Published in May/June 2019
There are some training myths out there that just won’t go away — even if they really should. Some of the most common training myths include the following:
- If you build it, they will come
- In-person training is the best way to teach soft skills
- So-so learning experiences will have an impact anyway
- Gamification is an automatic motivator
It is imperative to ensure these myths aren’t hindering your critical learning initiatives and that you’re remaining realistic when designing your next learning program. Now, let’s look at these myths and their corresponding realities in more detail.
Myth #1: If you build it, they will come
Reality: Marketing communications are a basic fact of life when it comes to modern learning.
Even required courses need people to show up — as in be present, willing to participate and ready to learn. It’s even tougher with non-required learning. This is one of the inherent difficulties with offering learning catalogs or Netflix-like learning experience platforms and then calling your organizational learning efforts complete. Some learners might seek out personal development topics but, without support from their managers to take the time in their workday for learning, how many really will take advantage of a vast catalog, especially one that’s difficult to navigate or presents an overload of choices? Paralysis of choice is a real problem when it comes to this approach.
Learning and development (L&D) must do more than simply throw resources out there and hope for the best. You can’t expect the learner to find business-relevant content and programs. The learning you’re offering must be successful in solving specific business and development challenges, and it needs to be easy to find. Then, you must guide the learner toward that information. Meet learners more than halfway. Then, they can do the learning and take your business initiatives the rest of the way home.
But even engaging learning needs marketing to show why it’s worth the time investment for learners – and managers. For instance, when Microsoft launched a voluntary, but critical, series of business acumen courses for salespeople, the course was marketed to managers and learners as an exclusive opportunity and privilege, hoping to get 500 learners interested. As a result, they ended up with a waitlist of over 1,000 learners interested in the program.
Make sure you are telling your learners why the company feels the course is important — pulling in a quick webcam video from a C-suite executive can be a great way to do this — how and why it will be a great experience and what skills they can expect to take back to the job from it. Just a title in a catalog won’t do the trick. You need to reach out and explain why busy learners will want to pay attention to your particular initiative.
Myth #2: In-person training is the best way to teach soft skills
Reality: Collaborative online learning has proven to be as effective, and even more so, than instructor-led training (ILT) for soft skills.
ILT is often treated as a flagship or premier experience. But translational difficulties to real application (e.g., awkward role playing) are inherent in ILT because you’ve uprooted people from the work context and from repeated opportunities to practice. With sustained online approaches like corporate MOOCs or even self-directed experiences that are expected to last over a period of time, you can get the sustained real-world practice and reflection that is the foundation for behavioral changes.
ILT is no longer the gold-standard; not only because you can now replicate classroom collaborative interactions online, but also because you can do so many things that aren’t available in the classroom through online learning. Facilitators are finding that their online learners are better prepared than their classroom learners, and with good reason.
For example, with online learning modalities you can:
- Leverage the wisdom of multiple SMEs at once
- Have all the learners in a course participate in discussions, not just the loudest or most extroverted
- Space out practice, reflection and application over more than just a few days in a classroom
- Let learners learn from each other’s practice attempts (via video teach backs, for example)
Myth #3: Irrelevant or generic learning experiences will have an impact anyway
Reality: No, they won’t!
Think back to the last crappy training you were forced to take, most likely for compliance. Maybe it was ethics, maybe it was sexual harassment, but chances are, if it was LMS-based or classic e-learning, it was boring and the only parts that stuck in your head are the ones that make a good water cooler story about how unsuccessful the training was. The multiple-choice quizzes you guessed your way through, the videos you multitasked through, the scenarios you barely read — did they change your behavior? Chances are, they did not.
Perhaps that’s too extreme an example. What about generic training that starts everyone at the same level without regard for previous experience, so you have to wade through the basics when what you really need is an advanced application idea? Or learning programs that don’t draw a straight line to how you realistically do things at your company, such as the sort of sales plans expected of you? Whatever small impact such programs have will surely fade by next week. So-so learning simply isn’t satisfying enough for today’s time-starved learners.
Myth #4: Gamification is an automatic motivator
Reality: Without real human emotions related to motivation, bells and whistles are only dinging and whistling to themselves.
Making people “play” during their learning experiences is only a successful form of gamification if it reinforces information or behavior change. Don’t get me wrong, gamification can be an outstanding way to supplement the learning in a program. However, it should be done with intention and an understanding of human behavior. Gamification doesn’t incentivize people on its own. When it works, it is tapping into an existing motivation within the target audience, who can see that the points and badges are stepping stones to achieving their goals. If those goals are meaningful and motivating, they will resonate with the training audience outside of the course itself. Goals such as career advancement and leadership opportunities, or simpler motivations like money or glory, are all possible outcomes of gamification.
It is important to remember that, with gamification, some learners are motivated by accumulating points and badges, and some aren’t. Not everyone wears a Fitbit! Therefore, be sure to provide a wide-range of reinforcements, like discussion notifications, peer rewards, the opportunity to interact with peers and ample chances for instructors to highlight good work done on the job by applying the course’s skills and knowledge in order to impact the business.
Developing learners — getting them to change behavior and stretch themselves in new ways that impact the business’s bottom line — is both an art and a science. We need to understand what motivates our learners and show them how the training is relevant to them and what they need to achieve. Talk to your learning audience and meet them where they’re at — your gamification efforts will pay off tremendously.
Overall, we find these myths to be both prevalent and counterproductive in the world of training. Take a moment to examine your own assumptions about learning in 2019 and your business’s specific audiences, and then ensure you’re looking at the challenges facing your L&D organization with clear eyes. Once you’ve done that, implementing engaging learning initiatives rooted in the realities of learners’ lives becomes much simpler.