Do You Really Need to Train Them On...Everything?

Nov. 2, 2009
Many Times Training Classes Are Ineffective because They Lack a True Training Objective
By John Autero, Yaskawa Electric America, Inc.

I think we have all been to a work related training class, and when leaving thought, "That was a waste of time". Be honest. We have all been there. Why was the class a waste of time? Was it too long? Was it so boring that you fell asleep? Were the topics covered in class not directly related to your job? All these items are critical aspects, which determine if a training class is successful. But many times training classes are ineffective because they lack a true training objective.

The training objectives for students in elementary school and high school are much different than the training objectives of employees on the job. Traditional schooling teaches students to "know". In school we learn a variety of things from math skills, to reading and writing, to local and world history. The traditional objective is to teach the student a basic skill set to help them become a well-rounded, productive member of society. The work related training objective is very narrowly defined. Learn how to perform task X, task Y and task Z. Employees are paid to perform job tasks efficiently and effectively, not to "know".

The key to creating an effective work related training class is to ensure that the topics covered are relevant to the student’s job. You need to teach the student "the least they need to know" to do their job. Nothing more. Hitting this target takes work. The first step when designing a training class is to assemble representatives from various groups within the company that interface with the students. Students could be internal (company employees) or external (customers). These key players constantly communicate with the students, and are able to help determine the students’ learning needs.  By far the best way to determine what a student needs to learn in a training class though, is to ask the student. This can be done through student class surveys, side bar discussions, observation and needs analysis. The key to developing an effective training class is not to think you know better what the student needs to know to do his job, than the student. The outcome of this analysis will be called "the final student performance". The final student performance is a list of everything you want the student to have learned by the end of the class and a method to prove that they have actually learned it.

To prove they have learned the topic, another key aspect of an effective training class needs to be incorporated. The "return demonstration exercise". These exercises should be utilized to prove that the student can achieve the final student performance. Incorporating exercises into the class gives the student a chance to perform the task being taught, not just hear about it, and it also gives the instructor feedback if the student is actually learning the task or not. Exercises must be as "real world" as possible. The closer the class exercises are to the real world tasks, the more relevant the training will be for the student. Would it be more effective to show the employee a PowerPoint slide that explains task X, or would it be better to have the students actually practice task X? No matter how many slides you make or how many topics you discuss, people learn by doing. Return demonstration exercises are a key element in making what is taught in the classroom as close as possible to the jobsite, and proof that the student can (or cannot) achieve the final student performance.

Making a conscious effort during class development to focus on the final student performance will produce an effective training class, as well as a class that meets the documented training objectives. If this happens, the student will leave the class saying
"That class was worth my time !"