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Supporting Workplace Learning for High Performance Working

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator at Flame Centre | Future Skills Institute

Boosting Productivity in Singapore Through Learning:

The Use of Workplace Learning


How do you get new waiters to memorise the food and drinks menu in a short span of time?

For the matter, how do you get new staff to learn about voluminous and complex Standard Operating Procedures in your company?

The perennial challenge in organizations is a lack of trained staff who are skilled in customer service and knowledgeable about the company's products. In the Food and Beverage sector we often encounter service staff who simply do the bare minimum: take orders, deliver the food and drinks, and bring the bill. Many times, service staff either cannot make meaningful advice or comment on the dishes or have no clue about the items on the menu. This challenge is not only unique to the F&B companies but also plagues companies in other sectors. While these companies invest a lot of time and money in creating the right mood and ambience and innovative products to please their customers, they do not pay enough attention to train their key people with the correct knowledge to pull the entire customer experience together.

Companies either pay very little attention to ensure that their staff learn about the products and processes or they leave the entire learning process to the staff.

Frequently, I see staff reading the product information repeatedly trying to commit the entire information down via brute force. These learning efforts, while producing results in the short term, result in poor retention of learning in the long run.

What companies need is an effective learning strategy to ensure that the right product and systems are supported by the right learning strategy.

This is in line with the future of skills development in Singapore where the CET 2020 Masterplan points toward more skills development happening directly in the workplace.

Here are a few learning strategies in the workplace for consideration:

1) Spacing and Repetition

We have heard of the term, death by PowerPoint. It is not surprising that many companies squeeze loads of information into PowerPoint presentations expecting staff to remember them. Such practices do not create effective learning results. Instead of presenting all the information such as entire menu to the staff at one go or SOPs to the staff and requiring them to commit it down to hard memory, it might be better to space out the information and deliver it to staff in chunks at different intervals coupled with repetition of memorising the same information. Research has shown that spacing, a process of delivering information through a spaced interval, produces better results than a massive presentation without intervals.

2) Interleaving

From our schooling days, we may have adopted the habit of studying an entire subject and mastering it first before moving to the next subject e.g., studying mathematics first and then move on to Chinese. However, research has shown that interleaving, a process where we mix different topics or subjects e.g., studying a bit of Chinese and then Mathematics, creates sustained retention of learning in the long run compared to studying and mastering one subject at a time. In the F&B outlets, instead of reading and committing the entire menu to memory at one go, service staff can consider memorising the different sections in the menu e.g., meats and then red wine lines or kinds of pasta and vegetables and then the white wines for better retention of learning.

3) Periodic quizzing

While assessment and testing are quite common in formal workforce qualifications, they frequently do not produce sustained retention of learning in the long run. This is especially so with summative assessments conducted after a few days of classroom learning. Many of us who have mugged for examinations in our schooling days can attest to this. Frequently, we are stressed out by the entire process and often forget the majority of things we have learned after the examinations. Instead of summative assessments or tests, small periodic quizzes might be better. For example, in the workplace, periodic quizzes can be delivered via smartphones (a common accessory of the young) through mobile learning software applications to test the knowledge of the staff. In addition, the use of small prizes can be used to spur the motivation for learning.

4) Calibration

There is a saying that we do not know what we do not know. Without the presence of a subject matter expert or role model, we have no idea what good practices and behaviours are. More importantly, we are not able to calibrate our behaviour against a standard and may often think we are good or know a lot. We are subjected to learning blind spots or illusion of knowledge.

Research has shown that novice practitioners often misjudged the level of their competence and think that they do not need to learn anymore. In the workplace, it is important for experienced service staff to provide the service benchmark or role modelling so that inexperienced staff can have the means to calibrate the level of the skills and knowledge. In a research report on raising the bar for service standard in Singapore, Spire Research and Consulting also called for business leaders to reinforce standards by setting a role model through serving the customers directly.

The learning strategies of spacing, repetition, interleaving, periodic quizzing and calibration are simple yet effective strategies that local companies can employ to boost their learning and productivity.


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