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Too busy for learning? That's just an excuse!

Here's a riddle for you: what can be up or down, bad or good, hard or lovely, big or off?

Need some clues?

It can hang heavy, it can have mists, it can fly and it will always tell. You can be ahead of it, or behind it. You can buy it, you can run out of it, or you simply can't find it. You can even kill it.

Even more?

Perhaps you know the answer by now, but I insist on giving one last hint. People have some of the most creative ways of measuring it: as quick as you can say Jack Robinson, in two shakes of a lamb's tail, at the drop of a hat, or once in a blue moon. [George Carlin is better at this than I am, so I invite you to spare a few minutes and watch his video about time — it will be worth your while]

Too busy for learning?

Time. There are >10,000 minutes in a week and >700,000 hours in a month, yet people never seem to have enough time.

They are too busy doing a million different things each day: working crazy hours, doing chores around the house, making sure their kids go to school, and sometimes meeting friends or having hobbies. Juggling all these — and maybe more — can be challenging even for healthy people. One minute you have one ball in your hands, the next you have nine and you are afraid that if a tenth one comes along you'll drop them all. Nobody wants to have too many wall chargers in their power strip because it's just a matter of time until electrical failure or burnout happens.

With the constant stress of never having enough time for everything that must be done, people learn how to prioritize their activities, especially at work: they focus on important tasks first and push others down on their to do lists. Learning at work rarely gets a top spot on a to do list, even though it is an important fuel leading the way to success.

The paradigm surrounding workplace training is that while everyone agrees upon its importance, almost nobody puts it on their high priority list. Managers know that their company's competitiveness is directly related to employees' skills development, yet L&D departments are often the first to be hit by budget cuts. Employees are perfectly aware that developing their skills directly contributes to their professional development, yet they always have something urgent to do and simply don't show up at training sessions.

Everyone just seems to be too busy for learning. But are they really too busy, or is this just an excuse?

How can learning and development be included in the busy schedule of managers and employees?

How indeed? More often than not, it is already included, but people don't know how to make the most of it. So the real question that begs an answer is...

How can instructional designers destroy this "too busy" attitude towards learning?

As an instructional designer with your company's success in mind, you need to make a plan for all learning activities and be prepared to change it along the way.

First, you need to get the managers on your side. They have, among others, the power of example. When employees see their team leaders actively involved in workplace learning, they will be more willing to participate as well and try their best.

You can always use this power line to get their attention:

“What if we train employees and then they leave to the competition?
What if we don’t train them and they stay?”

At every step of your plan you should focus on the "too busy" excuse and work around it.

It's always better to learn 10 minutes every day instead of a 6-hour training session once every few months. Schedule short sessions once a week and see if these work better. They don't have to be too formal — small groups of people working on the same project could spend half an hour or 45 minutes after lunch presenting their work, discussing problems and figuring out possible solutions. Every team member can contribute, and the manager doesn't have to have all the answers. Most of the learning happens through on-the-job experiences and social interaction anyway.

Try to make use of all the dead time in a day — one hour of commuting, ten minutes of waiting in line at the cafeteria, one or two minutes waiting for a slow browser to render all tabs. Equip your team with modern technological devices, design learning materials in different forms (audio files, videos, text, quizzes, games, etc.) and divide them in bite-sized modules. Neither managers nor employees like wasting time, and if they have the appropriate devices, structure and a fun element, it will be easy to do some learning in most of these cases.

Also, include conferences in your plan. Sure, a whole team can't really leave the office at the same time to attend it, the quality of talks and presentations can vary greatly, and the extra budget needs careful consideration. But meeting new people from the same industry and sharing challenges and success stories have an enormous impact on employees. They can get an idea that will solve an issue they've been working on for weeks. People can learn more things at conferences than in any formal training session.


So next time you hear someone complaining that they would learn, it's just that they don't have time, give them a suspicious look and say that you don't buy it. Learning happens all the time.