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To charge or not to charge? Embedded learning


I am undertaking some research into ways in which business support programmes can be improved in terms of value for money and the achievement of outcomes.  I am specifically interested to know if anyone has come across any information or has advice on:

  • The impact of charging for workshops/events (e.g. if it is free does it diminish its attractiveness; does a free workshop/event with a penalty charge for not showing improve attendance; is there a higher quality of interaction/learning if participants have to pay
  • How to ensure that learning is embedded or acted upon by the businesses and staff post the workshop/event, and is this more effective if the workshop is charged for
  • Does anyone have evidence of how coaching and mentoring has improved business performance for recipients, and is this a way of achieving embedded learning as a follow up to workshops/events?

One Response

  1. Charging, transfer of learning and effectiveness


    Good questions. I’d be interested in answers too!

    I can offer a little, but need to keep some details close to my chest to preserve clients’ confidentiality.

    I think it is generally accepted that training that is percieved to be ‘free’ is often not valued as greatly as that which has a direct and visible cost. One client I am working with has an average 13% cancellation rate (80% of those cancel in advance, 20% are no-shows). However, some of the technical training for new starters has very little cancellation. Some more generic training has quite high fall out rates, especially with more senior staff. Another client was spending over £140k a month on empty chairs. We reduced this dramatically by a poster advertising campaign. Once business unit managers had the figures for their section questions were asked. Nobody wanted to be seen as the most wasteful, so we achieved results with cgoing to cancellation charging.

    That said, we did some benchmarking earlier this year with big corporations. Those that had punitive cancellation charges (even if the course was free at the point of delivery) had cancellation rates around 5%, which is managable. So far this is all about running a cost efficient operation. However, there is a psychological dimension too. If people value L&D they are more likely to treat it seriously and, so the theory goes, are more likely to make changes as a result of what they learn. I cannot cite specific credible research to back up this assertion but I do have an accumulation of professionals’ opinions and anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is not a bad working assumption to hold until somebody proves otherwise.

    In terms of getting more learning transfer back in the workplace, there is stacks of academic evidence on this. My wife did some great investigation into the role of objectives and found that people who had discussions about their objectives before the training and about their post-event objectives – applying what they had learnt – were significantly more likely to make changes and add more value to the business. This may be as much about the personal attention, the focus and the making of a commitment as it is about objectives per se. My own experience suggests that the single biggest thing you can do is start with the result in mind. The business result. Then work back to the behaviour change. The support (and challenge needed). The learning that is necessary for positive change, and how that learning is delivered to inspire as well as educate. And then right back to the design etc.

    The role of support and challenge – whether by the line manager, coach, mentor or respected colleague – does make a difference but just how much depends on many variables. There is evidence of coaching being able to make a impact equal or greater than its cost, but there are also plenty of occasions where it is not easily provable, or where it simply doesn’t deliver that type of value. As is often the case, professional judgement around all these issues is a critical factor – you have to weigh up what evidence there is (and what gaps there are too), what common sense tells you (subject to not just accepting convential wisdom as necessary being true), what good practices you can find, what theory has to offer, and, most of all, your particular context. What works for one organisation/subject area/grade/person may not work universally. Asking good questions – as you have done – is sometimes as important as someone else giving you one good answer.

    Best of luck

    Graham O’Connell

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