• Nicole Papaioannou, PhD

Is It Really a Training Issue?: When You Need More Training & When You Don't

Training is a wonderful thing. Effectively designed learning has the potential to help improve the customer experience, help organizations grow, and maintain employee satisfaction.


Real talk, though: Training isn't always the solution.



The bulk of my job is designing training, so you would think I wouldn't want to address this issue. I mean, why not just design training for those who think training will solve all their problems?


Well, for one, that's bad business.


For two, I design learning experiences for learners. I want to see my clients reach their goals and their students feel confident in their new knowledge. If I design ineffective learning, my clients won't be happy with the results. Learners won't be happy with the experience.


So before you enlist the help of an instructional designer, course developer, or HR, let's talk about how to identify when training is needed and when it isn't.


When a Training Upgrade Reaps Benefits


There is no existing training. If you've got nothing, then working with an ID can really help you develop an effective, scalable solution from the start.


You're about to make a major change in processes, backed by leadership. Breaking old patterns and learning new ones can be even more challenging than starting fresh. This is a great time to bring in a learning professional.


Learners find existing training is confusing or boring. Ineffective learning has the potential to lead to poor performance, poor customer experiences, and a general feeling of chaos in the workplace. For some of my clients, it can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Training needs to be relevant, practical, and accessible for it be effective. Content needs to be clear and take working memory capabilities into account.


Current training leaves significant knowledge gaps. Knowledge gaps can happen in several ways. For learning to happen, we need to build schema and work from preexisting knowledge or frameworks. Training that is too advanced for the learners can leave them feeling confused. It can also lead to a lack of confidence that inhibits their ability to make decisions or learn more. Training that simply skips important areas of information can also do this, especially when it's information that is industry standard or being given to competitor's employers. If you feel that your existing training has extensive knowledge gaps, a learning professional is a great option. They can perform a content analysis to pinpoint knowledge gaps and construct training that is audience appropriate/learner-centered.


Trainers need training. Sometimes, the training need is a level above content-- it's the trainers themselves. Not all experts are great trainers, but most people are teachable. If you're implementing a new training program or working with new trainers, you can have a consultant work with your trainers to achieve the best possible delivery.



When Training Won't Fix the Problem


Staff lacks resources needed to perform their roles. People cannot be effective in their roles if they're taught to do something according to a certain standard, but find that standard is impossible to provide. It can look like a training issue to the untrained eye, especially if communication between employees and supervisors or students and teachers is not well-established. This is a tough challenge for leadership because a business can only do what they can do with the funds and resources they have available. But you shouldn't use training as a scapegoat for resource management.


Where a learning professional can still help: You can work with a learning consultant with a performance background to start identifying needs, but training will not be a panacea for everything.


Leadership doesn't support existing training. If your employees are learning to do X, but then leadership does Y, it sends a message, and I assure you it isn't the one you want to be sending. Training alone cannot fix corporate culture. Here's a common example: leadership asks HR to create training. It's supposed to be mandatory, but leadership does not create any accountability measures. When trainees fail to show they've learned the new content, trainers are blamed for ineffective content. In this case, the old adage "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink" applies. Learning professionals can provide the "water," but management has to put structures in place for that learning to be successful.


Where a learning professional can still help: A learning professional can help you design an implementation program and/or train the trainers.


Using a knife to eat soup. You wouldn't decide to use a knife to eat soup simply because knives are more interesting to you, so why would you pick a technology based on its flashiness alone? Technology should not be the primary driver of your learning program. Each technology carries its own pedagogy, and that pedagogy may not be right for your learning goals.


Where a learning professional can still help: Use a learning professional to perform a learner analysis, needs analysis, and technology assessment. They will identify the best learning technologies to meet your organizational goals.


There is no follow up for current training. You forget about 70% of what you learned during a formal learning experience in 24 hours. That's normal. It's part of the forgetting curve. Without opportunities for follow up, there's a lot of training lost.


Where a learning professional can still help: Boosters, evaluations, etc. Learning professionals can help you design follow up that both improves memory retention and solicits learner feedback. The latter is especially important for improved training, targeting knowledge gaps, and employee retention.


Employees (or students) are considered "inept" or "stupid" by trainers or management. This one requires a cultural shift. If you want people to learn, you must believe they are capable of learning. Degrading your employees will certainly not help you achieve your organizational goals.


Where a learning professional can still help: A learning professional can teach leadership and trainers about the importance of growth mindsets and shifting to a learner-focused training environment. Leadership buy in is required for success.


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