The business world has changed drastically during the pandemic. It demands innovative ways to speed up the skill acquisition of employees. Training organizations now require a training design that enables much faster development of employees’ skills and performance. Not all training designs are equipped to achieve or support that speed.
Conducting a research study with 85 project leaders from 70 global organizations, I found that even best-in-class training organizations use training design approaches that slow down skill acquisition — contrary to the usual expectations of accelerating it.
In this article, you will learn nine training design practices, categorized as content-heavy and context-light, which could prove highly detrimental to the speed with which employee performance is developed.
Content-heavy Design Practices
Content-heavy design practices refer to models that tend to insert excessive content in a training program, and training delivery is primarily focused on meeting content-driven objectives.
1. Overly Focused on the Topics and Tasks
One drawback of academic style is that the content-heavy curriculum is not structured the way the job is. Rather, it is organized by topic to ease the instructor’s job of delivering it linearly. The result is that a big ring binder manual is given to the learners, mostly comprising of printed training material organized as linear chapters or modules. It is ill-equipped to work as a performance support reference in the field. Real-life jobs do not occur linearly as some sequence of topics. Rather, there are workflows, dependencies and a randomness of events.
2. Just-in-case Material
An enormous amount of content included in training programs is there “just in case,” which leads to over-stuffed and irrelevant programs. Curricula are loaded with slides and non-contextual information, leading to content-heavy programs. Learners are required to master all of it, regardless of how soon they may need it. The situations learned in training may not even happen for a long while — by the time they do happen, learners may have forgotten how to deal with them.
3. Instructor-centered Delivery
Most traditional training programs are heavily instructor-centered, in which the instructor downloads the content to learners through one-way lectures. The program delivery happens entirely in classroom settings without the application of skills to real-life situations. Training is deemed to be finished when the instructor has covered all the slides or the course objectives.
4. One-size-fits-all Philosophy
Normally, training programs are designed with some specific structure each learner needs to follow. When the organization needs to scale it up to accommodate a large number of learners, all of them are exposed to the same structure, standards and assessment criteria. Regardless of the skill gaps at the individual level, all learners in a cohort are made to go through a specific set of courses or requirements similarly. This rigid, one-size-fits-all philosophy leads to a much longer time to proficiency, even for star performers.
Context-light Design Practices
Context-light design practices are practices or models that take the learners away from the context of the job and have a minimal connection with the actual job expectations, leading to a lack of opportunity for learners to apply their skills to actual job challenges.
1. Lack of Integration Skills
The workplace faces increasingly complex, unpredictable and dynamic problems. This requires employees to use a combination of several multidisciplinary skills as problem-solving, thinking and business skills. But most programs still tend to emphasize distinct or unconnected skills, and fail to teach them how to use these skills together. People achieve target proficiency when they can integrate a variety of skills effortlessly. When you leave people to figure out that integration in the field, their time to proficiency will be much greater.
2. Practicing With Routine Tasks
Several organizations use innovative case-based and simulation-based approaches to teach more realistic skills. However, these are not surefire recipes to speed up skill acquisition. The problem is that all simulated practices focus on the repetition of routine everyday tasks. Over-reliance on simulation-based training and practicing routine tasks does not prepare learners for the low-frequency, unpredictable and dynamic situations that are sure to arise. Also, these approaches offer practice on a very limited number of preset sessions, which at best can only meet the learning objectives of the course. Time to proficiency could be really long in this situation.
3. Out-of-context Training Delivery
In a typical work environment, some responsibilities are performed individually, some within the same team and some are performed with the help of other groups. However, such context is not often embedded in traditional training programs. When a poorly designed training program puts learners in a classroom or non-contextual environment, the skills learned will not translate easily to the context of daily work. The end result is a much longer time to proficiency.
4. Pen-and-paper Assessment
Performance in any job is measured with specific metrics and indicators. However, in training programs, assessments are driven mainly by course objectives, and success is measured through pen-and-paper assessments. Such assessment is far from the realities of the actual job performance metrics. Learners are not asked to produce on-the-job deliverables. Completing training programs in flying colors does not show their ability to produce practical outcomes proficiently. Learners take a much longer time to master those abilities in the field, which adds to their overall time to proficiency.
Training and learning processes are the core mechanisms of professional development in organizations. The prime concern of business leaders now is on leveraging these mechanisms strategically to shorten the time to proficiency of employees.
When you design a training program, keep in mind that a badly designed training intervention has the possibility of becoming the biggest speed blocker. You need to make sure your design is content-light but context-heavy when your goal is to accelerate employee development or shorten the time to proficiency. The focus of training interventions should be on making performers proficient enough to produce the desired business outcomes that matter most in that role, rather than just improving their task performance.