Idea Learning Group

"training-3" Posts

When Training is Not the Solution

People talking around table

Just about anyone who designs learning experiences has asked for help with the following problems:

“We don’t have enough people to do all this work!”

“We don’t have the right tools and resources!”

“Our employees have low morale!”



And the assumed solution is usually, “Let’s make some training courses!”

Traditional training courses are the solution many organizations tend to default to when trying to solve these kinds of workplace problems. However, training is not always the best option. Without a needs analysis, a design that focuses on what people need to actively do on the job, or opportunities for authentic post-training practice, traditional training often falls flat.

The Association for Talent Development reports that US companies spent $1,200 per employee on training and development last year, amounting to about 30 hours each. The biggest mistakes that companies make when rolling out training programs is failing to evaluate how well employees have learned, assuming technology will solve all training problems, and not providing proper post-training support, according to Eduardo Salas, professor of organizational psychology at University of Central Florida.


Collaborative Learning Network Discussion

At our recent Collaborative Learning Network session, “When Training is Not the Solution,” our group of training and development professionals talked about reasons why traditional training sometimes fails:

  • The organization doesn’t offer post-training support.
  • Training is thought of as an “event” and not a “process.”
  • Needs were not properly assessed.
  • A box is being checked.
  • The business doesn’t support a culture of learning.
  • There’s too much content and not enough practice.
  • The delivery method doesn’t match the learners’ needs.

We discussed how to answer the question, “Is this a problem that training can solve?”

  • Clearly define the objectives.
  • Focus on what to do, not what to
  • Talk with stakeholders about the dynamics of the content.
  • Tie all ideas for learning to the business/performance needs.
  • Evaluate what’s already been done and what the results were.
  • Ask, “If there were no money for training, how else would you solve the problem?”

Our group reviewed Cathy Moore’s “Is Training Really the Answer?” flow chart—a great tool for deciding how to create learning materials that actually address workplace problems.

So what happens if you, as the training professional, discover that traditional training is not the best path? We talked about strategies for managing the conversation when it’s been assumed that a training course is the way to go:

  • Consciously avoid “training” as the default. Start with the problem at hand, and work backwards from there.
  • Compare cost with expected outcomes.
  • Tie possible solutions to the problem at hand; sometimes the solution is much simpler than you think.
  • Focus on behavior change and the stakeholder’s ultimate goals.
  • Categorize “wants” vs. “needs.”


Case Studies

We split into small groups and focused on six different case studies. In the example that follows, this group’s fictitious client was “Delilah’s Catering Company.” In this scenario, the client came to the design team with “We need training!” based on the following reasons:

  • Their current training program is way too long (two weeks) and expensive.
  • People say their training is boring.
  • Some less experienced staff are not showing progress after being trained in their food service class.
  • Their profits haven’t gone up in five years.

We asked the group to consider the following questions. Here’s how they answered them.

What can you ask to determine if training is the right solution?

What parts of your current training are “boring”?
What do your employees need to do after the training?
Why are the employees not doing this now?
What are their knowledge/skills/motivations?
What is there environment like?

Based just on what you know right now, what other possibilities come to mind besides standard classroom or online training?

Job aids
Training broken into manageable chunks

How would you go about digging deeper to make sure your recommendations are solid?

Focus groups
Job shadowing
Learner demographic analysis
Finding how they’re currently measuring success

In all six scenarios, the groups addressed the clients in similar ways: focusing on the actual problems, doing a thorough analysis through discovery, and keeping open minds when proposing solutions.

The CLN group walked away with new ideas and insights for approaching this common issue in our work.


We want to hear from you. Tell us about your experiences when you knew traditional training was not the right solution for your learners. What did you do? What was the result?

Tweeting live #CollabLearn: Training Techniques for Introverts

New to Collaborative Learning Network this month: participate or follow our live tweets @CollabLearn on twitter.

The Role of Stories in Learning

Storytelling is a hot topic these days in business. Forbes says entrepreneurs who tell stories win more business. And that marketing professionals are embracing the power of stories in order to get their messages across.

What Is a Story?

There’s no agreed-upon structure for a story. A child might describe a story as having a beginning, middle, and end. A novelist might tell you that a story must have a protagonist, an antagonist, context, action, a rise and fall of conflict, and an ultimate transformation.

