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What Are Barriers To Getting Worthwhile Results From Learning?


What are the barriers to achieving worthwhile results from learning activities?

I'm doing some work on the failures of training/learning to produce useful outcomes. I'd like to develop a list of potential barriers, categorised in to 3 areas. I've listed my current lists under each. Please add your own & let me know!

Preparation & Readiness
* Wrong people attended
* I had no clear reason for attending
* I did lacked preparation and focus
* I didn’t need it – already used it
* It was not a good time for me to attend
* Pre-course materials were poor
* Too little importance was attached to this training beforehand

Learning Intervention
* I wanted to learn it but the instruction was no good
* Bad training design
* Bad training aids or materials
* Facilitator did a poor job – not handling disruptions, moving too quickly through the material
* Too much material, too little time
* The venue / accommodation was so poor it proved a distraction
* I missed some of the training due to being contacted by employer

Application Environment
* I didn’t get any support from manager
* I had no opportunity to try it out
* Lack of support from colleagues
* No incentive to use it
* Lack of feedback and coaching for me
* I didn’t get needed support from other teams or departments
* The promised post-training support from the training provider was not forthcoming
* I couldn’t access post-training support materials and services

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.


Martin Schmalenbach

6 Responses

  1. Lack of Variety
    Hello Martin

    Personally, one of the biggest barriers I’ve come up against is when there is no variation in the methods of learning employed. One course I attended involved 6 hours of lectures (all using powerpoint presentations)over one day, with no learner interaction. Although the information provided was interesting, the format meant that most people had turned off after the first hour.

    Another problem I’ve encountered is people being unwilling to learn at all, either due to unfavourable past experiences and/or a general lack of interest. This has usually been coupled, in my experience, with a marked absence of support from management, both prior to training and once it has taken place. Which makes you wonder why they requested the training in the first place!


  2. Some others
    Hope these are of use:

    Wrong head space – i.e. the learner would normally have benefitted from the experience but was just not up for it on that day
    Learner Isolation – some people don’t feel comfortable in groups where they don’t know anyone
    Wrong learning style – nothing wrong with the learning intervention, it just wasn’t their style of learning

  3. Consultancies
    Training consultancies overselling the solution by designing too much content (for extra profit) compounded by clients who buy it and sheep dip all their staff through it irrespective of existing skills.

  4. my three ha’pence worth
    no useful outcome achieved because
    1. no one knew/defined what a “useful outcome” would look like or quantified how much would be acceptable/desirable.
    2. “initiative fatigue” -yet another flavour of the month initiative that will be forgotten next month when the CEO/HR Director etc has discovered the next “big thing”
    3. (and this is one I’ve heard quite frequently)..the event bore no relation to anything the line managers needed. It is the result of too many iterations by managers/senior managers/HR departments/consultancy salespeople/training designers before it got to be delivered to the front line who needed it.
    Hope that helps!

  5. Assessment a Common Gap
    I’ve often seen training provided without assessment which means that you don’t know whether the participants learnt what was intended.

    Add to this no evaluation and it’s anybody’s guess what happened and how useful it was. Also, many information sessions are sold as ‘training’, which they aren’t … not always anyway, and that’s unhelpful to those of us in the business because participants think training is when you turn up and someone talks at you.

  6. The transfer of learning problem
    A fine list so far Martin.

    My experience is that most trainers can help people to learn, but not in such a way that it readily helps people to transfer that learning into use.

    Some of the problems I’ve witnessed (and caused, in my time) include:

    – Trainers who lead learners around by the nose, albeit interactively, with the result being trainer-dependant learners who can’t go beyond the training and who therefore get easily “stuck” and so revert to old behaviours

    – Training is generic, rather than made explicitly relevant to the learners in the session. As such people learn, but back at their desks fail to make the leap into applying that generic learning

    – Learners get (understandably) distracted by the pressures and pleasures of their working week, and before you know, it’s too late to make the leap into applying the learning

    – We typically just don’t know if and when training is failing, and as such we keep providing training that looks fine on the surface but achieves little in reality.

    The biggest problems with training failure are, I’d argue, related to behaviourist training practices and the lack of results-focused evaluation. (And not because of wrong learning styles or the lack of ball squeezing)

    Here’s a couple of articles that I think will prove of use for you Martin:

    The Great Training Scandal:

    This is focused on IT training, but it’s the same principles. Comparison of ROLF with traditional IT training:

    All the best.


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