and when training doesn't work?
A university professor who wanted to learn Zen approached
Nan-in, a Japanese master. Nan-in served him some tea.
He continued pouring tea into the professor's cup even
after the cup was full. Unable to restrain himself the
professor said, "It is overfull. No more will go
in!" Nan-in then responded, "Like this cup
you are full of your own opinions and speculations.
How can you learn unless you first empty your cup?"
This episode is just a precursor of what ails training
initiatives in organisations.
Surveys report how organisations spend huge amounts
on ineffective training. A USA Today survey estimated
a training loss of 5.6 to 16.8 billion dollars. But
what these surveys don't reveal is why there was such
a colossal loss. How is it that organisations spend
thousands of hours and dollars on training that doesn't
The main culprits!
Training doesn't work because:
- Trainers' lack sufficient training experience and
- Subject matter experts create training
- Training objectives are not clearly outlined
- Lack of infrastructure to apply what is learnt
The culprit trainer
Training isn't a popular first career choice. Therefore,
most trainers lack thorough knowledge about the subject.
They have limited formal education in human resource
development, training instructional design and adult
learning theories. What they know is what they have
picked up in the course of their job. That primarily
deals with the 'how-to' of training. A recent research
discovered that less than 8 percent of the trainers
have formal education in training.
Adult theory and methodology is considered the mother
of training and development. Only few trainers can boast
of this acumen. The following points illustrate how
training activities are related to adult learning principles.
Principle 1: Adults need to know why they should learn
something. Employees are often detailed for training
sessions. Such training rarely results in a complete
learning experience. Most employees hardly contribute
during the course of the training. Employees need to
be 'thawed' before being sent for training sessions.
They must understand the benefits of training and the
disadvantages of being ignorant.
Principle 2: Adults need to be self-directed. Formal
self-direction would involve a self-study course. The
employee is free to attain knowledge when he feels the
urge to learn something. Also employees can engage in
individual or group activities. While the trainer defines
the objectives, the employees can conduct them in their
own fashion. Informal self-direction can be used when
the trainer asks employees to work during the break
so that they can leave class early.
Principle 3: Adults have a wide range of experiences
that contribute to learning. Training for adults cannot
strictly comprise a talk by the trainer. A training
session would have to be highly interactive to be fruitful.
Exchange of ideas and opinions adds new information.
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Principle 4: Adults are ready to learn when a situation
calls for better performance. One simple exercise helped
a trainer incorporate the first four principles of adult
learning. While conducting a course on project management
the trainer started by relating a story of trainees
who were unable to perform well despite four weeks of
training. He then asked the trainees to relate their
experiences in project management. This was followed
by an explanation of whether they thought training should
focus on knowledge or skills. Rest assured the training
session was a success. An adult learns best when he
feels that the training is in his interest and when
he attends the training voluntarily.
Principle 5: Adult orientation to learning should be
task or problem centred. Adults are attracted to training
only when they can see immediate applicability of training!
This is why night adult schools are gaining popularity.
Principle 6: Adults need more intrinsic motivators.
Trainees are awarded certificates on completing training
programmes. But such extrinsic motivators are seldom
effective. Intrinsic factors like personal benefits
of new knowledge motivate adults. A smart trainer should
emphasise training's value addition on individual growth
Peter and Paulette can further throw the learning curve
out of track!
Peter and Paul: The Peter Principle is often applied
to management positions and states that every employee
rises to his level of incompetence. For example, the
most efficient sales person is made a sales manager
despite not having requisite degrees and experience.
The Paulette Principle is related to the Peter Principle.
It states, "If you're the best at what you do,
you can train others to do it." It also encourages
people who are good at something to go ahead and teach
This is one reason why training designed by Subject
Matter Experts (SMEs) fails to produce desired results.
An SME leaves out basic information because he is far
beyond the basics! He is so thorough in his subject
that he includes every little nuance of it.
Leaving out the basics
A trainer was recently involved in re-designing a training
topic that was originally done by a SME. He discovered
the following flaws:
- Basic and introductory information about the topic
- The SME had moved to the application and theory right
at the start
- Some of the theories and models present were obscure
- References to these obscure models were found in dated
- Some topics had to be deleted as they were not in
An SME loves to flaunt his knowledge hence, he includes
too much information! One SME was hired to design a
course in athletic footwear technology. The courseware
content had to describe the different types of construction
methods that various athletic footwear manufacturers
used. The SME recommended adding the history of each
of the footwear manufacturers! He argued that trainees
would have greater appreciation of a construction model
if they knew about the manufacturer's history. However,
he failed to convince the trainees.
Objectives go haywire when the purpose of training
is ill defined. Training objectives should use action
verbs like list, define, and demonstrate instead of
'to understand' or 'to know'. An objective in a software-training
manual stated: Be aware of the different configurations
of the software. Anybody reading the manual would become
aware of the configurations! That definitely wasn't
the purpose of the training manual!
The objective redone with a training purpose would
read: Configure software for various end-user requirements.
A round peg and a square hole!
Training failures often result from wrong testing.
A five-day course was conducted to teach participants
programming skills. The course culminated with a knowledge-based
examination. Participants had to answer multiple choice
and fill-in-the blanks questions. The pass percentage
was surprisingly low. Reason? The participants were
trained in a skill but it was their knowledge and not
their skill levels that were tested.
When the trainer changed the knowledge-based examination
to a performance-based one, the success rate shot up.
While most trainees can practically apply their newly
found skills at the workplace, very few can answer theoretical
Trainers can safely accept that despite all their efforts
there still might be some that are untrainable. But
for the majority of trainables, training programmes
should be sound. Training outcomes and objectives should
be justified. Above all, training designs should support
the purpose of training.