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Whither Training?

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WHITHER TRAINING?
Contributed by Leslie Rae, MPhil, FCIPD, FITOL
At the roundabout
The past
The present day
Selection of broader approaches
Corporate attitudes affecting training views
The three major approaches
A corporate position

At the roundabout

If you are a trainer, training manager, or HR director with a responsibility for training, you may be (or should be?) asking the question at the head of this article. I see training and development, not the first occasion, at a roundabout (used to be ‘crossroads’, but this is the year 2000), many entrances leading from the past and several exits leading to possible futures, these latter being clouded in mist.

The past

Training and development has had a long and chequered history dating back almost to the start of time, certainly to the emergence of man the hunter and in some ways before that on the different pathways of the primeval animals, etc. In order to live primeval man, unwittingly but essentially, became the first trainer, teaching the young boys to hunt mammoths in order that the skills man possessed would live on after his short life. Similarly the women of the caves taught the daughters a range of skills in herbalism, cooking, etc to help to preserve the race (or individuals).

The years sped rapidly by until a more specific form of on-the-job, practical training emerged with such schemes as the apprenticeships within the craft guilds to masters such as Bertoldo di Giovanni, Michelangelo, et al, and apprenticeships were common in ancient Egypt. This set the scene for the training norm to be that of on-the-job and so developed, of course, through schemes such as ‘Sitting with Nellie’, the ‘Nellie’ modified approach using a worker-trainer, TWI and so on, to the skilled, full-time instructors of the present-day large organizations. These approaches were principally in the early stages for artisans and up to supervisor level.

At some stage a parallel development began with training and development mainly at the management level coming into being with external specialist training establishments and a variety of consultancies.

Sub-developments took place in both the parallel tracks with much initial ‘training’ taking the form of ‘talk and chalk’ instruction and presentations. Progressive experience showed the barriers and failings in this approach and
eventually techniques and approaches were introduced using training aids, discussions, films (later videos), and other types of intervention to support the talking and avoid the 15 to 20 minute into a lecture, slide away from active listening.

In the 1950s and 60s (earlier in more restricted areas) it was decided, principally as a result of the laboratory training methods in the US and the psychological approaches to training during the 1939-45 war, that the didactic approach, however well disguised, failed to ensure maximum learning. The concept of experiential learning was introduced and soon many training courses became ‘game shows, with activity following activity – because ‘people learn more by doing!).

The strongly experiential approach continued until research showed that an almost unique experiential approach enable little more learning that the singular didactic one. And so a balance was more or less developed in which learning programmes became a balanced mix of the most appropriate techniques and methods – semi-didactic and experiential. Notice that it was about this time that there was a change in terminology (hopefully also in attitude) from ‘training’ to ‘learning’ programmes, ostensibly suggesting the move from the participants being ‘trained-at’ or taught (an externally applied process), to their being helped to learn (an internal process).

The developed approach just described has been the principal movement in training and development to the present time with varying degrees of success over the past 30 years or so. The next principal shake-up of how best training/learning approaches should be made, started about ten years ago with the increasing introduction and use of computers and other electronic devices in training, first as an aid to training (CAT) then as substantial almost free-standing programs (CBT), and more recently the introduction of the Internet and the training providers using this medium.

The present day

Perhaps this abbreviated historical account has been a little naïve and simplified, but training is now leaving one or other of the exists of the roundabout and is poised to look for the most appropriate exit road to take and so follow the most effective route into the future.

There are advocates for several of the exits:

  • Training in the more traditional way is proven as the best
  • The Internet and electronic approaches are the best for the future
  • Anything can be taught via the Internet
  • Soft-skills can only be taught in the more traditional way
  • The internet and the like is only suitable for technical and procedural training.

and so on.

Intermixed with these views is the growing use of the Intranet, the multi-media exchange of training material, training and even discussion within a company, even a multi-site one, these advances taking over from the longer-standing conference video links.

The advocates of the Internet are particularly vociferous at the present time, forecasting (asserting) an almost universal movement to this medium over the next few years, Equally vociferous are the ‘traditionalists’ who defend their own corner, arguing against the Internet approach for the majority of forms of training, particularly the so-called soft-skills training (mostly for supervisory and management levels).

There is, however, a growing group of ‘Rationalists’ who are trying to balance the opposing sides with the strong and increasingly supported argument for a multi-media (in the widest sense) use in learning programmes. There will be many occasions when the best practice of any, or every, approach can, and should be, combined to produce the optimum training/learning medium.


