During my years as a training director, I learned that everyone in the organization knows how training should happen. I listened to a myriad of opinions about what we should train, when, and where. Don’t get me wrong–there were good ideas, too. I happen to believe that the training department should partner with managers to learn about needs and direction of the program. I learned that along with that comes several misconceptions about what “training” is and how to do it effectively. Here are five things everyone gets wrong about training:
- Anyone can train. Subject matter experts are just that: Experts in the subject matter they perform. Sometimes subject matter experts (lovingly referred to as “SMEs” in the training field) are good presenters, sometimes not. If confronted with the idea that Bob the mortgage loan originator can teach a class on mortgages, my duty was to confirm that Bob could, indeed, teach the content. Not everyone can teach or train. When I evaluate a prospective trainer, it’s to determine whether the person wants to present in front of people and if yes, how can I best help them to accomplish that without sacrificing the standards of the program. There are alternatives to getting the material into the hands of learners such as interviews, podcasts, videos, and articles.
- Give them a handout. Somehow, having a handout legitimizes the training class. It should have as much information on it as possible so that when someone leaves the class with the handout, they will be able to remember the information presented. Such handouts, in my opinion, are wastes of time. If the participant can get just as much out of a handout after the class as they can participating in the class, why bother attending? The best handouts are those that require the participant to pay attention to what’s going on in the class to be able to follow along on the handout. The handout could have sentences that need to be completed, prompts to write down a number of points that were made, or illustrations that the participant could describe. The handout could be a simple piece of paper for the participant to take notes. The handout shouldn’t replace the content of the class.
- Give them the slide deck. This is a kin of the handout and sometimes even a substitute for it. Giving participants a copy of the slide deck may seem a plausible way to help them remember content, but only if the trainer is reproducing a high volume of class content on the slides. I prefer to make my slides primarily visual aids for the presentation and limit the number of bullet points on them. A copy of the slide deck might not get the participant very far in their recollection of the session if they are relying on the deck having all the information. There are times, however, when providing the slide deck in handout form can be useful for participants. Give it to them when appropriate.
- Training has to be in person. This admonition is fading away as more and more companies are looking for ways to train their staff remotely. It is very common, though, to hear managers declare that people need to go to training (read: to a specific place at a specific time to take part in a class with a live instructor). With people accustomed to watching videos online and taking tests and quizzes via social media, the need to be in a physical classroom has diminished. We are finding ways to train people virtually, either live, in person or through learning management platforms that provide on demand training. There is a benefit to having a community of learners for social learning. That community can be assembled in the online space, too.
- You don’t need training if you’re experienced. It’s surprising that people believe we can stop learning once we’ve achieved a particular level of competence in our fields. With rapid changes in technology and how it’s applied to different professions, training to use these tools is essential. Even if you have “learned it all,” you forget or don’t use information or techniques as consistently as you think. Often we need to keep learning to advance our careers. Exempting experienced people from training does not benefit them. Training needs to adapt and be flexible enough to allow for participants at different stages of their careers and their changing needs.
Everyone has an opinion about training. When you’re the trainer, you need to listen to them and then separate the valid recommendations and ideas from those that are less helpful. You may be called upon to justify your decisions, and that becomes a training opportunity, too. If you’re a trusted partner, others will welcome the chance to understand why you do what you do.