Why Training Doesn’t Stick: Addressing the Challenges of Employee Training

U.S. companies spent $70.6 billion dollars on employee training in 2015, according to Training Magazines 2015 Training Industry Report. Despite this massive investment, employers and employees often question the value of the training. Employees return to their work and continue to complete their work the way they always have. Some employees continue to do things that the training explicitly told them not to do. The only thing that changes each year is the size of the employee training budget.

With all the money that is spent on training, why isn’t it more effective? Why do so few employees and managers feel that it was worth their time or the investment?

The answer is that the training program was not effective.

The reality of the situation is that most employee training involves sitting in an office or classroom while the trainer talks at the group. This sounds efficient on paper and is economical when bringing in outside trainers. It resembles what many of us remember from our own time in school, so it looks and feels like learning. Traditional classroom learning works well for some people, but not for most. We need more engaging employee training programs if we want training to be effective.

What We’ve Learned from Adult Learners

Research on learning suggests what many have suspected for years – that the traditional classroom style of employee training and instruction has limited benefits. We’ve previously thought of some people, even ourselves, as just not being “good at school”. In a way, this is true. Traditional classrooms and instruction is one way to learn. Some people learn well in that environment; many others do not. If we incorporate what we’ve learned from adult learners, we can make training effective. So, what do we know about adult learners?

  • They need to understand the purpose of the training and its relevance to what they do.
    • If this isn’t clearly expressed in the first minutes of the training, it will not be effective. Trainees who understand the need for the training and why it applies to them are more likely to buy in to the training. If purpose and relevance are clearly established, then they won’t begin thinking of the training as a waste of their time. Within the first few minutes, every person should be able to explain what they need to learn from the training and why it is relevant to them.
  • Don’t waste their time.
    • Respect their time and them. If the training is not relevant to them, wouldn’t their time be better spent doing other productive work? Respect their time (and your own) by starting on time and ending on time.  The best way to do this is to carefully prepare. If the training only needs 1 hour, then schedule it for 1 hour. If it needs 8 hours, don’t try to squeeze it into 6.
  • Engage them.
    • Adult learners have years of experience – respect it and use it. Instructor and learner roles do not have to be rigid; in fact, the most effective training and learning occurs when these roles are fluid. Challenge them. Ask them questions. Mentally engaged employees retain more, and transfer training to their work better.
  • Apply it to what they do.
    • The biggest pitfall in training, and learning in general, is to only cover things at a general level. But how else will you make the training apply to all the different jobs and departments that are present in the training? You don’t. Challenge them to do it. Have them provide examples for the entire group. Make them break out by job roles or departments and discuss examples and challenges. This goes hand in hand with the previous point about engaging trainees.
  • Training doesn’t end when the session is over.
    • No one learns anything perfectly in one session. Most people will forget more than 80% of what they just heard and learned within 24 hours. Training is not a one and done formula; it requires follow up, repetition, ongoing discussions and training. Unfortunately, when using external trainers, training does become a one and done situation. The learning is just one part of training; the important part is making sure that your employees take what they’ve learned and apply it in their work. Designate people within your organization to follow up with the trainees about what they’ve learned. Have them demonstrate new practices and procedures many times over the days and weeks that follow. Schedule time for follow up discussions and problem-solving sessions.

Change the way that you engage employees and see how much more effective training can be.

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