Ten reasons why training so often fails
Millions of people in as many companies spend billions on training, in an attempt to improve on skills and competences, assimilate new concepts and learn.
Learning involves physical changes in the brain.
Kandel and Hawkins (1992) reported that “Stimuli that produce long- term memory for sensitization and classical conditioning lead to an increase in the number of pre-synaptic terminals.”
They found that when the release of neurotransmitters between nerve cells goes up, eventually additional dendrites grow, multiplying contacts with neighboring cells.
Their conclusion: “Our brains are constantly changing anatomically as we learn.” Scientists continue to replicate and support these findings, and learning professionals have integrated them into mainstream educational texts (Sousa, 2000).
The breakneck speed of change, in jobs, technology and the workplace means that people are required to constantly update their skill-sets in order to stay in tune with these changes.
It’s a continuous and continual proces that is undertaken, but one which often fails miserably – training should be more of an “Essential to do.” and much less of a “Nice to have.”
Now, that may sound both negative and pessimistic, but it is often the reality, so let’s look at just Ten reasons why training so often fails and how they can be overcome :
- Management view of training is that it is a cost and not an investment and they are at odds with the objectives of the training; can see no real value in the training and only see the empty offices of the people who are participating in training.
Management often fail to see the link between training and how it can be applied in the workplace – training appears vague and abstract to some, who make a difference between what is learnt in the training room and what is happening on the ground.
Effective training cannot be carried out without the implication of management in the setting up of the training objectives and the follow-up at regular intervals on the aims and achievements of the trainees.
Training can also be seen as a threat to management if they are not seen as the drivers and motivators of the overall goals which then helps with the next point.
Training is an investment in both people and, ultimately, the company and there needs to be clear metrics set up and agreed to, as to how the ROI (Return on Investment) can be measured and assessed.
- Failure to apply the skills and knowledge gained during training.
Think of any subject or skill … if, after having undertaken a training course, a learner is then not given the opportunity to apply the new knowledge and skills learnt they will effectively lose both their motivation and skills in a relatively short time.
There is little point in training people for the sake of training them – skills, competences and knowledge need to be used and applied, and management is responsible to ensure that this happens.
- Gaps between the organisations business goals and objectives.
Once again, if the training is not aligned with the operational and strategic goals of the company, it is irrelevant as there will be little notion of ROI, where skills and knowledge will not be used, and therefore the return for the learner will be minimal.
Now there could be exceptions where the learner is planning for their own future, away from the organisation, but sponsored in training by the company and there are exceptional people who learn for learning’s sake, but they are largely exceptional, in all meanings of the term.
- Evaluation methods are off kilter.
The focus of evaluations need to be on performance and not activity or how happy the learners are at the end of the course with the chairs, coffee, trainer etc.
Achievement metrics are not about how happy the learners are at the end of a course, although if they are happy, this is not a bad thing, but more on how the training will help them in their jobs and how this can be translated to gaining business value for the organisation.
- Trainees take a welcome break from work.
This is a lot more common than we would often like to admit. Some learners welcome training courses as a way of taking a refreshing break from their work – which, although, in some way beneficial, should not represent the sole reason for the training.
Training should be motivational and motivating – but it should boil-down to a whole lot more than this.
- Inability to change.
One of the biggest problems with training is the inability or the refusal to embrace and action change, whether it be on a learner or an enterprise level.
Learners can learn whole new ways of working, thinking and behaving but until they are able to fully embrace change and put the skills and knowledge into action, which may conflict with the “Way that things have always been done around here.” – then there will be no real learning, results nor ROI.
Many are able to recognise that the way they behave, work or think, are in fact barriers to their own progression, but being able to change is sometimes a difficult step to take, which can threaten the status quo and the comfort zone in which they move.
Both learning and change is all about the ability to take chances, to challenge oneself, experiment, reflect and to stretch the comfort zone – if learners don’t go there, then they don’t deserve to be called learners in the first place!
