Nearly every organisation I have ever worked for or with has a serious problem with training. They concentrate on training rather than learning.
The first indication of a problem is that the mediums chosen to impart learning are the poorest at retaining learning but are the easiest to organise.
Learning retention rates vary depending on the medium that is used to impart the learning. The usual training methods of lectures, reading, audio visual and demonstration (including role plays) have average retention rates of five, ten, twenty and thirty percent, respectively.
A chief financial officer revising these numbers would not have an anticipation of a high rate of return from training.
The average retention rate for discussion groups is fifty percent. Good role plays will result in discussion groups occurring. Unfortunately, most role plays are unstructured with the roles given cursory attention as to what impact they need to have on the learning required, and the discussion which follows is as much about the acting ability of participants as it is about the key learnings.
Good role plays will structure the background of the individuals, the behaviour of the individuals, the environment in which they are operating and the responses required to specific situations of at least one of the participants of the role play. The discussion at the end of each role play will be similarly structured, looking for observation about content, not style.
Practise by doing has a retention rate of seventy-five percent. And yet, repetition of a task or a method seems to be considered as demeaning in many organisations. There is still much to be said for drilling concepts into people during and after the “training programme” to aid retention.
By far the most effective means of ensuring that learning is retained is to immediately apply the learning in a real situation or be required to teach others. I have not seen either of these alternatives to improve retention of learning employed, except by the occasional individual diligent manager or supervisor.
When it comes to the medium of training, the tried and true lectures with audiovisuals and a few role plays are the norm. The training department generally checks whether the training was enjoyed and was considered relevant by use of the reaction sheet. This is always in the affirmative of course, if the training was conducted overseas or in any location considered exotic.
Reaction sheets bring me to the second indication that training departments concentrate on training rather than learning. Whilst a reaction sheet is important to determine whether the trainer and the programme delivered are suitable, they are only a fraction of the story if the focus is on learning rather than training.
What is more difficult and more important to measure is whether the learning is actually relevant to the participant’s workplace, not just intellectually stimulating and theoretically relevant to the workplace, which will score high on a reaction sheet.
Learning which cannot be used in the workplace is not only forgotten, but it has no chance of changing behaviours at the workplace and changing the bottom line of the organisation.
Kirkpatrick’s four levels of training evaluation has been around, discussed and built on since 1994 and yet few organisations actually measure beyond the first level, which is the reaction sheet. Kirkpatrick’s four levels are reaction, learning, transfer (to the workplace) and results. Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model is a model for evaluating the level and impact of learning and not training.
A good instructional designer will insist that the determination of the measures to be used at each of the four levels is completed as part of the instructional design. But this rarely happens as organisations remain focused on the training and the trainer rather than learning.
The third indication that organisations focus on training rather than learning is that whilst most training is lectures combined with audio visual and role plays with a low retention rate, hardly ever is there an attempt made to increase retention rates by providing a means to revise the material learnt.
People who participate in traditional training methods and have no intervention which requires them to revise the material will forget over eighty percent of what they learnt within eight weeks. People who have some intervention forget about twenty percent of what they learnt.
If organisations introduced something as simple as a revision test, the potential for a return on training investment increases by a factor of four.
Some organisations truly see training as an investment. However, most pay the notion of training being an investment lip service. It is not hard to understand why, when the concentration is so much on training and so little on learning applied to achieve an end result.
Organisations need to learn that training is about the organisation, learning is about the person.