Learning & Development

10 Proven Learning Strategies to Upskill Employees

Learning strategies are the methods that students use to learn. These can range from techniques to retain the information long term to better ways to study to test-taking strategies. Learning strategies should also extend beyond the students to the facilitators.

Why? Because the way the training materials are presented is just as important as how the students learn.

If you think back to school, you’ll remember those classmates that always seemed to fly through school. They would barely pick up a book and still ace the test. Or maybe you were one of these students. The problem is not everyone learns so quickly or in the same fashion. That’s why it’s important to have several learning strategies in place for on-the-job training.

Learning strategies for employees

By incorporating learning strategies within your training program you can impact how and what your employees retain. Plus, you can offer a customized learning program to fit everyone’s unique learning style. So what are the latest trends in learning strategies? Here are the ones you should be incorporating to keep and gain top talent.

1. Bite-sized learning

Everyone’s attention span is different, but it’s been proven you retain more over time if you break your learning up. Instead of offering one large training session, use bite-sized learning. Take key topics and spread them out over a course of time. That way employees can digest one concept before moving on to the next. Plus, this method allows employees time to recap what they’ve learned so far before applying it to the next lesson.

How to incorporate bite-sized learning

Bite-sized learning is one of the learning strategies that are great for several different types of training. Here are some ways to include it within your training program.

Sales Training - Chances are you employ a sales team that spends a good portion on client calls outside the office. These team members do not have blocks of time to sit in training sessions. Offering bite-sized learning quick sessions that can be done on the go is ideal for your sales team.

Compliance Training - For compliance, employees need to be up-to-speed on new laws, and regulations or to stay current within their designations. Bite-sized learning can be used with any facet of compliance training.

Safety Training - Depending on what your industry does, some or all of your employees need safety training. If your industry is construction, for example, it’s what to do if an accident arises. Or if you work in a corporate office building, there needs to be training on what to do in case of a fire. Bite-sized learning is great for retaining key safety information.

Software Training - There are always new software rollouts. And some employees will learn faster than others. A way for everyone to get on board quickly is to use bite-sized learning. Short sessions will help all employees get up to speed more efficiently.

New hire training - Since you know time is money and that it costs a lot to hire new employees, you want them to feel welcome for the start and stay! As part of their new employee onboarding process, utilize bite-sized learning so that they can integrate faster into your organization.

Product or service training - No matter what industry you are in, you have changes, tweaks over even overhauls to your product or service offerings. Every employee from sales to marketing to even admins needs to understand what these are. And bite-sized learning is a great way to make sure everyone understands the new workings of your products or services.

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2. Retrieval practice

It’s one thing to learn information, but it’s a completely different concept to retain it. Since employees are always multitasking on jobs, what’s learned is often soon forgotten. That’s why one of the great learning strategies is the retrieval practice. Instead of attending in-classroom training, taking notes, and then studying these notes to be quizzed on what’s learned, retrieval practice forces you to use your memory. Recalling information without the crutch of notes will help employees learn more effectively.

How to incorporate retrieval practice

The easiest way to start using this process is to have employees write out what was learned to see if they can recall the material. If you are training on-site, this could mean incorporating a group discussion on what was learned. The goal is to have everyone recall the material without looking through their notes or any handouts to refresh their memories.

Then either have employees review the notes themselves to see how well they retained what was learned or go over the material again focusing on the areas that were not retained the first time.

3. Elaboration

When it comes to learning strategies, elaboration is another great method for retaining what’s being taught. This method will force employees to dig deeper beyond simply recalling what’s learned and actually explaining in great detail what the concepts are. The goal is to connect what’s being learned to actual real-life experiences so that the new material gets incorporated into a person’s decision-making process.

How to incorporate elaboration

So how do you use it? The best way is to use a specific method of elaboration called interrogation elaboration. Have employees ask themselves how and why a new concept works. Then, they will come up with these answers. So for example,  if you are training on the importance of onsite training. Employees would ask themselves these questions.

  • How does onsite training work?
  • Why do on-site training?
  • When did companies start onsite training?
  • What caused onsite training to become important?
  • What is the result of a great onsite training program?

Basically, employees make lists of everything to be learned, then they formulate questions around each topic. Once they begin to answer some of these questions, employees will begin to see connections between various topics within a lesson. This will help make sense of what is being taught and the mind starts to better retain the new information. The final step is for employees to make connections with this new information to their life experiences or memories. Also, employees going forward should note how this new material relates to what’s going around them. By going through this process, employees will absorb and actually use what is being taught both on the job and in their personal lives.

4. Interleaving

The best learning strategies focus on retaining the new information taught. That’s why interleaving is a great method to incorporate. Interleaving is memorizing new material but woven in with other skills. So instead of focusing on just one concept, there are other concepts within the same lesson plan. For example, your training is on a new product rollout. You may mix in quick lessons about your existing products. Doing this forces the learner to pay attention. He or she must focus on the topics and pick out the new information.

How to incorporate interleaving

For facilitators, lesson plans should take some new topics and mix them in with other topics. It’s important to choose other concepts that should be common knowledge to an employee. That way, if these concepts are missed, facilitators will know employees need a refresher lesson in these key concepts.

For employees, studying any new lessons should also be interwoven with various topics. For example, if an employee must take compliance training and a safety class, then they should jump back and forth between the two topics when learning the information. That way it forces the brain to stay active in learning both sets of materials. However, it’s important that switching between material is not an excuse for leaving one concept for another because the materials is too challenging. The purpose is to keep the focus sharp and make connections across different training sessions.

5. Concrete examples

Often concepts or new skills are introduced and it’s hard for a learner to see how these skills relate to their actual life. However, by using one of the learning strategies called concrete examples, abstract lessons become usable ideas. So what exactly are concrete examples? They are examples that you can see, taste, touch, smell and hear. In other words, they are physical and resonate with the learner. Since they are concrete, they easily translate into actual experiences. Plus, these examples can be measured and observed to deepen their understanding of them.

How to incorporate concrete examples

This learning strategy is great for both facilitators and employees to use. For facilitators, oftentimes topics covered in a learning session are concepts. While these concepts need to be adopted by a group of employees, the employees may not understand how these concepts relate to their daily work lives. So, a facilitator may explain a concept like tips for customer service training. But instead of just giving the tips, the facilitator would follow each tip with a concrete example. So maybe the tip is how to treat the customer correctly and the concrete example would be how an airline gives out vouchers when they are oversold. For employees, concrete examples can be used to study the information given,  For each training module employees would create a few concrete examples per topic. That way concepts become facts in an employee’s mind.

6. Dual coding

In today’s world, there is so much noise that people tune out. It’s no different when it comes to learning new concepts. That’s why learning strategies are a great way to break through this noise. Dual coding is a learning strategy that uses visuals. Just like advertisers use social media like videos, memes, and other concepts to catch your eye so does dual learning when it comes to training and development. Some employees view training as a formality while others half pay attention to the concepts presented. By using dual learning it makes learning fun and more interactive. Thus more employees will pay attention and remember what was presented.

How to incorporate dual coding

Dual coding can be used in any training module for employees. Facilitators will have to figure out which visual best explains which concept. For example, some visuals could be an infographic, a cartoon strip, a diagram, a graphic organizer, a timeline, or a graph. The main point is to explain a concept in both words and visuals. Since everyone learns differently, some people are more literal and some people are more visual. Dual coding gets the point across in both ways by incorporating everyone’s individual learning style. And to further learn the material, visual employees can assign their own visuals to these new concepts.

7. Metacognition

As far as learning strategies go, metacognition is an important one to consider. Basically, metacognition is the process of thinking about thinking. In other words, it is how you think about life and work. It’s the self-reflection on your future goals, actions to take to achieve these goals, and strategies to reach personal targets.

Unlike other learning strategies, metacognition is already built into each and every one of us and is even found in animals. Although we all possess metacognition, it can become a learning strategy if you start to hone it.

When practiced, it can propel a learner to improve knowledge, skills, and character beyond what is being taught in a classroom. If practiced, a person can learn a certain skill and not only apply it on the job but to personal situations as well. Additionally, metacognition is the ability to take a concept learned and apply it to multiple situations at work versus just the one that was given in training.

How to incorporate metacognition

The best way to apply metacognition in learning is for a facilitator to give an example of using it and without. So for example, you want employees to be well versed in safety using a new product so that they can explain it to customers.

1. Scenario without metacognition

You role-play an example of a customer picking up the product without consulting the manual and damaging it. Then using the same philosophy they try to correct their mistake resulting in more damage. And finally, this person ends up breaking the product due to the same method applied over and over.

