ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - August 2001


Issue Highlight — Moveable Chairs
- Peter Block discusses a Milwaukee religious dispute and how the protestors' passion and commitment regarding space and structure should transcend into the workplace.

Training The Trainee
Refocusing Training by Creating a Learner-Centered Environment

It doesn’t take long for organizational members to discover that education does not stop with the conclusion of formal schooling. Companies constantly encourage and often require employees to participate in various programs—from new-employee orientations to courses on how to be an effective manager.

   The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) in Alexandria, Va. reports that an average company spends $770 a year on training per eligible employee while smaller companies, those with fewer than 500 employees, allocate $966 per worker each year. However, a lot of this money is not well spent, as employees are often unprepared to learn and the trainers are ineffective due to their emphasis on teaching instead of learning.

   Training that fails to be aligned with the goals of the trainee is rarely successful. Terri Bianco, a communications consultant at Performance Learning Systems, Nevada City, Calif., describes a popular yet unproductive training style: “Stand-up-before-an-audience-training is trainer centered—meaning the trainer has something to impart that he or she is an expert in, and just starts talking. Maybe some activities are included, but there is rarely any focus on the learner.” This method fails to achieve the buy-in from the trainees, and often does not generate a positive response from the learners.

   Worker education programs that focus on the learner are more effective. According to Bianco, there are several ways to engage the learner that improve the quality of education. The learner should participate by having some choice of what activity to do, what group join and even what to learn. An important aspect of learner-centered training is flexibility. The trainers must constantly ask themselves questions such as: How is the mood of the group now? What’s going on? How are we going to deal with this unexpected problem being discussed?

   Gary Shulman, consultant and professor of communication at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, advocates for trainers to empower learners. He believes the empowerment concept provides a useful sense of personal effectiveness in organizations. “Empowerment is the process of creating an environment and training tasks which increase learner feelings of intrinsic motivation,” Shulman states. “Trainers that create a learner-centered environment are acting in an empowering manner that can help learners realize what they are doing is important.”

   Shulman identifies four dimensions that contribute to the overall feeling of learner empowerment. According to him, “Trainers that successfully increase the learner’s perceptions of meaningfulness, competence, impact and choice in training situations will be more effective.”

   When the training is meaningful, the learner sees how it is related to his or her own beliefs, ideals and standards. The trainee will feel empowered to learn if he or she feels qualified and capable of learning or performing the necessary activities to achieve the training goals. Impact means that the trainee feels the accomplishment of learning the tasks is perceived to make a difference on the job. Choice refers to the degree to which the learner can self-determine learning goals or methods for accomplishing those goals.

   In addition to having a focus on the trainee, educational programs need to clearly specify their goals. Chris Argyris, author of “Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They Are Getting Good Advice and When They’re Not,” writes: “It must specify the intended outcomes or objectives to be produced, the sequence of actions required to produce them, the actions required to monitor and test for any errors or mismatches and the actions required to correct such errors and mismatches.”

   After establishing what is going to be learned and why, it is meaningful to understand how the trainees process information. People have different learning styles, and it is important for the educator to attempt to understand the learning styles of the audience and then rotate teaching methods. “People learn individually by hearing, doing or through creating a certain atmosphere and comfort level—they learn in a big picture way and also in a sequential way,” Bianco says. “What a good trainer would do, being learner-centered, is rotate the kinds of methods being used.”

Can Technology Help?
An inevitable trend, that may disturb some, is online training programs. ASTD reports that 9 percent of training is delivered via technology like corporate intranet, CD-ROM and e-mail. By next year, ASTD predicts that 20 percent of all training will be conducted this way. According to the International Data Corporation, a provider of industry analysis and data, Framingham, Mass., the U.S. corporate market for online learning is projected to grow from $2.2 billion to $11 billion by 2003. This trend is enticing for both companies and employees. Deirdre Woods, senior director at Wharton Computing and Information Technology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, believes it is a cheaper, less time-consuming method of educational communications. “I think [e-learning] will be used more and more, as people are pressed for time,” she states. “And it’s expensive to send people away for a week if just-in-time training is available.”

   Employees can benefit from the time flexibility of online training programs. Dave Lawson, professional services programs coordinator at Taos, a consulting company based in Santa Clara, Calif., asks: “How do you let people have lives, work billable hours and consistently improve themselves? A big part of why we looked at Web-based learning and a big reason we do Webcasting, is to pack up the content, put it in the freezer and let people thaw it out when they can.” The potential negative consequence of this asynchronous technology for learners is employers’ expectations that the learner will access training on their own time instead of during normal working hours. This trend, according to Shulman, can create disempowered learners who may begin to resent training as something that gets in the way of doing their job instead of helping them to do it better.

   What is fairly disturbing about the move toward online training is the potential loss of human interaction. Educational programs conducted in person have key elements such as social interaction, competition among participants, fluid trainer-trainee relationships and team activities that online training can’t provide. To be learner-centered, Bianco believes the technology should be integrated with in-person training. This creates a situation where the data, facts, product information and the “yes” and “no” answers can be found online, while an educator engages the group in activities and discussion. This situation allows for social interaction, a learner-centered trainer and a rotation of teaching methods to reach the different types of learners.

What Can the Trainee Do?
Even if the “best person” does the training, it is not always effective. For training to be successful, it requires the mutual hard work of the educator and the learner. In order for the learner to maximize the efficiency of the training session and to create an optimal learning environment, it is necessary to do the “homework.”

   The trainee is best prepared to learn if before they begin the seminar or workshop, they identify the answers to several questions. What is the training going to be, or at least supposed to be, about? What does that have to do with me specifically? What is it that I need and want to get out of this training?

   “Make sure you do articulate why you are going,” Bianco states. “Instead of just saying you are attending because you were sent there, really think about the reasons and the possible benefits. It is more fun that way. And if it is fun, you learn.”

   Employee education is not the sole responsibility of any one entity. The decision to send an employee to training must be made carefully. The method of training must be cautiously determined in order to ensure it will be one that can create a positive learning environment for the employee. The goals of the training must be clearly communicated to those being sent. It is then the trainer’s responsibility to facilitate the learning process, rather than just provide the learners with a lecture. The learners must also take an active role in the education process. They must find out how the training can help them, and then come to the session ready to learn. This combined team effort can ensure that employee education dollars are an investment, rather than an expenditure.

August 2001 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
Championing Change
Training The Trainee
Teaming For Tomorrow
Quality From The Ground Up
The Road To Quality

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Brief Cases

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