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Are you tired of hearing “We need a training course”? L&D people, listen up!

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Are you tired of hearing “We need a training course”? L&D people, listen up!

Measuring the success of a training is something that has long been discussed within the Learning and Development community and still remains a challenge. If you’re still having these discussions with key stakeholders, you might want to read on.

In this blog, I hope to clarify what training success really means.

“We need a training course”. Classic! This is the usual statement from a key stakeholder - someone like a Head of Department - that a person working in L&D receives. Likely people are not doing what we need them to do, perhaps with a tool or a process, or we need to help them consider things from a different perspective. Part of the problem with the statement above, is that they have jumped right to the solution (the delivery method) rather than actually defining the issue at hand. For some reason, it’s much easier for people to focus on the delivery method (i.e. a training course), rather than actually consider what the purpose of the learning is.

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What is your learning intervention achieving?

This is a well-known challenge in the L&D industry and, luckily, we have some methodologies to help us. One I really like is the Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation. This model helps L&D professionals guide key stakeholders to clarify what they really want to achieve from a learning intervention.

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Blue pyramid with icons at every level
  • Level 1 is at the lowest level. It clarifies as to whether the trainees found the training engaging and relevant to the job they perform (e.g. ‘I enjoyed the training’). 
  • Level 2 is about understanding the level of learning achieved from the training. What skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours were learned (e.g. Agile methodologies).
  • Level 3 is about the ability to apply the new knowledge to their work to drive a change in behaviour (e.g. Apply methodology in the dev team’s work).
  • Level 4 is all about results. This is about achieving the previously defined outcomes that the learning intervention supported (e.g. Reducing support ticket closing time by 50%).

Here’s an example of the model in action. Let’s imagine my key stakeholder, the Head of Customer Service, wants to do some training on getting their team to use a new piece of software. We find a training course and deliver it to the appropriate participants. Going through the levels we are likely to have the following statements from the trainees:

  • Level 1 - “Very Good. Never boring and very relevant to my job”
  • Level 2 - “I learned some new tricks and tools in that software that I didn’t know before” 
  • Level 3 - “I can see immediately how some of those new approaches to using the software will massively speed up my efficiency”

Hopefully, you see the difference here. Level 1 is just basically asking, ‘did you enjoy the course?’ If it is a positive response that’s great, but it’s not necessarily helpful. It could be difficult for someone in L&D to justify the expense and time taken away from billable work by staff. Level 3 is much more like it; we can clearly see how the trainee not only learned something but also, they are going to take that into their daily work and make improvements for the better.  

So, what about Level 4? Ideally, the results set right at the start of the discussion with the Head of Customer service were along the lines of ‘we need to increase efficiency in my team by X% with the use of this software.’ Now with Level 3 successfully fulfilled, we can hopefully see this improvement not only in their skillset, but also in their work output and efficiency. 

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The quality of the training is the real difference

So many companies fall into the trap of only focusing on the training delivery method, rather than the results it can provide. Other traps are; how many people attended the training? How long does it take? How much will it cost? Don't get me wrong, those are all important factors. However, they are not what is going to make a huge difference to behaviours and growth of staff, and ultimately the business. 

Another key gap that needs to be addressed is the transfer of learning. This is how we help trainees take the learning from the course and actually apply it back in their workplace. Too many times (particularly with soft skills courses), you will speak to a trainee and ask them about the training they attended a few weeks back:

  • Trainee: “It was a great training session. Really good” (Note: Level 1 response) 
  • Colleague: “And what did you specifically learn from the course?” 
  • Trainee: “Ummm, lots of things” (Note: poor Level 2 response)
  • Colleague: “Have you put them into practice yet in your job? 
  • Trainee: “Well no, not yet.” (Note: very poor Level 3 response)

After a few weeks, the chances of this trainee applying the learning in their day-to-day work are very unlikely. So, our impact is merely Level 1 on the Kirkpatrick scale.

This is why the role of the employee’s manager here is critical. Bridging the gap between training and the trainee’s job is the main challenge here. The training plan must take into account how the learnings from the training will fit and be applied in their daily work. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated. The manager should support the request for ‘some training’ and determine what the overall development area is for the employee and consider many other possible delivery methods. 

Moreover, the delivery method here can make a massive difference. When dealing with training for software programs, an online course can be very beneficial. This is because an employee can learn the content and then immediately apply it in the software they have on their computer. The gap from completing a training course to applying the learning can be massively reduced. This can be made even more successful where an interactive online course is provided. This can provide a lab style environment where concepts, examples and activities can be completed by the trainee in the software while working through the course.

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Defining results from learning interventions will always be a challenge, but if you are a Head of Department reading this, before you go to your L&D department and say ‘we need a training course’, try and clarify the change or result that you want to achieve. And also, have in mind, that when it comes to software training, there are lots of innovative ways for training tools coming into the market, making it easier to get actual results and behaviour change.

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