In this short video, Ken Burns describes “real, genuine stories” as being about “1 and 1 equaling 3.” An effective story offers perspective, which is a form of manipulation. He believes that there are multiple truths, and story is a framework to expose those truths. Is the storyteller a medium or a puppet master? It’s a fascinating thought.

Stories Help Us Learn

Aside from entertaining or persuading us, how can stories help us learn? Stories are actually the foundation of how we learn throughout our lives, and we share them quite naturally. Think of the cautionary tales you heard when you were young—the ones that stick with you to this day. The Three Little Pigs. The Ugly Duckling. The one about how you shouldn’t eat Pop Rocks and soda, lest you suffer the fate of Little Mikey (totally untrue, by the way). The stories we hear when we’re young have the power of shaping our beliefs, fears, and dreams.

Why are stories so universally compelling?

  • Stories activate neurons in our brains in a comprehensive way—as if we’re actually experiencing the story.
  • We’re hard-wired to tune into stories. In fact we think in narrative form all day long, from deciding what to eat for breakfast to completing household chores.
  • They help us form an emotional connection with our audience, which helps us communicate a message.
  • When we’re in story-audience mode, we’re listening and receptive. This is the ideal state for learning.
  • When we hear a good story, we’re inspired to share it with others.
  • Stories communicate insight, which is motivating—especially when we can draw connections to our own goals, dreams, or experiences.
  • They are easy to remember.

Building Stories for Instruction

One of the reasons story-based learning is so effective is that it offers learners a realistic context to relate with. For ideas on using a narrative structure when creating training, compare traditional and story-based approaches for an elearning course below.

Traditional eLearning

Story-based eLearning

Ask SMEs to give you existing resources, like PDFs and forms that relate to your topic. Use probing questions to ask SMEs for stories, such as “Tell me about a time when an employee suffered the consequences of bad communication.” Turn these insights into stories for the course if appropriate.
Use generic silhouettes as characters in the course. Create composite characters or personas inspired by your SME/audience interviews. Consider involving the learner as a character who can help play the “hero” role in resolving the conflict.
Work with SMEs only at the beginning of a project. Check in with SMEs and possibly representatives from the learning audience throughout the project to make sure your context is authentic.
Organize content by topic and subtopics. Organize content according to story-inspired structure, like setting, plot, action, climax, and resolution.
Present the learner with content. Actively involve the learner in unfolding the story.
Use the training topic itself as the theme, such as “Communication Skills for Leaders.” Frame the learning experience around a scenario or conflict that relates with the topic, such as “John Larson’s Communication Breakdown.”
Include multiple-choice quiz questions that align with learning objectives. Give learners a branching exercise with built-in consequences and constructive feedback.
Conclude the training with a summary of the learning objectives. Conclude the training with a resolution of the conflict.


If you’re an instructional designer, do you incorporate elements of story into your training? As a learner, how have you experienced story-based learning?

Old Concept, New Context: Curation With Collaborative Learning Network

Those of us born before 1995 remember living analog style. Flipping through musty encyclopedias. Searching through the library’s card catalogue by either author, title, or subject. Asking a librarian to help load film onto the clunky microfiche reader while searching for obscure information.

Although these hands-on research methods seems somewhat antiquated now, there’s a lot of charm and authenticity about the era that we don’t want to lose. Many of us spend more time a foot away from the computer monitor than we do with people in person. We’ve grown digital appendages, and we experience real loss when they’re broken or misplaced. We’re all out there in the world collecting incomprehensible amounts of information every day. And we’re all just beginning to learn how to curate it.
Curation is one of our goals of the Collaborative Learning Network. Every month we invite a small group of learning professionals to gather, share insights, and work together to discuss common issues and curiosities related to our field. It’s an old-fashioned idea with a new context. At the end of each session, we email a PDF summarizing the insights, links, and recommended resources that we all shared during our discussion.

If you’re in the training field in the Portland area, the Collaborative Learning Network is free to attend although advanced registration is required. Join us on January 9 to discuss the topic “Transforming ‘Required Training’ into ‘Inspired Learning.’” We also have an a LinkedIn discussion group.

Are you finding ways to blend old and new communication techniques together as you become more digital?

NEW BUSINESS Contact us with business inquiries or to discuss your project needs and vision.
CAREERS We always enjoy connecting with talented professionals in the learning and development field.
CONNECT 503.208.3256
LOCATION 2701 NW Vaughn St #103
Portland, OR 97210

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