It may be said that the road to ineffective training is paved with good intentions. As you develop training in your organization, be aware of these seven training traps that can derail your best intentions for improving performance.
1. The Information Dump
Many organizations put their experts in charge of training, which makes sense—the experts have the knowledge; let them disseminate it. The trouble with experts, though, is that they think everything about their subject is important. The result is a massive information dump that leaves the target audience with glazed eyes and no sense of what to do with all that information. Behavior can’t change under those circumstances, so training hasn’t happened. An instructional designer can work with your organizational goals and the target audience’s needs to determine exactly what information must be conveyed, and the best way to convey it to achieve your training goals. The target audience will leave the training with 5–7 key things to remember and a plan for putting new skills and knowledge into action.
2. The Why Should I Care?
Closely related to the Information Dump is training that does not seem relevant to learners. The training sponsor may assume that what’s important to him/her is important to everyone. But if learners cannot see a clear correlation between the training and what they care about, they’ll check out. The first step in developing effective training is to understand your audience and what matters most to them. Then you can draw clear connections between your content and audience needs and help learners see how the training will help them achieve their goals. The result: people who are engaged and motivated to learn.
3. The Sit and Listen
Our educational system is based on the “sit and listen” concept. Most of us grew up in classrooms where the teacher talked and we listened and took notes. That approach has been proven to be less than effective. But it’s what we know, so it’s often where training starts. But as psychiatrist William Glasser pointed out, “We Learn . . .
So, if you really want your people to learn something, you need to make them active participants in the learning. Get them discussing, experiencing, and even teaching others. The type of activity that’s appropriate will depend on your training objectives. You may be able to get away with the “Sit and Listen” if you just want people to be aware of something. But you’ll have to hone a focused message so you can be sure that they remember key points. If you want to take learners higher up Bloom’s taxonomy into the realm of applying, evaluating, synthesizing, and even creating, you need to provide activities that allow them to do those things and get meaningful feedback.
4. The This Is What We’ve Always Done
Several years ago, a client asked me to create some e-learning on international culture and protocols for people traveling overseas. As I began to understand what my client wanted, I realized that e-learning wasn’t the best solution. It was too linear and guided. The target audience had specific questions and wanted to get answers to those questions right away. They needed something more flexible, so I suggested a wiki. My client’s response, “What’s a wiki?” To answer that question, I built a quick wiki for them using some of their content. And they instantly saw that a wiki was the right choice to meet learners’ needs. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of how you’ve always delivered training. But technology has opened up a wide variety of options. The key is to be very clear about what you want to accomplish, and then work with an instructional designer and technologist to determine the most effective way of achieving those goals. Like my client, you may find that your first solution wasn’t necessarily the best one.
5. Death by PowerPoint
Much has been written about the evils of PowerPoint, but it’s not the tool as much as our inability to use it effectively that is the problem. Working memory has an auditory and a visual component, so if you want to maximize what learners can absorb, you need to provide substantive visuals, along with the explanation. Bullet points aren’t visuals. They just clutter up the auditory side of working memory. So, why do we use them so much? Because it’s easy to throw words on a slide. It can be difficult to design a substantive visual that captures a key concept. Instructional designers and graphics designers can help you to turn bullet points into visuals that will make information meaningful and memorable to learners.
6. Let Them Find It
With Google and the Internet, we all have a great deal of information at our fingertips. So, many would argue that we don’t really need training anymore. People can just get the information they need when they need it from the Internet. But that’s kind of like saying that we don’t really need roads anymore because we can just buy machetes and bushwhack our way through the forest. The trouble with the “Let them find it” approach is that it can be time-consuming for learners, and they can get lost in all the information that’s out there. Well-designed training is the super-highway to performance—the shortest distance between where you are today and where you want to be.
7. Technology for Technology’s Sake
There’s no doubt that technology has revolutionized training, offering numerous options for disseminating information and building skills. Organizations can go beyond the classroom with technologies that allow learning to occur before, during, and after a training event. The challenge is to not be seduced by the wonders of technology. Sometimes clients come to us because they want a technology-enabled solution just so they can say that they’re using that technology: “Yes, we’re doing mobile learning.” But rather than looking for a reason to use a specific technology, you need to start by being very clear about your performance goals and target audience needs. Then you can apply the right technology to meet those goals and needs effectively. And sometimes technology may not be the best solution. Job aids aren’t exciting, but they can be effective. Choose the right solution for the training need, and you’ll have more dollars left for projects that require technology. Instructional Designers as Guides As you can see, even the best of intentions can have unintended consequences. There’s a good reason that people fall into these traps. At a certain level, they make sense. An instructional designer can guide you through the myriad choices in training design, help you to avoid the traps, and lay out the path to training that meets your organizational goals efficiently and effectively.