- The social aspect of training is ignored. The quote “No man (or woman for that matter) is an island” never rings truer than in a learning situation.
All learning is social, in the sense of societal, where people construct meanings and learn with and from others.
Training that ignores this will inevitably fail – this is one of the better reasons that some training is carried out in groups, apart from the obvious financial advantages.
Working and learning with people who experience and view the world in a different way to ourselves has huge cognitive and behavioural advantages that impact directly on the learning process.
Learning in isolation can be done, but its short, and long term effectiveness and efficacity can be questioned.
- Trainers are viewed as Suppliers and not partnered.
This is closely linked to some of the other points, in as much as, if a trainer turns up with a preconceived idea and ready-made training course for a company, whose business, corporate culture and ‘worries’ they know nothing or little about.
Unfortunately this is the way that a lot of big organisations are going, with a Purchasing culture, rather than a Learning culture that pervades – cut the price, cut the costs…
The “One-size-fits-all” notion of training design will never and has never, worked – meld this with an ignorance of the operational, cultural and strategic issues of an organisation and there we have a recipe for failure, and one which is often imposed on training companies.
- There is no follow-up to the training.
Really effective training needs to be monitored and followed up in order that the objectives, in terms of performance, knowledge, skills and behaviour are implemented over time.
This should not entail a regurgitating of the training and need not be overly time-consuming, but must implicate the learners and the management in order to finally “pass on the baton” that enables management to coach and help the learner fully exploit the outcomes of the training in on-the-job scenarios.
Learning can be easily forgotten over time, there needs to be opportunities to monitor, coach, consolidate and underpin the outcomes to ensure long-term use and adoption of the new skills, knowledge and behaviour.
- Methods used are not adapted to the way that adults learn; are made up of regurgitated training courses that are dished up day-in-and-day-out.
Learners can feel at odds with the methods; not implicated in the learning process, and greatly demotivated.
Especially if training is geared towards the “spray and pray” lecture methods, where little, if no real learner interaction is included – this is doomed to fail as it is so un-conceptual that people are not able to align the training with their own reality – learners need to be facilitated and helped to think out of the box on ways of applying what they learn in training to the real world reality of their work life.
The objectives of training should be to change both attitudes and behaviour and designed in a way that facilitates the two. Training that is built around the transfer of knowledge often fails as it results in a transfer of problems, ignoring the systemic issues involved with learning.
This could be number eleven, but I’ll keep it to a round ten – lack of accountability, where learners are not empowered and held accountable for their participation and consequently, their performance during and after training.
Once again, management is in a privileged position to ensure that this happens by monitoring and assessing performance in the workplace after the training has been undertaken.
This point is also closely linked to a great number of organisations whose company culture does not encourage learning on a day-to-day basis in as much as they do not follow up on training, ensure that skills are applied effectively in the workplace and that learning is given a clear and prominent place in the company.
A huge difference remains in “knowing how” and “knowing how to do” in terms of learning and it is a great shame that a lot of training is geared around the former as it is a non-sustainable phenomena.
There will always be self-starters and lifelong learners who believe in what they’ve learnt and persist in spite of barriers to change to apply new skills, attitudes, knowledge and behaviours.
But these exceptions cannot deliver the return on investment executives are looking for and which business is crying out for.
The 30 day Challenge
A 30 day challenge doesn’t have to be a life-changing experience, although it may become one and may make a significant difference to your life.
Any long-term change that transpires, however, will be dependent on the way that you view the world and you will have to agree to maintain any sustainable changes that come about.
Most of us have barriers that we put in place that actually hamper change – ‘I don’t have the time.’, ‘I have this or that to do.”, etC.
It takes a lot of commitment to bring about change – no matter how little that change is.
The 30 day challenge is designed to be digestible – only 30 days and you can go back to what you were doing before.
Long before I ever heard of Matt Cutts and his video of the 30 day challenge, I have done challenges for 30 days with NaNoWrMo – National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November – here are mine.
The challenge, as Matt Cutts says, is to write a book of 50,000 words in 30 days – doable?