2. Scenario with metacognition

Your next example shows the customer getting frustrated with a product and instead of damaging the product, they consult the manual. However, this person is still confused so they pick up the phone and call customer service. After the call, they still have additional questions so they decide to check the company's Facebook customer page to ask specific questions. All these efforts lead to fully understanding the safety of this new product. So as you can see scenario 1 is using one way of thinking to get to an end result. The issue is one method was not enough to solve this customer’s problem. While scenario two uses multiple approaches to get a solution. So as you can see metacognition results in a better way to think about problems and get to the correct solutions.

8. Double Loop Learning

Learning strategies can help shape company culture as well. Take for example double-loop learning. This way of learning involves thinking more broadly about the problem at hand. To explain it, take for example a fire detector. The fire detector turns on when it detects smoke. This is referred to as single-loop learning because there is a problem (smoke) and the fire detector reacts. But what if the fire detector could question the amount of smoke and either turn on, call 911 or activate the sprinkler system depending on how bad it was? This is an example of double-loop learning because the smoke detector is weighing outside factors before making a decision.

Double-loop learning is great for employees when it comes to learning skills related to company culture like workplace communication. So, for example, an employee notices a product could be improved based on customer feedback. However, they don’t approach senior management for fear of overstepping boundaries. Then this product gets recalled due to poor performance costing the company a lot. However, had they used double-loop learning and noticed there was a problem, thought about the best solution, and worked with senior management to resolve the problem, loss of income could have been avoided.

How to incorporate double-loop learning

Double-loop learning should be used for company culture training. Everyone from senior management down to company interns needs to understand that problems and solutions can be raised by anyone. And most importantly, no one will get in trouble for speaking their minds. Using small groups in a classroom setting, a facilitator would ask open-ended questions to a group mixed between senior management and employees from various departments.

These questions would be real-life scenarios to foster honest communication. The goal is to uncover issues within the company and devise solutions. The other goal is to get employees to use double-loop learning to think creatively about a problem versus jumping to a quick answer. Just remember, everyone in the group needs to be okay with confrontation and know it’s meant to devise the best plans for the company as a whole.

9. Conversation theory

Some learning strategies like conversation theory lend themselves to online learning. This concept was developed by Gordon Pask, a noted cyberneticist. His goal was to create a system that produced a productive society free of conflict. To do this, people learn from computers and computers learn from people. In other words, the computer learns about a person through their interactions digitally whereas a human learns new technology and skills through the computer.

That’s why companies benefit from using learning management systems for training purposes. If you don’t use a corporate LMS, by adding one you will reap the benefits of this mutual learning process. For those who don’t know, an LMS is a software application used to plan, disseminate, and analyze the learning lifecycle of employees. Typically, a learning management system provides facilitators ways to create and deliver skills, monitor how well the material is absorbed, and assess an employee’s performance. So as you can see by using a learning management system for training you will automatically reap the benefits of conversation theory.

Best practices for conversation theory

Once you’ve built the courses into your learning management system, you’ll want to employ a few best practices so that conversation theory is optimized.

  1. Build courses so that employees can see the relationships between concepts in order to absorb and assimilate the subject matter better.
  2. Subject matter is better learned when it’s explained or manipulated. So it’s best to incorporate other learning methods like peer-to-peer learning or use real-life scenarios so employees can see concepts become action.
  3. Remember not all employees learn in the same way so build courses or modules with a variety

Once your best practices are in place, make sure your courses are varied using three styles of conversations for best absorption. Here are the three styles to use:

Natural Language - These are discussions or any other form of conversation that occurs naturally in everyday life. So incorporating real-life scenarios for learning would be an example of natural language.

Object Language - Object language in conversations that center on a subject matter, like a conversation in a virtual learning session,

Metalanguage - Metalanguage is conversations that focus on the act of learning. For example, hiring an executive coach to work on a manager’s goals, personality issues, and leadership style. And finally, before rolling out these new courses, make sure the overall emphasis is a peer-to-peer learning style. Why? Because the overall goal of conversation theory is to use communication to learn from each other in a digital setting. For example, have one employee take a course and then create a video presentation to the team on what they learned. Going back to Pask the creator or conversation theory, he outlined two ways to carry out peer-to-peer learning.

