What Workplace Training Is For


With the pace of change in all our workplaces these days, Training is being offered by employers (and more and more often required by regulations) to help the people doing the work be able to keep up and to do so safely.

It sure would be nice if the Learning & Development industry (the field formerly known as Corporate Training) had standards that could be applied so everyone who’s making up these new training programs, learning assets, and behavioral interventions could at least use the same language. That’s another post I’m working on, but first some groundwork is needed. How about we start with something simpler today?

When Training Works, and Doesn’t

Training works best when a person does not know what action to take in a specific situation. Whenever someone already knows what action they should take, and for whatever reason is not doing it consistently, training is very unlikely to make any difference at all.

As simple and seemingly self-evident as this is, we in L&D tend to forget this often. For instance, we usually don’t remember:
  • When there is a legal/compliance requirement driving the creation of training, an attestation will often suffice and should be used instead. People know what to do, but the lawyers need a defensible position.
  • When there is a cultural belief that is driving the creation of training, marketing tools will work better than training. When people know they should be nice and make work a safe space, but still they say/do mean things to others, status is the solution. Make it cool to do the right thing and very uncool to be a jerk. Training has little say in what’s cool, that’s a cultural & marketing thing.
  • When the target audience is defined by role, job, level, etc., we need to filter further to only include the people who do not know the information in the training to a satisfactory level. Test-outs & pre-assessments are common tools for this. You can’t actually say somebody learned something if they knew it better than you do even before you told them.

So if we subtract out all the stuff above from what usually drives training, we’re left with a drastically reduced subset of trainings and people who need them. Now let’s reduce it even further…

Target Content

Just as we in L&D can’t take credit for what people knew before we told them, we also can’t take credit for what we told people but didn’t even ask if they understood. Content that is not assessed is not Training, it is merely information. 

Simply put, if we don’t measure it, then we can’t manage it.

Delivering information is important, clearly. But it is very different than training them, each works best in its own infrastructure. Please do not attempt to use training for information delivery. Instead:
  • Test what you train
  • Train what you test
  • Refer out to additional information of interest as needed, or drop it altogether

Assessment questions exist for the sole purpose of testing people against their learning objectives as concisely as possible. Content exists to help people meet these objectives. Focus all training content on a narrative that speaks to your target audience and aids them in meeting their real-life, on-the-job objectives.

Do not try to force timings or specific navigation into training experience. In most cases, this frustrates the person taking the training and encourages them to try to multi-task which distracts them from the content. Even simulations can allow for people to advance their own experience at real-world speed based on where they click, rather than waiting for the training.

Target Audience

Content targeting is only half of training, at best. In my experience, it’s the easier half. We need to know who the content is for and how to speak to those people effectively. Anytime I find fellow Instructional Designers who skip this part (as many will do), I stop and ask them “If we don’t know who we’re talking to, how do we know what to say?”

The reason this tends to get skipped is that the audience is almost always ill-defined to start with. We need to be able to produce a report of everyone, by name, who should complete a training, and who should have access to it before we produce content.

Why? Because that’s what we’re going to need at the end, that’s what we’re working towards. Did we get them all? Did we get too many? We can know this in advance only when we ask.

Creating training that serves less than 100% of the target audience is very common. But it indicates that we have failed to appropriately define our target audience. Here’s a place to start:
  • Can they all see?
  • Can they all hear?
  • Do they all speak the same language?
  • Do they all follow the same rules and use the same systems?

Optimize both content and delivery method to each audience subset. Obviously if someone’s written English skills aren’t very good, then giving them a written eLearning course is problematic. So is a video with fast-moving text all over it. What could we create that would speak to ALL the people who need to know how to perform a specific task safely? Let’s start there or we’re leaving people out.

Workplace training exists to help people get from where they are now to where they need to go. We in L&D are tasked with serving everyone in a given group, not some of them. We can accomplish this only when we
  1. are honest about who is in that group, and who isn’t
  2. don’t give those people things they don’t need
  3. speak to those people on their own terms

Anything less, and we’re wasting the organization’s money and breeching the trust of those we seek to serve. Workplace training is here to make things better. Let’s get to it!

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