Well, yes it is, here are mine, and I will be doing it again this year.
I also did a 365 day one-photo-a-day challenge on Blipfoto – here is what I did, and I must say I quite miss doing it and will probably do another starting very soon.
Here is a site that mentions One hundred 30 day Challenges for those that need a little motivation / inspiration.
Have a look at what Matt Cutts says about his 30 day challenges.
Language as a window into human nature
Language and meaning are a fascinating subject – as illustrated in the video below, which shows the way, in which, speakers attempt to put meaning into words – sometimes producing the desired effect and sometimes it failing miserably.
One of the most widespread misconceptions regarding communication is that we can transfer meaning, as a speaker, directly into the minds of the listener – much as a direct form of implantation – this is just not true, even if some sort of meaning is decoded.
Anyone who has tried to talk about a great film that they have seen, or attempted to retell a particularly funny joke, will know just how untrue this notion is.
Although the listener ends up with virtually the same knowledge as the speaker has on the subject, there is little control on the qualitative results of the communication – the speaker attempts to inject meaning into their words, but it is then left to the listener to take out and set the meaning into their own set of knowledge, experience and emotions.
Arguably, this illustrates the point that words cannot convey meaning – they can only carry a set of instructions from speaker to listener of how meaning is meant to be construed (from the point of view of the speaker).
Another illustration of this point is the way that written words can often cause problems in communication – see our post on written communication pitfalls.
Think about any book that you have read and enjoyed, only to be largely disappointed when you have seen the film – it is very rare that a film exceeds the book.
This is also true for the times when we have attempted to carefully craft a message – only for it to be misunderstood by the receivers – have a look at the video which deals with these difficulties in a humourous way…
In this RSAnimate, Language as a window into human nature, Steven Pinker shows us how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings.
Language is What Makes Humans Unique
Language is what separates humans from animals and is one of the most important aspects of being human – it is what makes us unique.
Although, anyone who has attempted to learn a foreign language will tell you – there is a gulf of difference between knowing a language and being able to communicate or use it.
There many variables which go into making up a language (although we will look at just a few here) including:
Semanticity – where words have specific meanings.
Displacement – using tenses to talk about past and future events or abstract concepts and hypothetical situations.
Structural Dependence – How words are placed in a sentence or clause which can alter the meaning.
Grammar and Syntax – how words are constructed to give meaning
Have you ever wondered why apes and monkeys are unable to talk?
Evolutionary psychologists suggest that language developed through adaptation, which happened around 5 million years ago when humans separated on the evolutionary path, from higher primates.
Physical differences between humans and animals lie in the throat anatomy, which enables a large range of sound production. The brain area responsible for language production – the Planium Temporale is larger in humans in the left cerebral hemisphere than in any other animal on the planet.
Wernicke’s studies discovered that damage to this area resulted in the inability to understand language and produce fluent speech – “Fluent Asphasia,” whilst Broca found a more anterior region of the brain that is used for language production. When this area is damaged, the results are discontinued speech production – “Non-Fluent Asphasia.”
Sperber’s studies focused on “Metarepresentation,” which is a reflection on our own and other’s mental processes, and results in the interpretation of what others would to do or think in a certain situation or context. People can imagine what they think others are thinking – which is a huge evolutionary advantage which allows us to lie to others – an ability that children under 2 years of age are unable to do – which involves qualities of semanticity, displacement and structural dependence – which animals are not able to carry out.
Cognitive psychologists focus on the properties of sound and ‘process recovery’ in communication – how a person forms a sentence and relies on the listener to recover their ‘thoughts’, designed to convey meaning.
Ever been in a situation where you have considered that you have communicated a clear and simple message that was understood differently or produced effects that were unexpected?
Mayer and Schanveldt researched “Semantic Priming”, the ability to recognise words related in meaning and “Associative Priming” – words that occur close together, such as Work-horse, summer – holiday etc. Semantic priming and associative helps us understand and recognise meaning, in fact sometimes so rapidly that we only listen to half of what was said.
