Worst. Training. Ever.

Worst. Training. Ever.
January 21, 2023 Susan Diepen

Worst. Training. Ever.

Jennifer Belk White, Director of Human Resources, Lumina Foods

Jennifer Belk White, SPHR, SHRM-SCT, CHT

Director of Human Resources, Lumina Foods

While we as trainers all continuously strive to develop and implement outstanding training programs, sometimes we unintentionally fall into traps that impede our success. By looking at the ways that we inadvertently limit our training programs, we can then explore alternatives that can support learning experiences, enhance transfer of knowledge and skills, and positively impact the business. Here are the 10 traps we fall into and how we can avoid these pitfalls.

Want to create or facilitate a terrible training session? Want to ensure that training does not transfer to the job? Great! In this article we will explore the Top 10 ways to make your training awful. We will then turn it around and show that by consciously avoiding these traps, we can make sure to deliver the BEST training ever by understanding what NOT to do.

don't10. Ignore adult learning principles

Adults learn differently from children. The concept of andragogy is much different from that of pedagogy. Andragogy refers to the science and practice of adult learning. This contrasts with pedagogy, which is the science and practice of teaching children. If we concentrate on how adults learn, and that they come to the table with some experience, we can tailor our training with this in mind.

According to Malcolm Knowles, one of the first proponents of the use of andragogy in adult learning, adults are:

  • Self-directed
  • Experienced
  • Focused on what they need to know
  • Performance-centered (i.e., they need immediate application of knowledge)
  • Internally motivated

Because of this, in teaching adults, we as trainers need to be focused on facilitating rather than lecturing, ensuring that we are the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.”

Top 10 Ways to Create the Worst Training Ever

don't9. Perform demonstrations in front of a group

If we look at the motivations of adult learners listed above and, for example, demonstrate how to make a latte instead of letting them make one, we ignore their need to have the hands-on experience. Some examples of how we can avoid simply performing a demonstration in front of the group include:

  • Allow opportunities for learners to practice in a safe environment, such as initiating role-playing (or my preferred term, “real life practice”) situations that pertain to the training.
  • Use e-Learning first, followed by hands-on training. Doing so allows learners to gain foundational understanding prior to training on the job.
  • Let managers actually fill out paperwork, construct a spreadsheet, or develop a performance plan for an employee, instead of just showing them how.

don't8. Create training to address every performance problem

Sometimes people in your organization come to you with a problem, such as high food costs or decreased customer service numbers, and they ask you to create a training program to fix it. But what if training is not the solution? Before jumping in to create a training program, it is important to evaluate the situation to see if training is the answer. Training is only the solution if employees’ lack of knowledge or skill is the cause of the problem.

Will training fix the problem?

Performance issues may be related to an employee’s lack of knowledge or skill, but other elements, such as motivation, resource limitations, and conflicting priorities can also negatively impact performance. Training addresses knowledge and skills, but we typically cannot train motivation since it is inherently intrinsic. We can explain why they are doing the task, and that might help their motivation, but we can’t really train people to be motivated. Sometimes people are neglecting to do something simply because they don’t have the resources; for example, cooks may not be checking temperatures because they don’t have thermometers that work.

Here is what Cathy Moore suggests on her blog (cathy.moore.com):

  • Find out what the measurable goal is
  • Find out what people need to do to reach the goal
  • Find out why they aren’t doing it

Determining the root cause of the issue is essential in the needs analysis phase.

don't7. Don’t engage in post-session reflection

As a trainer, fairly soon after a session, you should engage in self-reflection; figure out what worked and what didn’t. Ask yourself ”what do I want to make sure I CONTINUE to do, what do I want to STOP doing, and what did I NOT do that I would LIKE to do?” If you want to continuously improve your skills, always reflect on the training you just completed.

don't6. Skip slides/videos because of timing

Why is this important? Skipping slides, pages, or other training material discredits the importance of the content. If the content or activity was built into the training material, then theoretically it is important for learners to know. Skipping material impacts the perception of what the learner thinks is important. If you skip over material, it also makes people question your competence. Plan ahead and mark timings into your instructional material.

A note to instructional designers: ensure that everything within a training module or program is relevant and important. Also be sure to build in time for discussion, questions, and all activities. While the facilitator is responsible for adhering to the program you’ve developed, you can support them by designing and developing training that works as it is intended.

don't5. Include extraneous information

Think of training content as falling somewhere on a continuum from not interesting to very interesting, and not important to very important, so you have four quadrants. The best case is content that is both important and interesting. That’s easy to train! The material that falls into the important but not interesting quadrant is also necessary for your session. As facilitators, we can be tempted to include information that is interesting but not important, but if your trainees focus their attention on the interesting but not important, you risk them walking away without learning what they need to know. The goal is for learners to gain with the skills and knowledge they need to do their job so they can ultimately impact the business positively.

Important vs interesting graph

don't4. Do fun activities and icebreakers that are unrelated to the learning objectives

Icebreakers provide an energetic start to a training session. Many of us have found or developed icebreakers that we love, so we use them no matter the session content. Fun, unrelated icebreakers can work if you have a group of people that will be working together for a while, and they need to get to know each other. But if that is not the case, as in a short workshop or a training session with attendees from multiple departments or organizations, the icebreaker should be tied in with the objectives of the training.  Time in a training session is precious, so everything should be directed toward successful achievement of the goals and objectives.

don't3. Make training a one-time event

How many times have you been to a training session and then upon returning to work, nothing changed? (Or worse, how many times have you designed, developed, and facilitated a training program, after which nothing changed?)

From the beginning, whether you are designing or facilitating training, you should be asking yourself “How are we going to keep this training going and connected to how we do things overall? What is the next step?” It is crucial that it becomes embedded in our operations on an ongoing basis.

don't2. Only train those who will be directly using the skills and knowledge

If you’re creating or facilitating a training session for a group of frontline employees, be sure that they are not the only ones learning. You need to train the supervisor, manager, General Managers (GMs), and anyone else who supports those employees, not just the team members themselves, so that everyone can be supported in whatever they learn.

Along the same lines, we as a training organization have to be aligned with sales and operations to make sure we are all connected. We can’t develop or facilitate training programs that aren’t supportable within the operation. The last thing we want is for people to be saying that the trainers don’t know what it’s like in the real world!

don't1. Focus on the outputs rather than outcomes

The number one way to have terrible training is to focus on the output rather than the outcomes. It’s really easy to look at output metrics: How long did it take the learners to complete the eLearning modules? How many people did we train in the safety workshop? But none of that really matters to the organizational results. We need to adjust our focus to ask: Did we make a positive difference in the organizational goals and results?

In conclusion

Avoiding the Top 10 ways to create the “worst training ever” really boils down to this: know what problem you’re looking to solve, and if training is the solution, ensure that you are focused on how adults learn. When developing the training, keep the attention on the truly important, plan for appropriate timing, and determine how to embed the changes deeply into the organization in a way that is both measurable and impactful on the business.