Give Employees Learning Theyメll Love

How to get the most from your training investment.

By Michael Ninness, Senior Vice President, Product and Content,

Too often training goes unused. It’s not relevant to the learner or fails to address a specific concern in a moment of need.

Even when training is consumed, learning does not always occur. And because technology and information are rapidly evolving, content used in training quickly becomes outdated.

I’ve seen these failures play out time and again. The implications are huge. Organizations in the United States spent an estimated $1,059 per employee on learning and development in 2011-2012, according to Training magazine’s 2012 Training Industry Report.

To help employees build software, creative, and business skills, it’s time to shift the focus. It’s time to stop training. It’s time to start learning.

An Era of Abundance

At an August 2010 conference, outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt shared an amazing statistic. “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003” (MG Siegler, “Eric Schmidt: Every 2 Days We Create As Much Information As We Did Up To 2003,” TechCrunch, August 4, 2010; retrieved 9/6/12).

The rapid rise of information and technology makes it nearly impossible to sustain traditional training models (Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, A New Culture of Learning, 2011, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform). On the contrary, today’s world requires continuous learning (Lynne C. Lancaster, When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work, 2003, HarperBusiness).          

In the past, new technologies emerged every few years. Organizations embraced seminars and classroom sessions. But these are no longer practical due to cost, time, and the fact that they aren’t tailored to the needs and skill level of the individual professional.

These days, technologies emerge more quickly—driven largely by the Internet. But most Websites are designed to be quick reads, promoting hurried thought. And individuals now are creating content as they consume it, updating social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. These factors make it tough for people to sustain focus on any given topic or task.    

It’s no longer enough to simply absorb occasional training. And it’s not necessarily advantageous to be intimately familiar with any given topic. With so much information coming our way, it’s often better to skim information so we are aware of its existence, and then use it later when we actually need it (Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic, July/August 2008; retrieved 9/24/12; and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, 2010 (W. W. Norton & Company).

Telecommuting is another trend fueling the need for continuous learning. As more employees work remotely, organizations need to deliver efficient and cost-effective professional development to dispersed workers.

Many organizations do not have money for instructor-led education. They need to effectively leverage budgets. They select a training solution, reviewing its course list, pricing, product features, and functionality. But few employers ask whether or how it supports the goal of learning, and the solution goes unused.

Some training professionals call that a marketing problem. They say employees fail to take advantage of training courses because they simply aren’t made aware that they exist. But it’s not a lack of promotion; rather, it’s a lack of relevance that keeps employees from participating.

It’s difficult to entice workers to embrace training if the content is mediocre, uninteresting, irrelevant, or offered at times when they don’t have freedom to focus.

Effective and Engaging Content

To get the most value from educational initiatives, organizations need to focus on the individual learner. Prioritizing a few key concepts can successfully shape a professional development program.

  • Content must resonate: When content is compelling, engaging, aspirational, or inspirational, it is more likely to be used. Offer content that truly meets the needs of employees.  
  • Technology does not trump amazing teachers: Talented instructors share a few key traits. They are compassionate. They do not patronize. They teach with conviction and convey information so it is easily understood. And they choreograph lessons in ways that support linear and nonlinear learners.
  • One size does not fit all: Serve learners who need assistance solving a particular challenge. Offer short courses that quickly provide the information learners require. For example, an employee familiar with Excel may not commit to an entire course but might benefit from a 60-second video clip on how to perform a function that changed with the latest upgrade. Some learners think in a more linear fashion, preferring a more comprehensive program and the ability to return to a particular lesson in a moment of need.
  • Production quality matters: Training doesn’t need to “go Hollywood.” But it should captivate learners. Rather than relying on flat text to tell a story, incorporate graphics, animation, audio, and video to make content resonate. Dynamic presentations are more likely to hold interest and create deeper engagement.

Looking ahead, and as you consider new ways to meet the needs of today’s workforce, embracing these strategies can help ensure that training content is not just consumed, but appreciated. Get the most from your investment. Deliver on the goal of learning. And give employees professional development they will love.

Michael Ninness is senior vice president of Product and Content at Members receive unlimited access to an online library of instructional videos that help anyone learn software, creative, and business skills to achieve personal and professional goals.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.