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Learning is a process


Clients often ask me about arranging a training event. It’s nice to be asked but I’m always slightly nervous; the language gives me a hint of potential problems later down the line because it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of learning. An event, by definition, is a one-off, something different or out of the ordinary. Seminars, meetings, presentations are all events – discrete occurrences, usually used to communicate some kind of information; they stand alone, in isolation. Learning is different.

Learning – and, more importantly, the application of that learning – takes place as part of a process and it’s a respect for that process which is often lacking. The process begins with the delegate and their manager having an open and honest conversation about the need for learning. The delegate must be aware of why they’re attending the workshop and how it will help them to do their job better. This also requires that the manager consider carefully how the application of learning is intended to impact upon business results; if it does, measures should be put in place to record the return on investment of the training. If it doesn’t, the manager should think very carefully about the need for training. After the workshop, the manager must pay attention to the delegate’s attempts to apply their learning and support and encourage them as they do so.

In short, managers must be an integral part of the process of learning and organisations, if they truly want the people they train to apply what they’ve learned, must support this process. All of these aspects of the process must in place to give maximum support to the delegates in their learning and application. In the business environment, learning cannot afford to be an event – it has to be deeply embedded within the workplace and directly linked to the objectives of the individual, team and business.Seeing training or learning as an event is to isolate it – essentially, it is to tell the delegates that what they are learning is separate to what they do as part of their day job. And as soon as you give people that impression, you’re asking them to prioritise between what they learn on this event and what they do for a living. It’s no surprise, therefore, that training events tend not to produce any great or lasting change in behaviour. Consequently, nor is it any great surprise that when budgets tighten, the first things to get cut are budgets for training events.

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