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Learning barriers: how can you overcome them effectively?

Ana Nastase
25 Feb, 2022
4 m read

Learning barriers: we all know them

Do you remember that class back in highschool when you just couldn’t pay attention? Or that lecture back in college when you felt so disengaged and bored that you couldn’t assimilate information? These are barriers that prevent learning retention, making the delivery of knowledge pointless.

As education continues the whole life and we keep learning to fill skills and knowledge gaps, these barriers don’t go away, but on the contrary, they become stronger and stronger, as learning is not our only activity in our adult life. We have other things to focus on, other tasks to perform, and other goals to accomplish beyond learning. And learning barriers make things even harder. But what are they?

A barrier to learning is considered anything that prevents a learner from being engaged in the process, and it can be determined by multiple factors, either external or internal, which are organised into three categories: emotional, motivational, and personal.

learning barrier

Learning barriers

Motivational learning barriers

Let’s start with the motivational barriers that keep us away from effective knowledge. One of the most common learning barriers is the lack of purpose. If an organization imposes employees to be a part of a training program and the employees don’t see how this training can improve their performance and make their work easier, then they won’t be motivated to engage in learning.

What can the organization do about this? Talk to employees beforehand. Ask them what they need in terms of learning. Get feedback from them after every learning program to find out what can be improved. 

Another learning barrier is the lack of previous knowledge. This is why it is really important to know the participants’ level of knowledge before organizing a training plan. If learners don’t have the basic knowledge on a specific topic, then it would be impossible for them to understand a training designed for advanced learners. This will be frustrating for both the learners and the trainer.

How do you overcome this? By planning ahead. For traditional training programs, the L&D professional can have a meeting with the trainer and the team leader to make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the knowledge level. If you use an eLearning platform, then you can create learning paths for employees based on their level, assigning learning resources and materials progressively. 

And last but not least, boredom is a huge learning barrier. Let’s say that employees need training on specific skills. You know their level of expertise, you know their end goals, you come up with a training plan. But even if they know the information is valuable to them, the boredom prevents them from retaining information and turning it into skills.

So what do you do? You must involve interactive learning to overcome these learning barriers. This is what keeps people engaged when the topic is hard.  You can use interactive learning materials such as videos or real-life scenarios, you can use work groups to make them talk between themselves, you can even involve gamification methods. 

The eLearning Industry wrote an article on some tips & tricks to motivate learners, among which they mentioned the following: challenge learners through games, chunk information, accommodate career goals, get emotional, make courses visually compelling, ask for feedback, etc. 

Emotional learning barriers

Emotional learning barriers, such as lack of focus, fear of failure, peer pressure, lack of self-esteem, resistance to change might sabotage the entire learning process. 

Let’s start with the fear of failure. Most of us have experienced this at one time in our life, either when we had to study for an exam or when we had to present a paper in front of everyone. Sometimes people even think that it is better to stop trying than to fail. But isn’t this also a valuable method of learning, as the Agile methodology, for example, teaches us?

This is actually a great method to overcome this emotional barrier: allow for mistakes, encourage learners to see them as lessons, and explain to them that making mistakes in training is better than making them in real life. So, the training is a safe environment where you can practice, without the fear of failure or of making mistakes. 

Among the emotional learning barriers, the resistance to change is crucial. Learning usually means exposure to new things, to new technologies and new skills. If people want to stick to the old and refuse to stay up to date to the new, these training programs will fail. Moving from traditional training programs to online learning also means adapting to change.

So how do you encourage your employees to accept the new? You should make them see the bigger picture, and understand how the new skill is essential to their professional development. You should also approach change with patience, so that employees adapt progressively. For example, when you enforce learning through a LMS, you should provide them with tutorials on how this can be used and even assign a person who can answer their technical questions. 

Personal learning barriers

Among these learning barriers, the different learning styles or various impairments should be considered. People work differently, act differently, and of course learn differently and the training program should be adapted to this. And it is true that an organization cannot create different training sessions for each and every individual, but it can come up with learning programs that are diverse in terms of learning styles, answering everyone's needs. 

Some (final) thoughts

Irina Bukova, the former Director General of Unesco, said that “there are no immovable barriers to education”. We don’t know whether this is true or not, but we know that there are always ways to try to overcome learning barriers, and as there are new skills to be gained, there are also new methods to deliver them, you just have to be open to change and ready to try them.

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