Training Is Not Learning

I used to think that I was in Training…now realize I’ve always been in the learning business. Training is the act of what you do with students when you bring them together. Learning is what they get out of it. And to make sure they get real value, we need to think beyond the framework of our scheduled course offerings.

Simply put, learning does not begin and end in the classroom. Although most training professionals see themselves as owning that narrow piece of a student’s learning process, we need to broaden our involvement to make sure that learning sticks.

And, it’s not just the deliverer’s mindset that needs to change; we need to change the learner’s perspective as well. It’s ingrained in us all – most needs can be met with delivering/taking a course. But, let’s be honest. Most courses are just an effective introduction to a new topic, no matter how sophisticated the content or presentation.

In a perfect world, learners would take responsibility for their own learning – employees would be hungry for knowledge and soak up information to advance their careers. They would come out of a class and immediately apply new techniques and skills to their work. When that doesn’t happen, we chalk it up to unmotivated students. We fail to take responsibility for the fact that people learn best when they are properly guided through a learning process.

As performance support leaders, we need to broaden our leadership role to engage students from the moment a learning need is identified through the time the skill becomes ingrained – we can’t think that information in and of itself will produce the intended positive results.

Here are some examples of what you can do before, during, and after a learning event to create a higher level of personal student responsibility that will carry student performance beyond the classroom.

1. Before the Learning Event

One thing to begin with is a rather common sense approach that everyone knows about, but few follow through with. Provide a pre-event questionnaire that asks students their expectations about learning a new topic. Most importantly, get their responses prior to the learning event. Don’t just post a course description – that does very little to engage the learner. This approach will make it clear that learning falls squarely on the shoulders of the learner, while the teacher or facilitator’s role is to guide them through the process.

An added benefit to understanding people’s expectations is that you can tailor the experience to their frame of reference. This decreases the chance of being blindsided by someone using their expectations as a weapon to find flaws in your program.

2. During the Learning Event

Focus your delivery on a few learning outcomes and discard most of the other stuff. Too often, too much information is presented that has little effect on the learner. Take the extra stuff that is not critical to your key learning topics and make it available as reference or support material.

Also, use real-world examples wherever and as much as possible. It’s a difficult prospect for your students to learn about a specific approach or concept in a context that’s not related to their day-to-day activities. By providing situational or real-life information, an approach commonly referred to as scenario-based learning, you can make their overall learning ‘stick’ more effectively.

3. After the Learning Event

Develop a process to check in with your learners. Use some kind of feedback mechanism – user group meetings, conference calls, take home exercises, anything that keeps people in the loop and forces them to reengage with the material after they “leave the classroom”.

When the formal element of your program is over, people are at different stages in their own learning. Be sure to find ways to include everyone, so they can continue to jumpstart their new learning needs. Create mini sessions on a specific topic, so that people who need help in one area can get it. Or, as mentioned above, take the “extra stuff” that would have been way too much for the learner to absorb in the initial learning event and introduce after they develop comfort with the basics.

Throughout this entire process, it is most important to make learning interesting and fun. If learners see the acquisition of knowledge as important, useful, interesting and advantageous for their success, the more likely you will be in fostering students who have a thirst for information.