Idea Learning Group

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?

No Comments

Leave a Comment

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

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: