ATD Blog

Managers Role in Employee Learning

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

If you are a manager and you want an increase in your employees’ engagement and productivity, you need to become an active agent in their learning. You can’t leave learning entirely to HR, the CLO, or any other training professionals in your organization. They should not and cannot be the sole source of new knowledge and skills. They don’t have the time and resources to be continuous facilitators of employee learning and performance improvement and they aren’t close enough to the action on a day-to-day basis to provide instructional experiences when and where they will have the most impact. However, as a manager, you can make a difference in employee learning and, therefore, engagement and productivity by creating a “learning alliance” with your direct reports. You know their learning needs and you are in a position to make an immediate and lasting difference in their performance.

Four major trends are making your role as facilitator of employee learning all the more critical in the coming years. First, technology is shifting the locus of learning from the instructional experts to learners and their social networks. Using mobile applications, employees can access vast amounts of information when and where they need it. They don’t have to depend on training and development professionals for acquiring the knowledge and skills they need. Like patients who check WebMD before visiting their doctors, employees are now able to be self-directed in the way they approach learning for their jobs. Meghan Biro calls this “self-service” HR

Another major trend is the personalization of learning. Using new technologies, managers are now able to “push” customized information that addresses the immediate learning needs of each employee and do this in a way that fits each employee’s style of learning. For example, aggregator Web sites can search for information on specific topics and deliver that information to whatever device an employee uses for learning. You can locate resources (even hardcopy books!) and quickly have relevant material delivered to the employee in the form they use best. It is becoming much easier for you to help each of your direct reports identify what information and skills they need and then ensure that they acquire that new knowledge.


The accelerating pace of change is also a trend that is making your role as a facilitator of learning more important. Today, employees can’t wait for scheduled classes or the annual conference. Maybe when jobs stayed basically the same year after year, employees could wait to fit into the instructor’s timeline. Not anymore. Whether manufacturing, health care, retail, travel, or almost any other business or nonprofit, the products and services and the competition for quality are changing so fast that one has to be constantly learning. Competitors can create new businesses overnight and can do this from anywhere in the world and with the cheapest labor available. To stay ahead, employees have to keep developing their knowledge and skills. They have to learn new methods and new technology that will keep them competitive. And advances in science as well as our understanding of individual and organizational behavior are putting pressure on employees for continuous improvement.

Elliott Masie  talks about “learning agility” which represents a fourth major trend that is making the learning-facilitator role of managers so important. This is the need to manage the vast amount of information available through the media and digital technology that can be overwhelming. There is a wide range in the quality and accuracy of that information. You must help employees become curators of this information.  That is, together you should be making choices based on criteria for information quality, sorting and classifying that information, and deciding how to apply that information in a useful way.  Ultimately, managers should help employees translate information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom.

About the Author

Stephen is the co-owner of, a marketplace for organizational learning tools, and also owner and principal of Stephen J. Gill Consulting. Steve's expertise is in creating learning cultures in organizations and measuring the impact of learning and performance improvement interventions. He has done this work for more than 25 years, since leaving the faculty of the University of Michigan, School of Education. He has written extensively about these topics. His most recent books are Getting More From Your Investment in Training: The 5As Framework, published by RealTime Performance in 2009, Developing a Learning Culture in Nonprofit Organizations, published by Sage Publications in 2010, and Communication in High Performance Organizations: Principles and Best Practices, published as Kindle ebook in 2011. Steve also posts regularly on The Performance Improvement Blog. He serves his community as an elected trustee of Washtenaw Community College.  

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