10 reasons to modernize workplace training

The current training model can no longer keep pace with the speed of business and the continuous nature of change. It is time to give it an overhaul.

Here are 10 issues associated with current training approaches and some brief pointers about how they can be addressed.

1 – Training is often ineffective

Problem: There have been a number of reports in mainstream newspapers about costly and ineffective training. For example,  in Companies waste billions of dollars on ineffective corporate training”, Roberta Holland writes.

“About $162 billion was spent in 2012 in the United States on corporate training—in what Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer calls the “the great training robbery”. It’s a huge amount, and some of it works, and a lot of it doesn’t,” Beer says, citing the example of an oil company that built a $20 million safety training facility but still suffered several fatal accidents nonetheless … Some studies have shown that only 10% of corporate training is effective, he says.”

Pointer: Training needs to have an impact on the job, so start by considering what new performance is needed and provide training that meets those needs, rather than just considering what people need to learn. Use a performance (rather than training) design and assessment approach like Performance Consulting or Design Thinking.

2 – Classroom training is often unappealing

Problem: Classroom training is often regarded as a boring, passive activity, as Ross Page succinctly summarised in “Most trainers and training sessions are boring” (no longer available online)

“Grey room, black type, white background, 550 PowerPoint slides per hour, some bozo beating his gums out the front while the class sleeps and that most dreadful and horrific of all training room afflictions: Flat Bum (from 2 hours of chair based, brain numbing, spirit sapping, soul draining facilitator tongue flap!)”

Pointer: If some form of training is to be held in the classroom, then the broadcast format needs to be replaced by something that is more collaborative and technology-friendly.

3 – E-Learning is often unappealing

Problem. Many training departments have recognised that spending long periods of time in a classroom is not effective, and turned to e-learning to convert their face-to-face training into online courses. However, now employees are required to spend a considerable amount of time sitting in front of their computers working through online courses instead! And as low-cost authoring tools made it easy – or rather too easy – to create e-learning, this resulted in a lot of “click-next-button” e-learning, which simply moves the user from one slide to the next.  Clark Quinn summed up this type of le-learning as “knowledge dumps tarted up with trivial interactions”. But as a result of all this, e-learning has also become unappealing and frustrating to many users.

Pointer: Avoid the click-next approach, and create content that is short, visual and can be used flexibly. Consider the appropriateness of experiential or social learning approaches instead.

4 – Training takes too long to develop or deliver

Problem: It takes time and effort to design, develop and deliver training content – both in the classroom and online – and speed-to-competence is often compromised.  Additionally, once a course, programme or curriculum has been developed there is often so much invested effort and cost that it’s unlikely to be changed or discarded as fast as it needs to be in order to keep pace with changing circumstances. In fact, e-learning can quickly become outdated, which can lead to frustration and confusion.

Pointer: Create or curate short, flexible resources for on-demand use that can easily be updated.

5 – Training is often a one-size fits all experience

Problem: Since training is usually designed to meet the needs of a diverse group of people,  both content and approach often don’t match the personal needs or preferences of individuals. The “sheep dip” approach, that ensures everyone has the same learning experience, is no longer appropriate.  Andy Molinsky believes that one of the problems with corporate training is that it is too generic.

“When encountering – and ultimately learning to perform – new skills in a corporate training context, everyone’s challenges will be different. But in a one-size-fits all training system, it’s hard to provide this sort of differentiation. And here too the sports analogy is apropos. In professional sports, you typically see a range of different coaches working with small groups and individuals on honing their personal technique and addressing the specific, individual challenges they face.”

Pointer: Ensure that individuals can personalize their learning and are not obliged to work through and use any (e-)training in a prescribed way.

6 – Trainees often don’t see the purpose of training

ProblemElon Musk believes that if individuals don’t see the purpose for learning, they are not motivated to learn.

“Adults learn new skills to make them more promotion worthy, to learn how to solve a specific problem (problems that you can clearly outline for them), to feed a desire for an increased sense of competency and self-esteem, or to nurture a love for continual learning in and of itself. The point of learning for adults has to be clear and linked to their self-interests and/or what really matters to them. In other words, learning should be linked to a purpose.”

Pointer: Make sure that any training is firmly related to their work so they can see its relevance to their jobs.

7 – Training is often an inappropriate solution for a performance problem

Problem: Training is not always the best answer to a problem, but is usually the first – sometimes the only – option to be considered, as Charles Jennings explains.

“Training is a certain and unquestioned component of every business strategy and plan, particularly when faced with the rollout of new systems and processes. Rolling out a new Finance or Business Suite, or a new CRM system?  Training is required, naturally. Have a new set of processes to implement across the organization?  Of course, we need training … Corporate learning and capability-building needs to grow up. For any organization trying to stay competitive, conventional training is no longer enough, or even the answer in many cases.”

Harold Jarche also points out that “training is often a solution looking for a problem and is frequently used to cover up poor systems, unclear procedures or poor management practices”.

Pointer: Don’t assume training is the only answer to every problem. Work collaboratively with the target group to find the optimum solution – which may or may not require any organised training or self-learning.

8 – Too much training leads to over-training

Problem: If every solution to a problem is seen as a need for training or e‑learning, then this is both a waste of resources as well as a symptom of over-training.  Francine Haliva describes 5 symptoms of overtraining in employees: stress; loss of interest; too much time in the classroom; running out of time and money; and losing staff.

Pointer:  Reduce the amount and type of training you offer, and instead provide a variety of resources and other opportunities for on demand use, as well as support continuous independent learning.

9 – Most training does not reflect the new ways people are learning

Problem: My 11-year longitudinal study of the Top Tools for Learning shows how individuals are learning in many different ways at, for and through work. It also shows the key characteristics of modern professional learning today:

  • It is on demand (as needed) and continuous – rather than just an intermittent activity.
  • It takes place in short bursts (minutes) – rather than long periods (hours, days, etc)
  • It mostly happens on mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) – rather than on desktop machines.
  • It is highly social (and involves interacting with people) – rather than just consuming content.
  • It is a personal experience, selected by the individual concerned in terms of what, how and when he/she needs – rather than being a one-size-fits-all experience, designed by someone else (usually L&D).
  • It is often experiential (and involves learning by doing) – rather than just theorizing

Pointer:  Consider how you can apply these new ways of learning – i.e. personal, social, experiential and autonomous – to training.

10 – The current training model is out of date

Problem: The education model on which L&D is founded is no longer fit for purpose. Roger Shank argues that corporate training needs to re-think this model.

“Corporate Training has to stop doing what school does, namely looking to provide numbers so that some other part of the business can say that someone learned something.”

Pointer: It’s time for innovative thinking on how to solve performance problems and help people grow. It’s no longer about applying old practices and templates to new problems.

In other words, its time to modernize workplace training. Want to find out more? Then take a look at the Modern Workplace Learning 2019.

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Jane Hart

Jane Hart helps organisations and learning professionals modernise their approaches to workplace learning - through public workshops and bespoke consultancy. She is the Editor of the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine, and is the author of a number of books including Modern Workplace Learning 2020 as well as the resource for individuals How to become a modern Learner. Jane was the 2018 recipient of the ATD Distinguished Contribution to Talent Development award. You can contact Jane at Jane.Hart@C4LPT.co.uk.