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Blake Beus


Director of Learning Solutions

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Three Signs Your Training Strategy Isn’t Supporting Modern Learners


Organizational training is probably as old as organizations. It’s not hard to imagine a merchant in ancient Mesopotamia assembling two or three apprentices to teach them how to successfully trade cloth. But just as today’s organizations have evolved a long way from the cloth merchants of 2000 BC, so too has training evolved – and continues to evolve.

In fact, we don’t have to go back 4000 years to see the changes. Today’s training needs have changed dramatically just since the 20th century, when “corporate training” in many organizations meant gathering a bunch of people in a room for a set number of hours to teach them how to do something, then sending them back to their desks to do it. While this type of instructor-led training still has its uses, today it’s just one of the many approaches in the trainer’s toolbox.

Of course, your organization has probably incorporated a lot of new technology into your training since the 20th century. But is it enough to just move courses online? How can you tell if your training strategy is truly supporting today’s modern learners?

Here are three warning signs that you might need to start rethinking your employee onboarding strategy and sharpening its focus on the needs of today’s learners.

Warning Sign #1: Training focuses exclusively on individuals.

Of course it’s essential for people to have the skills they need to do their jobs. People are more engaged if you work with them to create individualized development plans, and then offer them the training they need to build their skills and grow in the organization.

But today’s organizations – at least the successful ones – aren’t just a bunch of individuals using their skills in isolation. Dynamic organizations focus on teamwork and collaboration, and your training should reflect this.

How does this look in practice? Here are some tips:

  • More and more of today’s work is being done in teams, so training should focus on collaboration as well.
  • Mix it up! Instead of providing training for a group of people who all do the same job, train cross-department teams with a variety of skills.
  • Consider training techniques like gamification or virtual worlds to engage learners. But be careful – make sure the content is realistic and relevant to their work, or learners will regard it as a waste of time.

Warning sign #2: Training is a scheduled event that usually happens in a training room.

How many employees look forward to training? For a lot of them, a scheduled training in a training room incorporates all the least attractive aspects of middle school – coercion, boredom, and irrelevant content. Even worse, it doesn’t reflect the reality of the way today’s employees work and learn. Here are some ways to take “training” out of the training room and integrate it into learners’ schedules and lives.

  • Make mobile training available on a variety of devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.). This helps a distributed workforce with busy schedules fit training into their time and place, not yours.
  • Besides instructor-led training, add a variety of learning experiences that reflect the way they use technology. Integrate online tutorials, forums, videos, online courses, and discussion groups into your employees’ experiences so they can learn from each other and from people outside the organization.
  • Incorporate real work into your training. Use case studies from your own organization to encourage teams to solve actual problems during training. This will help them feel that they are contributing to the organization rather than focusing on make-believe problems that don’t apply to their actual jobs.
  • Develop a learning culture. Use all company communications, such as newsletters, meetings, or even company parties, to emphasize engagement and continuous learning. Be aware that surfing the web can be a learning experience, not a waste of time, as long as it has a focus.

Warning sign #3: Your employees aren’t being wooed by your competitors.

This can be a sign that their skills may be out of date. A related sign is that they are not engaged in their work and are not coming to you with new ideas.

What can you do about this?

Listen to what employees are saying. Their suggestions – and even their complaints – often point the way to unmet needs that can be the focus of further training.

Find out what your competitors are looking for in new hires. Then design training that will help your learners develop those skills.

Heeding the warning signs

So what can you do if your organization’s training exhibits one or more of these warning signs?

You might be able to tweak your training by applying the tips above. But if your problems look deeper, you might want to go back to the drawing board and rethink your approach to training.

Most importantly, don’t think of training as a top-down discipline that the training department imposes on learners. Today’s learners are not shy about telling you what they need, so be sure to ask them how you can help them grow and expand in their jobs. Then use those suggestions to beef up your training.

Author Profile Picture
Blake Beus

Director of Learning Solutions

Read more from Blake Beus

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