The world that people live and work in is complex. The behaviours and skills required to solve a simple problem are always multi-dimensional. And yet much, or indeed most, training developed and executed in corporate training programmes are linear in nature.

This mismatch between the real world and the training world makes it a certainty that organisations are wasting their training dollar.

Even at the simplest level of required knowledge acquisition – the old fashioned ?chalk and talk – where a trainer interacts with the audience in one direction with a frightening array of slides, the content of which is the same as the words spoken, is useless.

Adults learn nothing at all when subjected to this kind of training.

They may be stimulated by the presentation, engaged by the graphics and motivated by the speaker, but the chance of them remembering what is being taught is very slight.

So what should be included in a training programme for adults?

The elements of a training programme that help adults to learn include:

  • Being engaged in the development of the training programme
  • Repetition to aid processing short term memory into long term memory
  • Making connections between the learning and items already in long term memory to aid processing items being learnt from short term memory into long term memory
  • Making training immediately of use to get high levels of acceptance
  • Making training experiential, allowing for periods of reflection.

Many models exist which help articulate how humans learn. Kolb described, with Fry, a model where humans go through a four step process of learning:

  • Concrete experience
  • Observation and reflection
  • Formation of abstract concepts
  • Testing in new situations.

They further went on to describe Kolb’?s four learning styles.

Other learning models reflect similar patterns of activities in a linear or circular series.

The problem with the manner in which these models have been applied to training, though, is that the training is still delivered in a linear fashion, following the model slavishly.

Real life, however, is complex. Stimulation of thought comes from many different directions causing us to make judgements on different planes and skipping steps to resolve issues that challenge us.

Training developed in a linear fashion, in my experience, does not deliver the depth of learning required by adults to actually change behaviour. In corporate life, the objective of training is usually not to be drilled on say, technical knowledge, but to change behaviour.

Lessons can be learnt from the defence forces and the aviation industry when it comes to adult learning.

Repetition is used to drill into the minds of learners those things which are not to be forgotten. However, to train people to make judgements when many pieces of information are arriving at once, they use flight simulators and war games to make the training as life-like as possible.

Recruits for the defence force are put into situations without great fanfare and preparation, other than perhaps an overview of their situation and their objective.

There is no linear path into what they are subjected. The situations are complex. They often fail and they learn by reflection, becoming much better at the judgements they make next time, even though next time the environment and the scenarios presented are different.

After completing a few exercises, they build their own view of the patterns that are evident and are able to move into a new scenario with confidence even if the environment and scenario is radically different.

The scenario based training of the military is much more reflective of how we learn in life. We make mistake after mistake and find our own patterns of action and reaction and make better judgements as we gain more experience. We become wise and can anticipate reactions to stimuli and act with that in mind.

Scenario based training has much to recommend to corporate training.

The most obvious opportunity for scenario based training in corporate life is structured on-the-job training.

A combination of classroom drilling on skills and structured long term projects utilising cross functional teams over say, twelve months, to practise the skills, delivers benefits to the organisation and reinforces the skills learnt in the classroom.

Smaller projects, combined with classroom training, will still significantly improve learning retention and application.

E-learning and board games where participants are thrust into life-like scenarios using video and audio that require them to make real life decisions and take real life risks without much preparation is a great way to cheaply get the benefits of scenario based training.

Learning on reflection before plunging into the next scenario helps to build the patterns in the participants? minds that are the evidence that they have learnt.

Quizzes based on scenarios with a “?What would you do next??” question build quick and fun repetition into the training programme, helping transfer from short term memory to long term memory.

Building scenario based training into learning programmes benefits a wide range of topics, including, for example:

  • Customer service
  • Negotiating
  • Business to business marketing and sales
  • Consumer credit management
  • Leadership
  • Coaching.

Scenario based training allows learning and development professionals to fill in the gaps between the cracks left by linear models of teaching. Moreover, developing the scenarios by discussing what real life is like with the participants locks in commitment.

Lastly, scenario based training is more fun; people learn more when they are having fun, and it teaches people to learn from their mistakes, which can be no bad thing in its own right.