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What is effective training delivery?

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9th May 2012
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What are the key elements to delivery and embedding of effective training? Omar Lahyani of Saba Software has a few opinions on the subject.

What are the biggest obstacles in delivering effective training over time?

Investment in training typically aims to develop required know-how, increase skill levels and assure compliance, however far too many training initiatives fail to effectively deliver for two main reasons: 
  1. No measurement to show the recipient actually learnt and retained the new information
  2. No measurement or correlation between the training delivered and sustained performance improvement at an individual, team or enterprise level
Too often training departments are so busy delivering against the immediate and urgent objectives to assure 'compliance' or deliver onboarding training, that they fail to consider their contribution to performance improvement or in supporting the longer term business strategy that may require a labour pool of different skills and capabilities. Therefore it is essential that training departments aim to deliver effective training to efficiently meet the immediate goals, before they can consider these loftier objectives.
This can be done by incorporating a systematic and continuous 'assessment methodology' into their initiatives, a training department can overcome these issues by identifying and directing training investment and removing those activities which fail to deliver actual value. The 'assessment methodology' enables:
  • Establishment of baseline levels of proficiency and performance so that progress can be measured over time
  • Diagnosis and identification of gaps/shortfalls in individual and corporate knowledge and skill levels
  • Assurance that learning and performance goals are accurate and attainable
  • Determination of whether value is being realised 
Furthermore an 'assessment methodology' enables the training department to continuously modify and refine their training over time to reflect the changes in the immediate need, thereby assuring training content is current and relevant.
 
"...it is essential that training departments aim to deliver effective training to efficiently meet the immediate goals, before they can consider loftier objectives"

Why do LMS initiatives often fail to deliver on their training promises?

Assuming that the organisation has chosen an LMS that provides the functionality and scalability required to meet their specific needs, there are usually two main reasons for failure. The first is that an LMS offers only the very basic level of assessment methods – tests and surveys - and this is typically focused on reporting on the current proficiency of a person, not their progress or performance over time or as a direct comparison to others. The second is the depth of their analysis and reporting functionality and how this has been set up. This second point was reinforced in a recent Survey on LMS users conducted by Bersin and Associates which stated "...39% of respondents cited reporting capabilities as their number one challenge with their current LMS..." (Bersin Learning System 2011 report). 
A broad spectrum of assessment techniques already exists today such as tests, exams, questionnaires, surveys, self-assessments, 180/360-degree appraisals, observations, interviews, reviews, etc. If deployed in isolation, without any consistent process or analysis – these techniques cannot provide the insight needed. However when they are managed and applied using a system which allows for consistency in application and analysis, trainers can gather valuable quantitative and qualitative information that will give them a true holistic picture of the effectiveness and quality of their training programs.
The cause of the second issue concerning 'reporting and analysis' is easy to identify. LMS systems typically have a handful of rudimentary top level reports, which focus primarily on confirming if training has taken place or not, or providing a basic overview on the result of training, such as passed, failed, percentage achieved, etc. In addition, executives are limited to what data they can view by simple filtering criteria, for example: by learners in department X who completed course Y in the last 90 days: Not particularly insightful or helpful.

What are the warning signs that this is happening?

There are several ways of determining whether your training programme is failing, the most popular of which is garnered from direct feedback on attended courses. Unfortunately this only gives an individual's view and opinion on the course attended and not the output. Similarly the other key method of measurement covers throughput and process productivity, ie number of courses run, number of people trained, the backlog for compliance, etc. Provided the attendees enjoyed the course and the training department has not created a training backlog, everything appears to be running smoothly and to plan.
Unfortunately too much weight is given to these areas of feedback. Whilst important these do not provide critical training performance data on the individual's retention of knowledge/skill being taught or of behavioural change or actual individual performance improvement. Clearly some of these measurements require coordination and integration with other major HR processes such as performance management to correlate the investment in training with a change in performance and these are often outside the remit of the training department. Provided the training material is pertinent, a good indication of training effectiveness can be derived from knowledge/skill retention and behavioural change over time. This is only really possible and practical by implementing a continuous and structured process of testing and assessment to measure these two critical areas over time. As stated before companies fail to invest or focus in this area and so the true warning signs go unnoticed.
 
"Regardless of the size or type of an industry or business, training should have a measurable impact on organisational performance and ultimately the bottom line."

What metrics should be used to measure training effectiveness?

Regardless of the size or type of an industry or business, training should have a measurable impact on organisational performance and ultimately the bottom line. Training should be viewed like any other key business function such as sales, customer support, R&D or HR capable of impacting customer satisfaction, sales performance, quality, compliance, etc. Being able to relate training investments to these measurement areas will provide the training department consequential evidence that what they are doing is adding value and that the investment is both justified and defensible.
To achieve such measurement the training department has to reference two areas of measurement. The first has been outlined earlier on in terms of knowledge transfer and retention. The second has to be implemented in conjunction with the department or function being trained and should look at the performance pre and post training of a particular metric the function is looking to improve. Relating the investment in training to such performance metrics will provide a direct indication of true training effectiveness and value.
Training departments that neglect such frameworks of measurement could risk future investment and downward pressure on their budgets and resources.
Omar Lahyani is VP & GM of Saba Testing & Assessment. He is responsible for direct sales, indirect sales and professional services to drive continued growth and operational excellence across Saba Testing & Assessment in the EMEA region
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