There are, of course many theories and variables which form the difference between animals and humans as far as language is concerned, but we will not look too deeply at this at this point.
Researchers argue that sentences we form are already well formed structures, unless we are using relatively new forms and structures, as we would if we were learning a foreign language – representation has to formed and not retrieved in this case. As words in a sentence are sequential, there remains the question of when we build the representation – do we wait until the sentence is completed or do we start building as words are perceived?
Sentences contain two types of information:
1. The meaning of the individual words.
2. The syntactical structure.
Take the sentence – “Hello.” it is grammatically correct and conveys meaning.
Chomsky sought to prove (or disprove this) through his grammatically correct, but meaningless sentence, “Coulourless green ideas sleep furiously.”
A cognitive view would argue that, communication relies on the listener’s metarepresentation and a speakers representation in order for (successful) communication to occur, whereas, a social psychologist’s view would argue that communication does not only rely on interpreting the thoughts of others. Meaning precedes language and is transmitted by language, which differs from the Social Constructivist view, which argues that language creates meaning.
In some parts of Europe, during the middle ages, Latin was the written language, despite the fact that nobody spoke it any more – apart from the clergy and other minority levels of society – this is called Diglossia, and still occurs throughout the world today in certain contexts.
Social psychologists view language as a social, process, and who would argue with that one? Language is used between two or more people as a social interaction, where meanings are formed, contested, constructed and construed, dynamically through prior knowledge and cultural knowledge of situations – communication is for a function, to get things done. This also applies to solitary thinking, reading and reasoning, where the use of language is carried out by way of a dialogue with the self – the internal voice.
It is clear that some researchers have successfully ‘taught’ forms of language to primates – although to date none have been able to reproduce spoken language – it stays on the level of understanding, apart from some experiments where sign language and ‘token’ language has been produced more of a reaction than any real form of interaction, and this does not prove that they would have developed a language among their own species.
The question remains as to whether the attempts at human type communication is authentic or just clouded by exaggerated empathy that sees things that were not really there. Whatever, the result, there is no evidence of ‘turn-taking’ a feature of human conversations and little spontaneity – one such experiment resulted in 96% of the responses being made up of requests, which were then rewarded in some way – a parallel which is closer to Pavlov’s dogs than true communication.
There is the argument put forward by evolutionary psychologists that chimps could have maintained some form of ancestral language ability, as they are the closest animal relatives of humans.
The fact remains that humans are hard-wired to learn languages – it is a natural instinct, but in order for it to be successful, it must occur in a social setting, which necessitates interaction with others. Studies with feral children has revealed that their ability to learn languages and to become fluent in the language is limited by the late age that they learn – indeed the consensus among linguists regarding bilingualism is that the ceiling for becoming bilingual in a language ends at around 14 years of age – this does not mean that people cannot reach a high level of competence, just that there is a difference in fluency and bilingualism.
Animals can undoubtedly communicate within their own species using sounds and gestures, although this is a long way from any language as we know it – and this is what makes humans thoroughly unique, the ability to communicate with, and learn languages, naturally and instinctively.
In summary, language is What Makes Humans Unique.
When 3 meters is just too far
Have you ever been in a room, with a group of colleagues, clients or business partners, sat around the table computer in front of you – preferably open (this provides a nice barrier that helps protect us … I imagine)?
So you chat away about the weather and what’s happening in business, sip on coffee, the atmosphere is light and almost friendly… and then the hammer falls –
OK now Fred is going to present XXX to you …
Fred, slowly gets up, laboriously carrying his computer to the front of the room, carefully leaving his personality and his confidence where he was sitting.
The former chatty and smiling person becomes stricken with fear that pulls his face into a rictus, makes him almost stutter, whilst searching for his words, which are lost in a never-seen-before indistinct mumbling.
So what happened? What went wrong? Where is Fred?
Fred is now stood just 3 meters from where he was happily and confidently speaking just a few minutes ago. 3 meters!
