Why most learning programs fail
Designing effective learning is an essential part of Learning & Development responsibilities, but it isn't always easy. To do it well, you need to design programs that are relevant to the work people do, engaging, and timely. You also need to make sure your learners have enough time and support at work so they can apply what they've learned.
Knowing what some of the most common reasons for learning programs to fail are will help you plan carefully to avoid them. Let's take a look.
Table of Contents
#1. The training isn't relevant
When training is not relevant to the work people do and the company's goals, it can be a waste of time for both employees and employers.
For example, if you're teaching employees how to use a new piece of office equipment and they are working in an area that doesn't even have access to that piece of equipment, then the training will be irrelevant for them. As such, there aren;t any takeaways for them and this can lead to frustration from both parties: the employee feels like he or she isn't being taken seriously by management and no thought has been given to what their real learning needs are; while management thinks that their employees are irresponsible or have no interest in learning new things and growing in their role.
#2. No support for learners before and after
You've done the work to create an amazing learning program and you want it to be a success. But there's one thing you haven't considered: how do you support your learners before and after the program?
Learning is a process, not an event. And just like any other process in life, it needs support at each step along the way.
Post-program support can help learners apply and solidify their knowledge. For example, if an employee took an accounting course over the summer break and plans to do this full-time this fall, scheduling some practice sessions with peers who have taken the same course will help them brush up on their knowledge. This will allow them both time to get acclimated while also providing practice opportunities that challenge both themselves and their colleagues.
#3. Training is not learner-centric
It is quite common for a company to roll out a learning program that caters to a specific business need, without fully considering the employees' needs as well. Designing around a learner's needs is directly linked to how effective the program would be, because if a learner is not fully invested, then it doesn't matter how much money and time you have put into it — it will flop.
Contrary to what some CEOs out there might think, employees are not robots and cannot be simply programmed with the new skill or knowledge. It takes time to learn new things and to do that, the training has to fit with their learning needs and learning abilities.
Here is where applying knowledge of user experience or human-centered design comes in handy. Looking into learning experience design (LXD) and adopting some of its principles will help you create more effective programs that don't simply tick off boxes, but instead have a lasting impact.
#4. The training is one-size-fit-all
When it comes to creating a learning program, your audience is obviously important. You need to be sure you're providing the right content in the right way to the right people. But many companies are so focused on getting as many people through their programs as possible that they don't give much thought to tailoring their content for different audiences. What this often results in is an experience that feels generic — one where learners aren't getting what they need from their learning environment because it's not tailored to meet their specific learning styles and learning abilities.
It's especially important not to assume that everyone learns best by reading from a screen or being told what they need to know through recorded lectures — even though these methods may work well for some. It's best to take some time before developing any new courseware or content and do some research into how your particular audience likes to learn. If you can't do that, the next best thing is to figure out how other companies have approached tailoring their training materials (and whether or not those approaches were successful).
Having knowledge of Learning Styles theory will also help you integrate elements into your programs that cater to each individual's preferred style.
#5. Employees don't believe learning programs are effective
Time is precious and adult learners often want to know what they'll get in return for investing time in learning. As L&D professionals we take pride in the work we do and know it will be worth their while, but we have to realise that most of the time it's not a case of "build it and they will come". This means we need to create a marketing and communications plan, as we do in the design and development of the program.
When someone asks you "what will I get out of this program", it helps to have a list of convincing benefits. And you need to think beyond just the learning objectives.
Most people run away from marketing or don't believe it's needed when we talk about corporate learning, but marketing is simply about telling people what a great product (in this case - learning program) you are offering, how it will benefit them and when and how they can take advantage of it.
Creating a learning culture in the organisation would also help, as employees would be self-driven learners and would seek learning rather than wait to be offered. Our article on "How to Build a Learning Culture" will give you some ideas.
#6. Learning is not practical
When a learner doesn’t know how to apply new knowledge, they can get stuck in the thinking phase and they might stop learning altogether. How can we overcome this problem?
We need to make sure learning is practical. This means introducing opportunities for people to practice real-life scenarios during and after the learning intervention. This could be in the form of a business simulation, tailored specifically to the company, or it could be an in-house project that the learners get assigned to right after the program that helps them apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills.
#7. No post-program evaluation
Most companies usually have some form of feedback they collect after a program, but the more important part is what you actually do with the feedback afterwards. You need to make sure feedback is collected and then acted upon, to improve the program so that it is time well-spent for the employees.
If you've already established a Level 1 evaluation process (according to Kirkpatrick's evaluation model), then you can consider proceeding to the next levels to assess effectiveness and return of investment.
If your company is entirely new to evaluation, then you might want to start with first designing post-training surveys, which are sent out immediately after a program has ended. There are two main types of feedback you can ask for: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative feedback is data-based, such as numbers or scores on a test or survey response. Qualitative feedback includes comments about people's experiences (e.g., "I really liked the action learning format.") Both types of information are important when it comes to improving your program.
To learn more about evaluation, check out these articles:
#8. Not enough time to learn
This is a big one and one of the most common barriers to learning at work. Often employers want their employees to be trained and ready to go in no time. Because they don't necessarily understand how knowledge is acquired, retained and applied, they simply think sending someone to a 2-day training is enough to have that person be ready to perform the tasks they have been just taught.
It's our job as Learning & Development experts to explain to stakeholders how learning works and that it takes both time and practice on the job. We need to help them understand that learning should be an integral part of everyday work and not seen as a one-off event.
When designing a learning program, make sure to factor in not just the duration of the actual learning program, but also the pre- and post-course learning, as well as any on-the-job learning required. Package it well and explain to senior management/stakeholders that for a learning program to be effective, they need to allow employees enough time to learn and apply the knowledge afterwards.
#9. Not enough time to apply the learning
Linked to the previous reason why most learning programs fail, is that employees don't have enough time available at work to apply what they're learning. When employees are busy with their regular duties, it's difficult for them to find time outside of work in order to apply the skills they're learning in a meaningful way. If you want your company's training to be successful, you need to make sure that employees can spend some dedicated time during their days focusing on what they've learned from training programs.
Ideally, if the training was relevant to their role, this shouldn't be hard, because they would be applying the skill right away. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sometimes employees join a learning program months in advance and by the time they need to apply the new skill, they have already lost a lot of the knowledge.
A second reason why many organizations have trouble achieving results from their training is because there aren't enough opportunities for employees to reflect on what they've learned and share those insights with others. Employees often get overwhelmed by all the information presented during training sessions, which makes it difficult for them later on when trying remember what was covered or understand how it applies in real-world scenarios outside of class time (if at all).
The best way around this problem? Encourage reflection and sharing through forums where people can ask questions or offer insights without fear of judgment; create a dedicated space where attendees can post ideas related directly back to the course content or consider organising regular study support groups where people can meet and exchange thoughts and ideas.
So, how can we make programs more effective and minimise the chance of them failing?
First of all, remember that people are busy and don’t want to spend their time on something that won’t be useful. This means that you need to figure out what employees will get out of the program and how it will make them better at their jobs. Design programs for the learners, not for the company.
Next, you should create a plan for connecting what people learn with what they do every day so that they can see the connection between theory and practice—and apply their new knowledge immediately.
Finally, consider finding ways for learners to share with each other as well as mentors or instructors who can offer support throughout the process!
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