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Is the grass greener on the other side of the pond?

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Green grassWe're fascinated by the American training scene. Is their training – particularly elearning – bigger, brasher, better? Neil Lasher reports that the USA is just as fascinated by what is happening here! So, is the grass greener on the other side of the pond?







One of the most frequent questions that people ask of a paremiologist is, without doubt, how old a particular proverb might be. While the origin of some proverbs has been studied in detail, very little is actually known about the precise historical emergence of most.

Establishing the possible beginning of a more recent proverb is equally challenging: the American proverb 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence' has made it's way to this side of the pond and comes to mind each time I am asked: 'what's happening in the training world in the USA?'. One could suggest that the origin of this proverb started in the training world, and without historical data, who could argue.

From both sides of the 'pond', as the president of the UK Global Network of ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) I am asked to compare and comment on how 'they' are doing it. Each believing the other has a better way or is achieving different success.

Photo of Neil Lasher"From both sides of the 'pond'... I am asked to compare and comment on how 'they' are doing it. Each believing the other has a better way or is achieving different success."

On each side, the organisations that learning and development people look to for answers both conduct yearly reports, similar to the State of the Nation report for learning. These reports are analysed by many and - depending who you ask - the results can be very different.

It would appear that per capita the USA spends more as a proportion to salary on training than in the UK. There is also a much higher spend per employee in technology companies. Comparing the latest reports from CIPD, ASTD and Birsin & Associates there are some widening gaps emerging. Considering that daily rates in the USA appear to be lower for trainers, then the US-based employees appear to be getting a better deal.

The CIPD reports an average spend of £300/person, where Birsin reports an average of US$1,273 with technology companies spending as much as US$2,763/person on training.
The CIPD reports: "As found in previous years, there continues to be marked differences between the training spend of the different sizes of organisation. The smallest companies tend to have smaller budgets but spend more per employee (£375), while the larger companies (those employing more than 5,000 employees) spend the smallest amount per employee (£108)."

It would appear that in the UK the spend is smallest in the private sector, where in the USA the appetite for corporate learning is growing steadily, albeit with the downturn in the economy and impending recession.

The US corporate market appears to understand better than most that when times get a little tough - and they certainly are tough at the moment - that the way to make money is to have a well-trained team of employees.

The latest US trend is towards creating quality learning, however, there appear to be two camps. One side relying wholly on elearning created using 'rapid development' and the other employing a more traditional approach.

The Boston-based Novations Group surveyed 2,000 training and HR executives and found that almost six out of 10 (57%) said that they were making greater use of elearning, with four out of 10 utilising more on-the-job training, and a third more personal coaching. All this is at the expense of traditional classroom-based learning, with three out of 10 saying they were reducing classroom hours.

At the same time, four out of 10 (43%) said they were under greater pressure to quantify the results of training. I am pleased it is to quantify the results rather than to guess the results before the training takes place, as has been the norm for too long.

In order to limit employee time-off-the-job, trainers are integrating classroom learning with follow up methods such as conference calls and net meetings, a productive use of 'e' and the blend we all seem to search for.

"In the US they are prepared to ensure that what they deliver works and is adopted by the learners. The responsibility for learners to feel they have to learn what they are offered is greater than here in the UK. "

The survey also highlights that while instructor-led training is still the most preferred method, others seem to be gaining ground. Almost nine out of 10 of those surveyed said that they would be using instructor-led classroom training in the year ahead, while eight out of 10 will be laying on instructor-led on-the-job training. Does it all sound too familiar?

The numbers of users are not too dissimilar on both sides of the Atlantic, however there is one stark difference that has emerged. In the US they are prepared to ensure that what they deliver works and is adopted by the learners. The responsibility for learners to feel they have to learn what they are offered is greater than here in the UK.

As the CIPD states in the conclusions of its most recent report, "perhaps the biggest challenge to the successful adoption of elearning is changing the attitude of learners towards it." In the USA it appears to be widely accepted in the corporate world as an acceptable learning method. What is interesting in all of these reports is that not many questions seem to be asked of the learner, but more of the training designer or HR executive. It seems we know better about what they want to learn.

Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, until you climb over and look back. Very little is actually known about the precise historical emergence of this proverb. Maybe sometimes its just better to live blissfully in ignorance, because when asked, the trainers in the USA think that the training and development world over in 'little ol' England' is a far better place to be, and boy do they like my accent.


Neil Lasher lives in London and is the president of the ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) global network United Kingdom, vice chairman of the eLearning Network and MD of Trainer1. He can be reached at [email protected]

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