Training & Development That Sticks

November 21, 2017

 

I recently found out that one of my friends, who happens to also be a very successful residential HVAC and plumbing contractor, decided to make a substantial investment in building a training center for employees. This news took me back to my memories when I was managing the training department for GE Appliances. Shortly after I started this new position, I decided it was time that we request funding to build and design a technician training center. After a training needs assessment was performed and a cost versus benefit analysis was presented to executive staff, the funding was approved. Within a few weeks, construction began in taking an old unused part of a factory and converting it into a modern, state of the art, technician training center.

 

The construction aspect of the center was the easiest part of this whole process. The difficult part came when my training development team had to begin writing course objectives, developing and designing training courses and preparing instructor material based on the findings of the company wide training needs assessment. This was not the first go around in designing training for the members of my team, who included technical writers, training development specialists, instructors, field training managers from around the world and technical support staff.

 

The challenge the team faced was that I expected our programs have a method of proving to anyone that it met the objectives that were written. For example, I required that the objectives stated something like this; “Upon completion of this program, the student will be able to demonstrate his or her ability to successfully locate, gain access to, troubleshoot, remove, replace and test a compressor in model xxxx-xxx refrigerator”.  Of course, there would be a few more details in there, but I’m sure you get the idea. Up until that point, the training presented was more of a show and tell, and occasionally class participants had the opportunity to touch a product rather than just staring at projector slides or a video of what was new or different. There were no clear objectives or listed results of what was going to be better, different, improved, etc. I wanted our programs to stick and meet the long-term objectives of the business, not a dog and pony show that barely met the minimum requirements.

 

When it came to fundamentals training on electricity, electronics, refrigeration, etc. All that was available were a few home study courses. These were simply workbooks that were written in the 1960's, with tests and/or a few questions at the end that allowed for self assessment. There was definitely room for improvement.  Since I have always been a hands-on learner myself, I could not put up with being overall responsible for the design, implementation and distribution of training programs that really didn’t meet any objectives or accomplish any measurable goal.  The only thing they accomplished was that someone could say, "Yes, we have a training program for that."

 

I quickly discovered the real objective was not to make a difference in the ability of the employee to do something better or faster. I discovered the actual objective was simply to have someone present something to a group of employees or servicing dealers, simply because they had an obligation to provide a certain number of training hours. To me, this was an exercise in futility. Not really a legitimate reason to design a training program nor an efficient use of company resources.

I insisted that every training program be designed so that an assessment of learned skills could be proven upon completion of the program. Basically, it would be very similar to teaching a child to swim. In order to complete the swimming program, the child would have to demonstrate proficiency by jumping off a diving board into a ten-foot deep pool, swim to the other end and back, then be able to tread water for at least ten minutes. This was very similar to how I was trained to perform tasks in the military. We were told what we had to be able to do at the end of the learning period and basically the learning was us being taught how to pass the final exam. We kept performing the task, while being told the fundamentals of what we needed to know until we became proficient.

 

I attempted to communicate this method of learning to my team but ran into obstacles because like anything else, many people get set in their ways and want to keep doing things the same way they had been doing them, for the last ten to twenty years.

 

I decided to prove why this was so important and how the course had to be designed to teach the student how to prove that he had learned the task and was able to perform it proficiently. I knew this was only possible if during the design of the course material we first created the test or assessment. Then all that was necessary was to teach the student how to pass the test. I thought this was a very simple explanation, but I still had people who did not believe this method would work.

 

I eventually brought my staff together at an off-site location. I wanted to make sure everyone understood the reasoning behind this new way of course design and development. I had 120 in attendance and the room was divided down the middle by a center aisle. I handed everyone a box that had a “LEGO” car in it, disassembled of course. I told them today’s objective was to teach them how to build this car. However, before I began the process of teaching them, I separated them into two groups. The group on the left was taken to another room down the hall. The others stayed in the room with me and I showed them how to put the car together and take it apart two times. I asked if they had any questions and some of them giggled and whispered amongst each other, but no one had a question. I then joined the first group and told them that they needed to be able to assemble their LEGO car in less than thirty seconds because when they got back to the room with the others, everyone will have to demonstrate, individually, that they could do it. So, I began the lesson and had them follow along twice, while I did it. I told them to practice for twenty minutes disassembling and reassembling their car until they were asked to return.

 

After I brought the groups together I again asked if anyone had any questions or comments regarding what I just taught them how to do. No one responded. I asked again if everyone believed they were proficient in being able to build their toy car, everyone nodded their head or said yes. I asked them all to totally disassemble their car and put all of the loose pieces back into the boxes. Once everyone completed that task. I said “I now want you to demonstrate your proficiency in being able to assemble this toy car. When I say go, I want you to open the box and assemble your toy car as fast as you possibly can, you only have 30 seconds, Go!”

 

The group who was told they were required to demonstrate their efficiency by being able to assemble the car in less than 30 seconds were all done in less than 20. As for the other group who was not told about any demonstration nor a time limit. . . not one person had their car completed within the 30 second time limit. My point was proven. If you tell the participants of a training program that they will have to demonstrate proficiency, told what the proficiency exam will be and then taught how to pass the exam. They will be much more likely to be able to do the task or tasks you are trying to teach them. Rather than using the old approach of throwing information at them and hoping it sticks.

 

There are two simple lessons to be learned here. First, training development does not have to be difficult. Create an assessment that very closely resembles what it is that you want them to be able to do, now teach them how to pass it! Secondly, make sure every student does clearly understand that they must be able to prove they know what was taught after the training lab or course is complete, then make them do it.

 

I’ve sat in on many workshops, training meetings and seminars and felt that the objectives rarely matched the curriculum and that 90% of the information presented was not useful and/or remembered, nor had any connection whatsoever to the reason why people were sitting in that room. This all happens because people do not know the fundamental objectives of teaching and learning. . . 

 

"To transfer information in a way that gives the learner the skills and ability to do something better and/or do something new, proficiently, that they did not know how to do,  prior to the learning experience."  

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