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Sheridan Webb

Keystone Development

Training Design Consultant

Read more from Sheridan Webb

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Are learners truly engaged?


I've been in the training business for a long time (over 20 years although I like to think I don't look that old) and I've seen all manner of approaches to training. We've gone from five-day residential programs through distance learning, coaching has been the tool of choice with e-learning always hovering on the horizon. Bite sized training is currently very popular and of course social learning via technology and apps.

They all have their pros and cons. Just as we all learn in different ways, different training approaches will suit different businesses and different topics at different times.

There is something though that is starting to worry me. And that is the engagement of learners.

I'm not talking about participation on an event, or take-up rate of distance learning module but actual deep commitment to the learning opportunity, and more importantly, to its application. Afterall, the whole point of training is to bring about a change in behaviour.

I work with lots of different organisations, and the HR and training teams are generally very intelligent, realistic, and business savvy. They have done their research, and they know what training needs exist and how fulfilling these needs will benefit their business in the long term.

My concern is that the people who then receive the training are often blissfully unaware of this.

Of course any decent training department or training company takes time to position the learning and help people to identify how it will help them. But I am increasingly getting the feeling that this isn't enough.

The majority of people I meet on training courses understand the relevance of what is being covered. They agree with the benefits that it will bring. However most of them feel that the training doesn't really apply to’s for ‘other people’ - They truly believe that they are doing things right and doing things well, and whilst this training is a useful refresher, they aren't really going to change the way they do things. Their ‘head’ is engaged, but their heart isn’t. 


Lots of reasons.

1.       They are hitting the targets and standards that the company expects of them. So understandably they have the attitude “if it ain't broke don't fix it”.

2.       There is no compelling reason for them to change. Their managers don't encourage them to do things in a different way, and tend to leave them alone unless there is a problem.

3.       They are unconsciously incompetent. This occurs especially with people who have been promoted from within and spent a long time in a role, and typically have learned as they go along. They genuinely can't see anything wrong with the way they do things, so feel that the training is irrelevant to them.

4.       Change is scary. They are ticking along just fine, and there is always a risk if they change something that they will expose themselves to failure. Very few people are willing to take that risk without a very good reason.

5.       They just don't see the bigger picture. Many people (particularly operators and line managers) are incredibly task focused and their only concern is completing that job that day to those standards. Few understand the ripple effect not only of what they do, but of how they do it.

6.       They are ‘protected’ BY senior managers. They aren't privy to the ‘warts and all’ business situation. Senior managers tend to edit and sanitise business results and objectives, operating on a ‘need to know’ basis. Those lower down the organisation can be forgiven for not truly understanding the situation that they are in, and carrying on as normal.

7.       They are protected FROM senior managers. Middle managers don't wish to give bad news to senior managers. Therefore any problems that happen lower down the organisation tend to be hushed up and dealt with (often poorly) as a one-off situation.

8.       They don't want to admit they don't know. There is a lot of pride at stake particularly in competitive environments where you may get one location pitted against another for results. Rather than ask for help or admit they are struggling, people prefer to find reasons why the training won't work.

So, it seems to me, that there needs to be a LOT of work done long before the training begins: Not just the TNA (which I genuinely think is done much better by organisations that it was 20 years ago), and not just the positioning of training at the start of the programme.

People need a compelling reason to change the way they do things.

This need has to be expressed in real ‘hard’ terms, and link behaviours to results, to business performance and right back to the consequences for their own job. Developing your skills and learning to do things differently is often considered ‘nice to do’ – but over time, it becomes business critical.

We need to start treating people like grown ups and NOT protecting them from the big bad world. If there are potential negative consequences of NOT changing, be open about them…at least people will have the opportunity to take their destiny into their own hands, rather than expecting them to follow blindly.

HOW to do this is the million dollar question. I’m not sure I have the answer, but I’d sure be interested in hearing what others think it is.

Sheridan Webb

Keystone Development - For Bespoke Training Design

Power Hour Training - For bite-size learning materials

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Sheridan Webb

Training Design Consultant

Read more from Sheridan Webb

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