It is difficult to find organisations that would say, “We find that training has little impact on our bottom line year on year”.

Is this because organisations know exactly what return they get from training? The answer to that question is a clear no. The American Society for Training and Development reported that only 3% of organisations measure what happens to their bottom line as a result of training.

Or is it that it is politically incorrect to say in an organisation that has a high investment in training, “We waste our money on training”? My observation is that this is somewhere near the truth.

Designing training that allows adults to learn is no simple feat in itself. A designer (once the objectives of the training are understood) has to design training with four major elements in mind.

Participants must recognise the need for information and rapport with the trainer must be established early, otherwise the trainer’s efforts will be in vain. The opening of any training effort must provide a believable and appropriately challenging answer to the question, “Why am I here?” and must lead to an early engagement between the participants and the trainer.

The design must also be able to reinforce positive behaviour. In doing so, the design must not ignore negative or undesirable behaviour. The design needs to include negative reinforcements to eliminate the undesired behaviour as much as it includes positive reinforcement for desired behaviour.

Retention is a key aspect of training design that is often ignored, in that very few entities undertaking a training programme test for retention. Participants must also have adequate opportunities to practice what they learn to increase levels of retention.

The fourth critical element of training design is transference. Participants must be able to transfer what they have learnt in to a new setting, away from the classroom. For example, the workplace!

Participants are more likely to transfer their learning to the workplace when the learning is critical to them doing their job or the learning revisited familiar patterns of work or knowledge. Conversely, they have a high probability of learning transfer when the learning was very new and fresh.

Transference is stopped cold if participants return to a workplace which has policies, processes and measures of processes which promote behaviours opposite to those reinforced in the training. If negative policies, processes and measures are well known and expected to remain after the training, then motivation for attending training will be severely hampered as well.

Most training is completed over a period of a day or two. In many industries, it is difficult to allow participants the time off to attend even a day’s training, hence the training may only be a half day or two hours.

Let me assume that we believe that when we set out to have people learn something and to change their behaviour as a result that we have to address motivation/rapport, reinforcement of desired behaviours, retention of knowledge and transference to the workplace. I then ask the question “How can all of that happen in a two hour or half day or one day training session?”

The simple answer is that it cannot. Workplace learning happens mainly at the workplace, not in the training room.

“Training” designs that typically start with, “What are the training outcomes we want?” do miss the point. The first question must be, “What business outcome do we want?” The second question can be, “What change in behaviours do we need to get the change in business outcomes we want?”

The next set of questions to ask includes:
“What measures do we need to change to reinforce the behaviour we want and discourage the behaviour we do not want?”
“What processes do we have that make it impossible for our employees to exhibit the behaviour we want?”
“What policies do we have that stop our employees from exhibiting the behaviours we want?”
…and finally “What knowledge and skills do our employees need to have to help them exhibit the behaviours we want?”

Even when we get to the design of training, using the answers to the last question we must take into account how we are going to pass on knowledge and skills in a classroom, how we are going to reinforce those in the workplace, how we are going to aid retention of knowledge and build skills and how we can organise work such that there is ample opportunity to transfer the knowledge to the workplace.

And then we have to work out how we will know that the learning programme is working.

Organisations spend a lot of money on training. I fear that if they looked back over five years at the changes in behaviour that their training had brought, they would say, “Not enough”.