Understanding the Learning Process


Imagine you send an employee to a training event, and when they return they are unable to perform the tasks you need them to perform.  You fully expected that training would do what was necessary to make your employee able to perform their job and yet they can’t.

My first training manager used to impress upon me that it was important for a learning professional to stay current on learning trends and modalities, but not as important as learning how people learn.  As a new trainer this was a bit deep for me, but it always stuck with me, and over time I started to understand that it was at the core of what I needed to understand.

Too often we get hung up on the learning event.  Should it be an instructor-led classroom workshop, or online live event, eLearning self-paced course, a video, simulation, or a job aide?  It depends on who is learning and what they need to learn.  It depends on if this is knowledge they need to acquire or must they be able to perform functions?

I learned early on to always ask the Stephen Covey quote of “Begin with the End in Mind” to make sure you are focused on the outcomes.  This will lead you to how the learning needs to begin, and whether there are on-the-job components and/or if a mentor / coach could make a difference.

I like to consider the environment in which the employee will use the skills, and this tells me how best to develop the skill.  Would it benefit the learner to be learning in a peer group to exchange ideas and provide safe practice?  Would role playing be a good practice process, or not needed at all?  Depending on the topic you may be using a lot of different methods to engage the learner, and blend several different processes in order to make the learning stick.

If we fail to understand the learning process then we provide a very expensive learning environment to our companies.  It is costly because we don’t provide results, we just spend money.

If we allow a single training event to happen and we know up front it will not produce the needed skills, we are wasting time and money.  We are doing almost as much damage as the company that relies on the osmosis process of learning your job.  Just stand around and soak up what you need from those around you.  In other words, no training at all.

I’ve been called a purist more than once, because I do believe that if you are going to run a training function, or learning environment than you should do it the right way.  Otherwise you set incorrect expectations and create more leaders that see little to no value in training.  We have enough of those kinds of leaders already, we really don’t need to make more of them.

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