Let us take a very typical soft-skills area – an interpersonal or interactive skills programme. The scenario for this programme might be:

  1. Pre-course reading of background material on behavioural models, using books, CD-ROMs, Internet or Intranet pages, supported by telephone, e-mail, Inter/Intranet contact wit a trainer or other subject expert if problems arise. Completion of behavioural assessment questionnaires, the completed instruments being sent to the trainer by electronic means. Pre-training tests sent to the participants by post or electronically for completion and return electronically or otherwise to the trainer. The data received by the trainer could be collated and analysed electronically for subsequent discussion with the learners.
  2. Start of programme. Discussion of pre-course results using electronic apparatus (computer generated data and large image projector) or more traditional training methods (OHP, Flipchart, Whiteboard). Testing of initial skills and knowledge by means of experiential activities, discussion and feedback. Initial traditional inputs using a full and appropriate range of media aids.
  3. During course. Continuing validation of the learners’ skills and their learning from the full range of techniques available – traditional and electronic. Use of Internet program or parts of them, CD-ROM programs, videos, interactive videos etc. Behavioural observation could be undertaken manually, but the results stored electronically and at relevant intervals, summarized and fed back to the learners in display projection plus individual hard copy.
    The basis of this part of the programme is the full and varied use of many of the approaches and aids available, of whatever nature, the specific approach and aid being selected according to its effective relevancy.
  4. At the end of the programme, in addition to the learners completing validation questionnaires (which are collated and summarized by the trainer using the most effective electronic means) and action plans, a final feedback of new behavioural skills can be fed back and compared with earlier observations. Again these would be collated and prepared for issue by electronic means.

Similar mixtures of the available media approaches, instruments and techniques can be introduced for every type of programme, the means being adjusted to suit the purpose of the programme and the approach adjudged the most effective for that type of programme and subject.

Selection of broader approaches

In addition to the use of a selective but wide ranging use of techniques, approaches, methods and instruments available from the traditional toolkit and the increasing range of electronic tools within training programmes, the programmes themselves can be subject to a widening range of choice. The approaches used can be summarized under:

  • Training courses, internal and external
  • Workshops
  • Computer Assisted Training (CAT)
  • Computer Based Training (CBT)
  • Other electronic approaches.

Most of these approaches to training and learning programmes have been mentioned earlier in the discussion on the use of varied instruments, but the approaches are varied resources in themselves. We have seen how the more traditional training course can be enhanced by multi-media techniques, the nature of the subject deciding the nature and range of the media.

Workshops are generally taken to be gatherings of people with similar objectives with practical objectives in mind – a group of line managers brought together to be introduced to, discuss, consider effective uses and decide on implementation of a new procedure or other area of work; a group of line managers brought together to be educated in and encouraged to implement the post-training areas of evaluation; a group of trainers from one or more organizations meeting to be introduced to, to discuss and consider relationships to their own areas of work, to decide on introduction and implementation, etc. The workshop usually differs from the training course in that the approach is much more informal and ‘teaching’ is kept to the absolute minimum, the workshop participants making most of the decisions about content and approach. During the workshop all the media supports and approaches discussed earlier can be involved.

Computer Assisted Training (CAT) is the ‘oldest’ form of using real electronic aids to training. The traditional use is to insert into a traditional programme some form of small computer program – for example a demonstration of constructing graphical forms using a program such as Microsoft Excel; or to include a short animated program reinforcing a previously presented idea, and so on. It is also used in the format of a number of computers linked in the training room to the trainer’s master computer. The trainer enters data or programs onto his/her master and these are reproduced on the learners’ VDUs or slave computers. Of course, the learners and their slave VDUs do not need to be in the training room all the time (or ever, in which case the CAT has progressed to the next logical computer stage, CBT). This approach is particularly useful when new computer procedures or programs have to be introduced into an organization – the learners can have an immediate and supported introduction to the new work and immediate practice at their own workstation, errors being corrected by the controlling trainer.

Computer Based Training (CBT). Programs accessed through the Internet and the Intranet have been discussed earlier, and in some cases the complete training programme can be followed by a learner, or group of learners, solely with computer contact with a training provider on the Internet. This is the approach that has been hailed as the training of the future, but it suffers from a number of problems or barriers. The training programme presented is in the form of knowledge data presentation – the learner reads the material, takes tests, answers questions in the same way that they might do from a book or an open learning package. Some limited contact with the program control is possible, in some cases with an interactive facility within the program, or, more commonly, by means of e-mail contact. The principal barrier seems to be that the Internet programs are knowledge-only based, whereas when we are considering occupational skills and behaviours, knowledge is only the first step to competence. There must be a facility after the program for practice, discussion and feedback of the skills, etc presented in the knowledge database – ie a practical group exercise on a workshop or mini-training course.

A people aspect to Internet learning is quoted by the Internet supporters as an effect that is best used on the computer screen; the ones less enamoured by the Internet suggest that the computer screen is the less welcome object to view. A computer screen can be filled with pages of text and graphics, many animated; a book, video or a live presentation can offer the same range, and, in many cases, a wider and more varied range. But which approach aids concentration and learning? The Internet enthusiasts comment that people like to read computer screens; the opponents state that people hate this aspect when compared with all the other instruments. Success for either will depend on personal preferences but there seems to be an anti feeling for the computer screen, hence the slow takeup of Internet programs. I won’t comment on the relative costs of traditional training and purchased Internet programs as there has been very little if any comparative cost- and value-effectiveness studies, including the greater cost of using the Internet in the UK compared with the US where the majority of the Internet training sources are to be found.

