Training: An Awesome Responsibility

Learners put tremendous trust in us, because, as trainers, we spend their most precious property—their time.

What is most precious in life? Ask anyone. I’ll bet you’ll hear, expressed in one way or another, how important time is. Time with family. Time with friends. Time for accomplishments, experiences, hobbies, helping, dreaming.

Time is precious and needed for everything. All our joys, aspirations, loves. We need to use it wisely as we can never get our time back once it’s been spent.

No Returns or Exchanges

As trainers, we need to recognize, accept, and manage the awesome responsibility we have as trusted custodians of learners’ time while they’re in training. With no returns or exchanges possible, learners put tremendous trust in us as trainers as we spend their most precious property.

As if that weren’t onus enough, employers have great requirements of us, as well. Employees at work hopefully produce income for the organization. No work, no earnings, no company. Employers trust that the time spent in training, away from earnings-related work, will be rewarded by better future performance— far greater performance improvement than needed simply to recover earnings lost from time spent in training.

Training as Usual Is Too Expensive

In a recent informal survey, we weren’t surprised to find people most often expected training to be boring—a general waste of time. They expected it to be boring because that’s what they usually experience. People attend training mostly because they have to and sometimes just because it’s a break from their work routine. They may hope for significant benefits but would be surprised if they actually reaped any.

When people are bored, their attention attention span shrinks. The mind wanders, searching for something interesting to explore. No training can be effective if learners are bored or giving it little attention. Ineffective training is too expensive to keep delivering. And it wastes people’s time.

We need to change our approach. But how? We don’t make training boring intentionally. It just seems to happen. Here are some easy solutions:

Think Experience First

Where do many designers start to work after the needed performance outcomes are defined? They start with identifying, chunking, and sequencing content. But if common paths often lead to boring learning, maybe we should take different ones. Maybe the focus on content is part of the problem. What if we thought about the learner’s experience first? Ask yourself: If you were the learner, what would you enjoy? I know, enjoy? What? But think, when we’re enjoying things, we tend to stick with them. Learning can be fun. Games are fun, and games are all about learning and practice. So fun and learning can be in the same camp. Think about the experience first.

Think Activity

Don’t think presentation, introduction, bullet points, etc. Think about what learners can be doing. We learn a lot from mistakes, so create a situation where learners try to solve a problem, perform a task, or evaluate someone else’s performance. Choose a situation where mistakes are likely. Whether learners succeed or fail, you’ve already provided an interesting learning event. An ideal learning paradigm has learners doing something almost immediately and continuing throughout the learning experience. You provide guidance and information when and where it’s needed. Don’t ruin the learners’ fun by trying to comprehensively inform them before they attempt a task.

Think Individualization

Find ways to be sensitive to what each learner can and can’t do. By having learners perform tasks, you’ll not only be teaching them through the help and feedback you give, you’ll also be assessing their needs. Does the current learner need remediation? More practice? More difficult challenges? A badge and advancement? Acting on this knowledge will not only save instructional time, but keep learners engaged while benefiting from every minute of the experience.

Work to Satisfy the Learner

If feedback comes in the form of a judgment, “Very good, that’s correct!” the learner may be pleased you’re happy, but may not know why his or her work was good. “Maybe I did that right, I don’t know. Oh, I was right. How about that? Why, I wonder.” The ultimate goal is for learners to both perform successfully and know their work was done well. So instead of being quick to judge, show learners the consequences of their actions. Then ask them if they’re satisfied with the results. If they’re not, let them correct what they’ve done, perhaps with a hint or two as necessary. Only after the learners are satisfied should you judge their work and their assessment.

Speaking of Time Well Spent

How about going to New Orleans, September 17-19,2019?I’m delighted to be the chief evangelist of Training magazine’s new TechLearn Conference. The event will be uniquely constructed to provide active learning experiences and valuable best practices. Visit to learn more. I hope you’ll join us!

Michael Allen is the chairman and CEO of Allen Interactions, which builds custom learning experiences. He is known for pioneering multimedia learning technologies, advanced interactive instructional paradigms, and rapid-prototyping processes.