In your workplace learning program, you give your learners the skills they need to succeed on the job. But you also likely provide them with strategies they can use to make that learning stick.

There are no shortage of learning techniques supported by research that can help learners remember new information, stay motivated and improve their performance. And the good news, according to a recent study, is that most learners know these proven learning strategies.

The bad news? They don’t use them.

The research

Psychologists at the University of Vienna in Austria were interested in how university students actually learn and study when preparing for an assessment.

Because college students, like workplace learners, are expected to engage in a significant amount of autonomous or self-directed learning, the researchers wanted to find out what techniques and strategies the students used. Specifically, they wanted to find out if students used proven learning techniques when left to their own devices.

The study followed over 400 participants – all undergraduate or graduate students – pursuing a variety of degrees. The researchers gave all participants’ a questionnaire to assess their knowledge of self-regulated learning strategies and asked them to keep a “learning diary” to record how they actually practiced new skills or prepared for an assessment.

The researchers broke self-regulated learning techniques down into four categories: 1.) metacognitive – basically, consciously thinking about how you learn best and acting accordingly; 2.) cognitive – using research-based learning techniques, like spaced repetition; 3.) frustration regulation and 4.) boredom regulation.

Incorporating all four categories, the researchers found that between 88 and 96 percent of participants had a strong knowledge of self-regulated learning strategies. But when it came to actually using them, the percentages plummeted.

The learning diaries showed that roughly one-third of all participants didn’t use research-based techniques – despite knowing them. What’s more, approximately 30 percent of students used adverse learning techniques, like cramming, that have been shown to be detrimental to long-term learning.

Where’s the disconnect?

So why don’t informed learners use learning strategies that they know are proven to work? To find out, the researchers surveyed the participants and found the four most common answers.

  1. Lack of time.
  2. Don’t see the benefit.
  3. Can’t use them effectively.
  4. Using the strategy is too difficult.

With this knowledge in hand, let’s explore how you can prevent your learners from falling victim to the same behavior.


  1. Time well spent. New learning strategies may take up more time at first, and this can be a barrier to adoption. So consider having managers and learning professionals address this head-on with your learners. Sure, a technique may take time at first to master, but once it’s incorporated into a learner’s routine, the techniques will save them time by helping them learn more successfully and efficiently.
  2. The benefits are real. Research-based learning strategies have multiple studies that show the benefits. Share this research with your learners, as well as any success stories or case studies that have taken place within your own organization.
  3. Show them how. When learners are taught a new learning strategy, don’t forget the how – how learners can actually utilize the strategy in their daily routine. Offer practical applications for when and how to use the technique – and don’t just do it once. Revisit these techniques and how to apply them whenever necessary – it will demystify the technique, clear up any questions, and show how easy it is to use.

Foerst, N. M., et al. (2017). Knowledge vs. action: Discrepancies in university students’ knowledge about and self-reported use of self-regulated learning strategies. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1288.


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