Other developed and electronic approaches. Occupying what might be considered to be the middle ground between the live training courses and the Internet programs, is the range of, principally, self-development learning programmes, some using classical methods, others using electronic devices.

The earlier of these, the successors to the old correspondence courses, were the self-learning text books (‘Noddy’ books). These developed into what are variously known as open learning or distance learning packages. Many of these started out as text-only packages, but soon progressed to multi-media approaches for the learning, again, like the Inter/Intranet, with support via post, telephone or, lately, e-mail. The advantages of these packages, as with some of the Internet programs, is that the learning can proceed completely at the learner’s own pace and location, rather than have to keep up with a norm as found on a live training course.

Improved electronic devices saw the introduction of self-learning packages contained on a CD-ROM. This innovation extends the printed word or more traditional visual media to what is a personal Internet program, but although considerably cheaper than the Internet peer and more readily available and controllable, suffers in many ways to the barriers found with the Internet programs, albeit not to the same extent.

Corporate attitudes affecting training views

Corporate and even individual attitudes to training vary considerably with the organization, the individual and the types of training and development approaches available, and being encouraged at any period of time – there are even flavours of the month or the year!

The three major approaches

One of the three major approaches is the traditional view that still exists in a surprising number of places is that the training department is the only area of the organization that knows anything about training, that members of this department are the only ones to deliver training and to follow up the learners progress. In this respect, being rather brutal, the role of the line manager in this scenario is seen as identifying what training is needed and providing the programme participants. These rather severe views can be modified somewhat, but the basic action is to ringfence training.

Modified views were forced on the training department as techniques, operations, commercial methods, etc became more intense and complex, and trainers became more specialized as trainers rather that skilled operatives who became trainers. Consequently there were many training areas for which the training department had to bring in visiting subject experts. This had a side benefit of bringing training into a greater contact with line management and the latter with training, so that there began a greater understanding of each’s needs and problems. Trainers began to discuss training needs and methods much more widely with management and there was similar discussion in the reverse direction. However, even with this increased contact, there was still an atmosphere of ‘them and us’.

The natural development from this later stage must be a fully joint operation of training and development, all roles and levels in the organization taking their responsibilities seriously and conscientiously. I have described my model of the ‘Training Quintet’ in various places and for different contexts (for example ‘Techniques of Training, 3rd edition’ Gower, 1995; ‘Planning and Designing Training Programmes’ Gower, 1997; ‘Using Evaluation in Training and Development’ Kogan Page, 1999; and ‘Effective Planning in Training and Development’ Kogan Page, 2000).

The basis of this model is that the members of the Quintet (Senior management; line management; the training manager; the trainer; and the learner) all have specific roles in training and development and its evaluation and the most effective organizations ensure that the responsibilities of these roles are fulfilled. The model attempts to develop a close relationship between the role holders and to ensure that the actions taken in training and evaluation are undertaken by the people who are likely to be the most effective.

For example, in the evaluation of training, the responsibility for the final stages of evaluation (the implementation of the learning in the workplace) is best done by the learner’s line manager who is on the spot to observe the implementation (and after all it was they who used part of their budget to send the person for training in order to improve the bottom line of their department and the organization). Trainers must let go of this, for them, time-expensive action for which they have no responsibility or authority.

But the roles do not operate in isolation, rather the reverse. Line managers can be brought into training programme planning activities and also into actual training programmes; trainers can visit line areas to ensure that there knowledge is up to date and to liase at all levels; senior managers can demonstrate practical interest and involvement by visiting programmes and considering needs analysis and evaluation reports; training managers can liase more effectively with senior management and become involved, as the training expert, at senior meetings where decisions for new work are being taken. And so on so that there is a fully interlinked inter-relationship between all the members.

There will obviously be some resistance to these moves by all sides who may want to retain, jealously, what they see as their own provinces, but if the organization, in particular the senior management, takes on board the concepts, an educative process can take place towards the desirable ends of exchanges and developments of roles, actions by those best fitted for them, and, above all, an increased inter-relationship in which co-operation and liaison is at a maximum.

A corporate position

The second of the scenarios described above is not intended to be only an exercise in relationships, as far as the training department is concerned, but a direct and positive move to help in the process of making training more acceptable in the organization and to give it a higher profile level. As a result, to some extent, of an influx of people into the training profession, internally and externally based, some of whom have little experience and little training/skill, the value of training is being questioned. Some trainers are sticking to traditional but not very effective techniques producing minimal training value, and this is not helping to maintain training value in the eyes of users and potential users. But there are also many excellent trainers, giving superb value and many organizations embracing the inter-relationship (to a greater or lesser extent) attitudes.

My view is that for training to succeed in the future, it must embrace as many of the new techniques as relevant and appropriate, use them and work towards a corporate inter-relationship rather than isolationism.


© Leslie Rae, 2000.
Telephone: 0114 2483725
e-mail: [email protected] or [email protected]

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