Why on the job learning isn’t always superior

by John Hilton26 Feb 2016
One misconception of L&D in the workplace is that on the job learning is always superior to off the job learning, said Professor Michele Simons of The University of Western Sydney.
Simons has extensive experience in supporting learning in the fields of workplace learning, adult education and vocational education. She told L&D Professional that because of a range of reasons people can actually learn bad and incorrect habits in the workplace.
“Workers can often learn dangerous ways of doing jobs, and shortcuts can be made in the case of expediency,” Simons said.
“Employees might learn these things in one workplace and then move to another workplace and find out that that’s not the way things are done.
“So I think that people need to think carefully about what can be learnt and how it can be learnt in workplace. They are sometimes not the ideal places for learning.”
Simons added that sadly workplaces can also be a site where people are excluded from learning and bullied. Moreover, there can be a range of things that happen to make them not very nice places to learn.
It’s difficult to judge how deep this problem is in Australian workplaces at the moment, said Simons.
“Employers will say that they are doing the right thing and I think a lot of them are doing the right thing,” she added.
“But then we also know that there are instances where people say this is what I learnt on the job and it causes accidents and it’s been dangerous and things like that.”
It’s important to consider this in the context that learning is something we can’t ultimately control all the time, she said.
Simons added that the idea that we need to continually learn to improve what we are doing in business has a lot of merit.
“Those continuous opportunities to develop workers I think can overcome some of the problems and challenges of learning in the workplace,” she said.
“It’s a topic that I think exercises many people’s minds because learning on the job can be much more cost-effective than learning away from the job.”


  • by Gordon Sanderson 26/02/2016 3:08:16 PM

    I would think this is mostly true of skill based learning. Certainly where health and safety issues are a factor certified type learning is a must. Where on the job earning excels in my view is building capability beyond the learned skill, into the areas of making decisions within the scope of the job, organisational competence, problem solving, even learning to be adaptable and embrace change. Where employees are given the autonomy within their roles to take on responsibility for growth, are not fearful of consequences, but are supported by managers to thrive the whole organisation benefits through a more capable workforce.

  • by Lam 26/02/2016 3:23:34 PM

    I quite agree with Simons that on the job learning may not be superior. This is especially detrimental both to the company and the new or young staff when they pick up bad habits, bad behavior and wrong mindsets from their seniors. In many cases, even if we are able to identify a good senior staff to coach the new or young staff, there is always a sense of limited supply of good staff against a whole bunch of new or young staff.

  • by DJ 26/02/2016 5:10:24 PM

    While I agree, this is equally true of all other types of learning. A bad example is a bad example, regardless of the learning method.