This isn’t the first time that this has happened, he often feels like this.
There was no surprise, Fred knew he had a presentation to give, he knows the audience and he knows his subject inside out – he is, in fact, the best person in the company to do this presentation. Or is he?
The problem is that Fred is projecting a less than positive image of himself and the company – try as they may, the audience will be really challenged to look past the nervous presenter and feel confident with Fred and the company.
And this happens to so many professionals, people who are excellent at their jobs, but who, all too often, sell themselves short.
The key is in the preparation.
People often spend a lot of time on the preparation of their Powerpoint, Prezi or Keynote slides, on the substance of their presentation – their subject, but little time on the structure and even less on themselves as a speaker or the message they want to get across, completely forgetting the impression they want to leave with the audience.
Regrettably, presenters often forget about the most important people in the room – the audience.
They also forget to prepare themselves for “getting on stage”, which is what they are doing when presenting, and no actor or performer would ever dream of setting a foot on stage without preparing themselves – voice, relaxation and focus.
The majority of presenters do this, oh-so-often, and expect to get away with it – which they rarely do.
If we believe in the theory of Primacy, which argues that we remember the first things we see and hear, then it may be worth preparing the start of a presentation, don’t you think? You know, the idea that first impressions count – and often stick.
Recency is a theory which states that we remember the last things we see and hear, as these things remain in working memory – the last thing we see, hear or feel, or at least the most recent.
I would argue that in a presentation we remember things that we learn and how we felt – bored, enthused, confident, lacking confidence etc.
We know that Fred is good at his job, knows his subject and is able to talk effectively about it (as long as he isn’t stood up in front of an audience that is …), most presenters demonstrate this by having a good ‘middle‘ in their presentations.
The middle is when the stress of the start is over and the presenter starts talking about the things that they know about, and hopefully enjoy, such as their jobs, services or products.
So, what about the start and finish?
We generally choose to read a book by several principle reasons:
- The cover attracts us.
- Recommendation from others.
- The author – who tels the story.
- The first few pages that capture us.
- The way the story is crafted.
- How we felt whilst reading the story.
Virtually the same phenomena can be applied to presentations, think about it.
If the end of the presentation is flat, we may remember that and not the good stuff that went before it – similar to finding that book at a car-boot sale, only to find that the last page from that great book has been torn out, and how annoying is that!
If the presentation started badly (which is often the case), we may have problems staying focused, or to even bother listening – was the iPhone and the Blackberry invented for these moments?
Audiences are usually made up of people who are empathetic to the plight of a presenter – up to a point.
An audience will happily help out a person who is struggling with stress – hey, we’ve all been there – ‘there but for the grace of God…’ etc.
But, as soon as a presenter starts to bore an audience, starts fidgeting or worse still, tells the audience that they are stressed (the audience already knew this anyway) then their patience wears thin and they are just not prepared to help out.
The Pareto is simple – 80% preparation (at least) to 20% presentation (at most), I would include in the 80% about 10% for the Powerpoint / Keynote / Prezi preparation, so you know where the rest of the time should be spent – on the audience and You as the presenter.
How close are you to this?
Here is someone who could help you … a lot!
So what’s an animated podcast ?
Good question !
It’s a podcast with pictures, learning tips and clues. In short, it’s just a helping hand to help you understand the conversation and the context.
This is Animated Podcast number 6 in a series of 10, in which each one has a specific focus and gets progressively more challenging.
In the sixth one, Why study for an MBA, you can hear students from China, India, France, Mexico, Taiwan and other countries explain what has motivated them to make a career change and study for an MBA in Aerospace. It’s a fascinating insight in the the motivations and challenges they face.
Who is it designed for ?
It’s a perfect opportunity for new learners (pre-intermediate) to hear many different accents and also learn a lot of key words for workplace conversations.
It’s a great way for Intermediate learners to consolidate knowledge.
Enjoy and Welcome to the English Podcasts Youtube Channel !
Click here to access the YouTube Channel