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Training isn’t working


Have you ever engaged a training company? What differences did you see as a result of the training? If the answer to that is “very little” then I’m not surprised because training, it seems, just isn’t working.

Plato said the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms. When I say working, I mean there is a noticeable transfer of learning to the business: what happens in the training room doesn't stay in the training room but it leaks out into the business. That's important because it's one of Donald Kirkpatrick’s four key measures for training:

  • Level one – Evaluation (did they like it?)
  • Level two – Recollection (did they remember it?)
  • Level three – Application (did they do anything with it?)
  • Level four – Impact (did it make a difference?)

Level one (evaluation) tends to be done most but produces data of the least value. Data at Application and Impact levels is harder to come by but what information is about paints a depressing picture.

In 1985, John Newstrom studied the perceptions held by members of the ASTD and there was a commonly held belief amongst them that training was not effectively transferred to the workplace. They believed that:

  • Only 40% of the training content was applied to the job by the learner immediately following training.
  • Only 25% of the training content was still applied to the job by the learner after six months.
  • Only 15% of the training content was still applied to the job by the learner after one year.

Remember, this is perception and not necessarily reality but it is supported by other figures. Baldwin and Ford (1988) conducted a survey of the academic literature of the time on training effectiveness, and concluded, “Not more than 10% of the estimated $100 billion spent each year on training by the American industries actually resulted in transfer to the job”.Although doubt has been cast on the validity of this statement, in terms of the exact percentage and the estimated spend, it’s very similar to studies carried out by USA Today and by Ford and Weissbein (1997).

In 1992, Tannenbaum and Yukl conducted a review of the available literature, and concluded that the transfer of learning to job performance was generally low. They reported that relatively few learners, as low as 5%, actually applied in the workplace what they had learned in the training room, figures similar to those found subsequently by Stolovich (2000).

Have I convinced you – or merely bored you with a whole bunch of figures? The fact is, as Stolovich concluded, “Training alone is not effective in achieving on-job application of knowledge”. Next week we’ll look at why that is the case.

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