5 Reasons Why Learning Programs Are Awful…But Don’t Have to Be

Many learners think learning programs are awful. Here's how to change that.

A bore. A chore. Cringe-inducing. Hellish.

I recently read this article: Why so many companies get training wrong. Those words above were used to describe learning programs. To hear the attendees talk, learning programs are awful.

As a learning professional, this may match feedback you’ve received (but I hope not).

If you attend learning programs, you may have used those words yourself (again, I hope not).

There’s a lot to unpack in this article. Why do some learners dread learning programs? Let’s look at the details.

What Makes Students Think Learning Programs Are Awful?

  1. “Nothing to do with my job.” The article quotes one guy who’s “spent too much time trapped in rooms listening to people talk about things that don’t apply directly to his work. ‘It can be a waste of time,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of BS being sent our way.’”
  2. Makes no measurable impact. The article also cites a study that found only 25% of respondents felt that training programs had a measurable improvement on performance.
  3. Doesn’t teach skills learners can use. They cite a second study that found only 12% of employees apply new skills learned in training to their jobs.
  4. Uses a one-size-fits-all approach. The article mentions how many learners find programs generic, boring, and basic. There’s no attempt to discover if the learner needs the training or if the training will improve their current skills.
  5. Longer than they have to be. Another reason why some people think learning programs are awful is because they span many days, remove you from the work environment, and there’s no way to test usefulness of the learning between sessions.

Too many learning pros fail to fulfill their purpose. What is our purpose? To make organizations more capable through learning. These 5 reasons reveal a lot about the state of our profession.

What Will Change That Mindset?

As learning professionals, how do we address these laments from our learners? How do we make sure that are programs are not wastes of time? How do we show our business leaders the value of what we do?

  1. Tie learning programs directly to job skills. Your first task in designing a learning program is to work with the stakeholders to define the desired outcome. What on-the-job skill must change to reach the learning goal? With that knowledge, you design backward. What must the learning know to achieve the desired outcome? With that knowledge, the program objective is clear. If we’re not changing outcomes, improving performance, or improving workflow, then we’re not serving our function as learning professionals.
  2. Linking to job skills makes the learning program measurable. Learning changes behavior. Measure the operational metric that shows behavior change. With a focus that narrow, you limit the influence of outside forces. That isolates the learning from any other influence. With that isolation, you create a direct connection between learning and impact on the metric. This link creates a measurable program.
  3. Learning programs must include application. The point of your learning programs is not knowledge transfer alone. Only knowledge plus application will lead to learning transfer. Application is essential for long-term transfer.
  4. Pretesting and post-testing ensure student time isn’t wasted. There’s no good reason to send a learner to a class that that covers material she already knows. There’s also no good reason to send a learner to a program that is far over his head. Pretesting establishes up front if the training is worthwhile. Post-testing shows if the learner gained knowledge or skill right after the class. On-the-job testing shows that the skills were learned and are being used as prescribed.
  5. Ensure training format and length suits the subject and the realities of student workdays. Asking how long a learning program should be is like asking how long is a piece of string. It should be long enough to get the job done. We must consider the topic and the workday realities of the students. Is the subject complex? Then a longer session may be required. Can students be gone from work for only an hour, a day, a week? Would this type of disruption be counterproductive? If you offer time between sessions, that gives students the chance to provide feedback to trainers about what did or didn’t work and to refocus the program if needed.

At eParamus, it’s our mission to train learning professionals about proper design. Through correct design, learning programs should deliver lasting knowledge or skills that change behaviors, change organizations, and deliver measurable impact. Smart programs should inspire learners, not discourage them. If you need to learn more, reach out to us here at eParamus. Contact us to learn more.

Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD to tell me more about your training challenges.

Photo copyright: dolgachov / 123RF Stock Photo

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