5 Reasons Why Your Onboarding Program Should Include Self-Learning

Sharlyn Lauby, HR Bartender
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(Editors Note: Today’s post comes from Sharlyn Lauby of HR Bartender and ITM Group.)

An important component of every onboarding program is assimilation or welcoming a new hire into the organization. Of course, that means spending time with the new hire, introducing them to other employees, and maybe even giving them a buddy to help them acclimate to the workplace.

However, there’s a fine line between welcoming and stifling. At some point during the onboarding process, organizations have to allow employees to do things on their own. Not only meet people, but figure out their job. Instead of simply telling employees one day, “Okay, onboarding is over. You’re on your own.”, add some self-learning activities to onboarding to transition employees from onboarding to productivity.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, self-learning refers to a process where employees learn without the help of others. It can include employees diagnosing their own learning needs and developing learning goals. Self-learning activities are a natural accompaniment to any onboarding program. Here are five reasons to consider them:

Reason #1: Organizations cannot possibly cover every topic in orientation and onboarding. Regardless of the length of your orientation and onboarding programs, it’s not realistic to think that everything is going to be covered. Onboarding programs would have to extend beyond a year or more and, while some do, the number is very small.

Including self-learning for activities that take place typically later in the onboarding cycle could be a way to make sure that certain knowledge and skills aren’t overlooked. For example, the company might have training programs that employees attend after six months of employment. Or a new hire could be eligible to approve certain expenditures after nine months, so they need to understand the process.

Reason #2: Some employees prefer self-learning. We can’t make the assumption that every employee likes to learn the same way. There will be topics that employees must learn in a classroom environment, whether they like it or not. And there might be activities – like role plays – that they need to do regardless.

Organizations should include some variety in their learning offerings. That’s what makes learning fun and exciting. There are skills and knowledge that are ideal for self-learning. Activities such as setting up your office voicemail, creating your email signature, and reading about company products and services can be conducted in a self-learning format.

Reason #3: Self-learning is perfect for short learning activities. If we take a moment to think about the way we learn things now in our personal lives, YouTube is a terrific resource. For example, if we wanted to learn how to truss a chicken for a meal at home, we would find that there’s a how-to video that can show you all the steps in less than 2 minutes. Now, apply the same philosophy to something business-related like changing the notifications on your computer.

It’s possible that new hires can use outside resources, like YouTube or social media, to find answers to their questions. New hires who are faced with different computers (PC versus Mac), software programs (Prezi versus PowerPoint), or new communication platforms (Yammer), might find searching for their own answers both a valuable experience and a better use of time. In addition, new hires could retain the information longer.

Reason #4: Self-learning is scalable. Smaller organizations or companies with limited resources might want to use self-learning as a way to add value without additional headcount or budget. This doesn’t mean that organizations don’t have to make any type of investment into self-learning. It simply means the investment might not be as much as a formal customized classroom training.

Organizations that embrace self-learning need to discuss and ask questions of candidates during the interview process. They need to set expectations during orientation that self-learning is the key to successful performance. Managers have to support employee self-learning and coach employees on ways they can develop their self-learning skills.

Reason #5: Self-learning applies beyond onboarding. Part of the definition of self-learning mentioned above includes identifying areas for future learning and goal-setting. It could be difficult for new hire employees to develop their own learning plans without some sort of foundation and coaching.

Organizations should use self-learning activities in onboarding to give employees the foundation they need to eventually set their own learning goals and develop their own learning plans. Managers can start discussing self-learning goals and plans with employees during one-on-one meetings. This helps to change the company’s performance management process from reactive (focused on past behavior) to proactive (focused on goals).

Onboarding programs with a self-learning component can lead to self-learning in other aspects on the employee’s career. With unemployment at record lows and increased conversation about skills gaps, encouraging employees to spend more time self-learning is a win for everyone.

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