Millions of people in as many companies spend billions a day on training, in an attempt to improve on skills and competences, assimilate new concepts and learn.
Learning involves physical changes in the brain.
Kandel and Hawkins (1992) reported that “stimuli that produce long- term memory for sensitization and classical conditioning lead to an increase in the number of pre-synaptic terminals.”
They found that when the release of neurotransmitters between nerve cells goes up, eventually additional dendrites grow, multiplying contacts with neighboring cells.
Their conclusion: “Our brains are constantly changing anatomically as we learn.” Scientists continue to replicate and support these findings, and learning professionals have integrated them into mainstream educational texts (Sousa, 2000).
The breakneck speed of change, in jobs, technology and the workplace necessitate that people are able to constantly update their skill-sets in order to stay in tune with these changes.
It’s a continuous and continual proces that is undertaken, but one which often fails miserably – training should be more of an “essential to do” and much less of a “nice to do.”
Now, that may sound both negative and pessimistic, but it is often the reality, so let’s look at the main reasons that training fails and how they can be overcome :
1. Management view of training is that it is a cost and not an investment and they are at odds with the objectives of the training, can see no real value in the training and only see the empty offices of the people who are participating in training.
Management often fail to see the link between training and how it can be applied in the workplace – training appears vague and abstract to some, who make a difference between what is learnt in the training room and what is happening on the ground.
Effective training cannot be carried out without the implication of management in the setting up of the training objectives and the follow-up at regular intervals on the aims and achievements of the trainees.
Training can also be seen as a threat to management if they are not seen as the drivers and motivators of the overall goals which then helps with the next point.
Training is an investment in both people and, ultimately, the company and there needs to be clear metrics set up and agreed to, as to how the ROI can be measured and assessed.
2. Failure to apply the skills and knowledge gained during training.
Think of any subject or skill … if, after having undertaken a training course, a learner is then not given the opportunity to apply the new knowledge and skills learnt they will effectively lose both their motivation and skills in a relatively short time.
There is little point in training people for the sake of training them – skills, competences and knowledge need to be used and applied, and management is responsible to ensure that this happens.
3. Gaps between the organisations business goals and objectives.
Once again, if the training is not aligned with the operational and strategic goals of the company, it is irrelevant as there will be little notion of ROI, where skills and knowledge will not be used, and therefore the return for the learner will be minimal.
Now there could be exceptions where the learner is planning for their own future, away from the organisation, but sponsored in training by the company and there are exceptional people who learn for learning’s sake, but they are largely exceptional, in all meanings of the term.
4. Evaluation methods are off kilter.
The focus of evaluations need to be on performance and not activity or how happy the learners are at the end of the course with the chairs, coffee, trainer etc.
Achievement metrics are not about how happy the learners are at the end of a course, although if they are happy, this is not a bad thing, but more on how the training will help them in their jobs and how this can be translated to gaining business value for the organisation.
5. Trainees take a welcome break from work.
This is a lot more common than we would often like to admit. Some learners welcome training courses as a way of taking a refreshing break from their work – which, although, in some way beneficial should not represent the sole reason for the training.
Training should be motivational and motivating – but it should boil-down to a whole lot more than this.
6. Inability to change.
One of the biggest problems with training is the inability or the refusal to embrace and action change.
Learners can learn whole new ways of working, thinking and behaving but until they are unable to fully embrace change and put the skills and knowledge into action, which may conflict with the “way that things have always been done around here” – then there will be no real learning, results nor ROI.
Many are able to recognise that the way they behave, work or think, are in fact barriers to their own progression, but being able to change is sometimes a difficult step to take, which can threaten the status quo and the comfort zone in which they move.
Both learning and change is all about the ability to take chances, to challenge oneself, experiment, reflect and to stretch the comfort zone – if learners don’t go here, then they don’t deserve to be called learners in the first place!
7. The social aspect of training is ignored. The quote “No man (or woman for that matter) is an island” never rings truer than in a learning situation.
All learning is social, in the sense of societal, where people construct meanings and learn with and from others.
Training that ignores this will inevitably fail – this is one of the better reasons that some training is carried out in groups, apart from the obvious financial advantages.
Working and learning with people who experience and view the world in a different way to ourselves has huge cognitive and behavioural advantages that impact directly on the learning process.
Learning in isolation can be done, but its short, and long term effectiveness and efficacity can be questioned.
8. Trainers are viewed as Suppliers and not partnered.
This is closely linked to some of the other points, in as much as, if a trainer turns up with a preconceived idea and ready-made training course for a company, whose business, corporate culture and ‘worries’ they know nothing or little about.
Unfortunately this is the way that a lot of big organisations are going, with a Purchasing, rather than a Learning culture that pervades – cut the price, cut the costs…
The “One-size-fits-all” notion of training design will never and has never, worked – meld this with an ignorance of the operational, cultural and strategic issues of an organisation and there we have a recipe for failure, and one which is often imposed on training companies.
9. There is no follow-up to the training.
Really effective training needs to be monitored and followed up in order that the objectives, in terms of performance, knowledge, skills and behaviour are implemented over time.
This should not entail a regurgitating of the training and need not be overly time-consuming, but must implicate the learners and the management in order to finally “pass on the baton” that enables management to coach and help the learner fully exploit the outcomes of the training on-the-job.
Learning can be easily forgotten over time, there needs to be opportunities to monitor, coach, consolidate and underpin the outcomes to ensure long-term use and adoption of the new skills, knowledge and behaviour.
10. Methods used are not adapted to the way that adults learn, are made up of a regurgitated training course that is dished out day-in-and-day-out.
Learners can feel at odds with the methods, not implicated in the learning process, and greatly demotivated.
Especially if training is geared towards the “spray and pray” lecture methods, where little, if no real learner interaction is included – this is doomed to fail as it is so un-conceptual that people are not able to align the training with their own reality – learners need to be facilitated and helped to think out of the box on ways of applying what they learn in training to the real world reality in their work life.
The objectives of training should be to change both attitudes and behaviour and designed in a way that facilitates the two. Training that is built around the transfer of knowledge often fails as it results in a transfer of problems, ignoring the systemic issues involved with learning.
This could be number eleven, but i’ll keep it to a round ten – lack of accountability, where learners are not empowered and held accountable for their participation and consequently performance during and after training.
Once again, management is in a privileged position to ensure that this happens by monitoring and assessing performance in the workplace after the training has been undertaken.
This point is also closely linked to a great number of organisations whose company culture does not encourage learning on a day-to-day basis in as much as they do not follow up on training, ensure that skills are applied effectively in the workplace and that learning is given a clear and prominent place in the company.
A huge difference remains in “knowing how” and “knowing how to do” in terms of learning and it is a great shame that a lot of training is geared around the former as it is non-sustainable.
There will always be self-starters and lifelong learners who believe in what they’ve learnt and persist in spite of barriers to change to apply new skills, attitudes, knowledge and behaviours.
But these exceptions cannot deliver the return on investment executives are looking for and which business is crying out for.