The future of class room training

The future of class room training

The training room is ready, lunch has been organised, the trainer has arrived but the participants are missing, at least many of them.

Ask any L&D professional and she will tell you that her biggest challenge is to get participants into the class room.

Ask trainers and they will tell you that they have come to accept a 15% to 25% drop out rate. (The percentage of employees who do not attend a scheduled training program that they have signed up for or nominated to.)

Line managers across levels are seen as the villains of the piece – the ones who say yes to programs but are alleged to have pulled their team members out a day before or in the middle of the program.

Employees find it hard to balance between the need to fulfill mandated training man-days and complete their unending work.

More and more organisations continue to commit more and more financial resources towards training. Given that signing off training budgets is the politically right things to do, most CEOs find it hard to say not to training budget proposals. Having signed off on these budgets, they continue to worry about return on investment. L&D professionals also feel disappointed about their challenges in making training deliver results.

In summary, effectiveness of class room training is a problem that seems to get bigger by the day. 

There are several reasons why the traditional class room training is in trouble.

  1. Given the very difficult business circumstances which only seem to get even more difficult by the day, it appears genuinely hard for people to get away from work for two or more days. For a long time L&D professionals have been refusing to accept this reality and that is hurting. Accepting this reality might open up other creative options.
  2. L&D professionals have been swearing by the 70:20:10 rule. (That 70 of learning should be on the job, 20% through developmental relationships and 10% through formal learning events.). However, in reality, they are unable to do much, especially about the 70%. As a result, there continues to be an over reliance on class room training despite an intellectual appreciation of its limitations. Most have cosmetically rechristened their function as L&D from T&D, but continue to focus on T and not L. In fact, we continue to use number of man-days of training as a metric for training investment while we swear by 70:20:10 – quite a contradiction. We continue to ask participants to sign training attendance sheets and fill in post-training feedback forms despite our belief that actual results are evident on the job, through the 70% effort. I am told that it is an ISO requirement.
  3. Many L&D professionals are so wedded to their specialization that they conduct themselves like academicians. They do little to engage with business, get under the skin of the most critical jobs of the organisation and understand the critical capability needs of organisations and facilitate learning.
  4. Professional trainers confess that they can no longer compete with content on-line. They are no longer the ones who have access to never seen before videos or never read before quotes or articles or books. Most participants have seen so many videos and read so many things already. The only thing that trainers can do is engage in conversations, share perspectives or impart critical skills. Truth is that using training programs to deliver content is becoming futile.
  5. Attention spans have become extremely short. Most employees, especially young employees are subject to so much of incessant sensory stimulation that it is hard for any trainer to hold their attention for two or three days. Add to this the presence of 25 smart phones and tablets and laptops in a class room and you have absolute chaos.
  6. Employees openly question the contradictions between what is professed in the class room in terms of desirable behaviours and what their own managers and leaders practice. At the same time, they value their managers and leaders leading training programs to share functional and technical know-now and perspectives. In other words, the divide between real life and the class room is becoming unacceptable. Where, bridged training works and where it isn’t, it just does not work.
  7. Coaching, mentoring, learning communities, peer learning forums and global on-line resources have been able to deliver outstanding value. For trade, technical and professional roles, learning through a system of apprenticeship (especially the nuances and the tacit knowledge embedded in the heads of skilled seniors) has been well established.
  8. In a outsourced world where the face of your organisation is not your employee, or in a world where your workforce is around the globe delivering value 24/7, in a world where your employees are so geographically dispersed, the idea of everyone coming to a class room physically to learn how to do their job better seems almost impossible.

So what is the future?

There are at least seven things I foresee.

  1. Most job skill learning will be delivered to the employee at his workplace at a time when he or she needs it, not when L&D can mobilise a batch. Such training will be delivered in small doses, consumed when the learner is ready and needs it.
  2. Class room training will be used only to impart specific skills, share perspectives and discuss practical issues and learn from peers.
  3. Self-learning, learning through on-line resources and peer networks and learning through developmental relationships will become even more popular.
  4. Leadership development will be around offering a range of developmental experiences and will move away from learning event centricity.
  5. Trainers will reinvent themselves to get wiser and smarter than google and other on-line competitors to earn the respect of participants.
  6. The once useful 70:20:10 will get refined and redefined.
  7. Fitness centers, yoga classes, cookery classes, pottery classes and a whole host of other things that people fancy will be very well attended because people will make the personal choice and take the personal responsibility to be there! Also, because such learning is fun!