The Performance Improvement Blog: Stephen Gill's "Stop Relying on Training for Employee Learning"

This article argues that formal training wastes organizational resources and that "push learning" is frequently unproductive. The author believes that creating an organizational culture of on-going, work-driven learning is far more effective. Brainstorm some industries where you believe this model works, and where it does not. Could you argue that the outcome of formal training depends on the type of learner, rather than the the type of learning?

Stop Relying on Training for Employee Learning

Formal training continues to take up too many organizational resources. Formal, event-based training (courses, workshops, seminars, MOOCs) has a place in corporate learning, but only a small place and only for employee learning that cannot be achieved in other, more timely, less costly, and more effective ways.

This is because formal training (referred to as "push" learning), regardless of how well it is delivered to employees, is limited in its impact:

    • Learning is not retained. Although forgetting varies depending on the content, training design, and workplace environment, some research shows that students forget 70 percent of what they are taught within 24 hours and they forget 90 percent after a week.

    • Learning is not applied. Research shows that only between 10 percent and 50 percent of training participants,
      depending on non-training factors, apply what they have learned to their work.

    • Learning is not experienced by those who need it most. Employees who need performance improvement the most are usually not the ones who receive training. Because they are not given the opportunity, or not encouraged by their managers, or the training is not delivered in a way that makes it accessible, many employees are never exposed to what they need.

    • Training does not promote creativity and innovation. This way of thinking is antithetical to formal training which depends on a predetermined set of objectives and curriculum. Creativity and innovation comes from the unanticipated and the unexpected; the willingness to veer from the old way of doing things and experiment with ideas that have never been applied before.

    • Training does not have the flexibility a growing contingent of the workforce needs. Many companies rely on a constant flow of contract and temporary workers who need to be brought onboard quickly, adapt to a continuously changing environment, and cannot wait for a training program.

    • Training does not work for rare events. For example, employees need to be able to respond to the workplace, life-threatening accidents they cannot anticipate and may never occur. When these accidents do occur, employees are not ready because the relevant training took place weeks, or months, or years, earlier.

More than formal training programs, we need learning that is targeted, relevant, and can be applied immediately. We need to create an organizational culture where learning is on-going and happens during the course of work, where workers "pull" the learning they need, when they need it. Most learning happens on-the-job anyway. The challenge is to make sure workers receive correct and useful information. If it is learning through trial-and-error, employees need to receive feedback that helps them learn. With the technology available today, there is no reason why we cannot get just the right information to individual employees when, where, and how they need it.

—July 13, 2015

Last modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2019, 12:05 PM