creative with engagement tactics and encourage employees to build learning into their work schedules. The global L&D leaders Udemy surveyed suggested experimenting with tactics like internal communications, employee-led advocacy groups, and building time for learning into the company calendar. Udemy organizes “Drop Everything And Learn” or DEAL hour every month. Just like a company all-hands meeting, DEAL gets added to everyone’s calendar. 

Craft a winning L&D strategy for your organization

You now know the most common reasons L&D strategies fail. Learning doesn’t happen often enough. Employees are told what to learn. The program’s purpose is unclear. And learning only happens during off-hours. Avoid these common mistakes by building a learning culture and tying learning into your business strategy and outcomes. We’ve outlined a few steps to a winning strategy throughout this post.

Looking for more ways to build a successful learning program at your organization? Explore how to make learning core to work and develop your own plan of action when you download a copy of How to Overcome Learning Obstacles in the Workplace.