1. Serialist - Since as we have said before everyone learns in a different fashion, it’s best to deploy two types of peer-to-peer learning to see which one works best for each employee. The first style is called serialist. In this style, employees learn in a step-by-step approach. In other words, one concept is learned followed by a more complex concept, and so forth. This style lends itself best to employees who look at learning as building blocks versus an overall picture. So when building these courses remember to set a clear course path of which module to take first, second, and so on. Employees need to see a clear learning path and understand what the overall goal is.

2. Holists - Unlike the linear approach of serialist learning, holists do see the big picture. These learners like a course map or outline so they can explore the training program as a whole. Make sure these courses can be taken in any order that these employees find most useful as they like to direct the path they take. You can give them a roadmap, but it should be flexible. Also, since this group of employees tends to be more abstract in their thinking, remind them of the learning objectives frequently, what lessons they have completed and what relationship each course has with the next.

10. Lateral learning

Doctor Edward De Bono developed lateral thinking or sometimes called lateral learning as a way to “think outside the box.” In order to understand lateral learning as one of the noted learning strategies, let’s put it into context. Say for example you developed a course in sales techniques. Your end goal is to get employees to use the new strategies taught to win new customers.

The issue is although you are providing these new skills, you are assuming the ideal situation will play out when using them. But in real life, textbook examples never play out exactly as taught. So that’s where lateral learning comes in. It teaches employees to take what is taught and then use perception and instinct to know when to use each given skill.

How to incorporate lateral learning

For facilitators, lateral learning can be built into course design. Since the end goal is to get the learners to think creatively using the new skills taught, training programs can be structured in this way. Here are some ways to incorporate it:

  • Create idea-generating courses that force employees to answer open-ended questions using the new skills taught
  • Give skills that will open an employee's mind to new ways of using these skills. For example, a customer service skill may also be useful when interacting with an employee who has a different opinion on how something should be done
  • Use treatment tools that teach thinking creativity to turn ideas into workable solutions.

For employees, when given new skills, lateral learning is also useful. For example, when studying new material, employees should think of as many scenarios where they could use these new skills. This will train the brain to be more creative in thinking. It can also be used in a general sense as well. For example, if a problem arises on the job, instead of an employee informing a manager to solve it, this employee would come up with a few solutions and ways it could be solved and actually help prevent it from happening in the future. Lateral learning leads to better decision-making and problem-solving on the job.

Today’s employee demands individuality

So how do you incorporate learning strategies for your learning and development program? Before we dive in, it’s important to understand why you need learning strategies in the first place. To answer that, let’s take a look at what employees truly want. According to the 2018 Global Talent Trends study by Mercer, the findings boil down to three main points.


Slightly more than half of all employees said they wished their employers offered more flexibility. These are things like telecommuting, flexible schedules, and unlimited PTO. But flexibility means more than just where you work and when. Employees want this flexibility in how they do their jobs and this includes training. By incorporating different learning strategies into your training program, you will give employees the tools to do their jobs more effectively, but on an individualized level.


A focus on health has become top of mind in employees’ personal lives, but this also extends into their work lives. In fact, one in two employees surveyed stated a need for more well-being at their current companies. This means physically with things like health screenings and better work stations like standing desks, but it can also mean training. When you utilize learning strategies you can strengthen your employees' skill sets. Added learning and development equals further employee company advancement which translates to financial well-being for your employees.


Employees responded that they were three times more likely to work for a company where they felt they had a purpose. In other words, everyone wants to feel included and that their job counts toward the greater good of the company. Training topics like workplace communication, company goals and understanding what the company offers customers are key to building purpose. By using learning strategies, you can drive home what your company’s purpose is and how each employee’s job impacts this and the greater community.

Training is only as good as what’s put into action

We’ve talked about several learning strategies and mentioned how to use these. It’s one thing to create a training and development program, but it’s quite different for your employees to actually engage in the learning process. By using these learning strategies, you can help employees absorb the new material and actually use it on the job.

The statistics don’t lie. According to a few recent studies, people forget...

  1. 40% of what is learned in 20 minutes
  2. 77% of what they learned in six days
  3. 97% of what they learned after one month

So as you can see, it’s human nature to forget. But by using different techniques, varying training, and giving employees new ways to think about mastered skills, it can improve memory and lead to better performance. And when employees improve on the job, it leads to better customer interactions, increased sales, and happier employees. Try out a few of these new learning strategies to see which ones work best for your company. It can only strengthen your training program and your employees.

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