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Don’t waste your time with face-to-face training

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10th Dec 2014
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Playing to the strengths of different delivery methods can help you create better value and more effective learning interventions, says Kim Whitmore.

If you want to achieve maximum effectiveness from your face-to-face training interventions, and deliver real value for money, you need to ensure that any time spent in the classroom isn’t wasted. Formal learning interventions often have three goals: to instil knowledge (to tell people new things), to develop specific skills (to change their behaviour) and to help people to practise applying their learning. If your face-to-face sessions are trying to achieve all three of these goals, you could save time and costs by creating a different blend.

Classroom training consistently ranks as the most common method of delivery. But, as we all know, there are many others, including webinars/podcasts, online reference materials, on-the-job performance support, elearning, virtual classrooms, action learning and one-to-one coaching. Each of these has its merits and it’s really a case of 'horses for courses'. The choice of which one/s to use will depend on factors such as your objectives, your target audience, your budget and resources as well as any relevant business requirements or organisational constraints, such as the timeline you’re working towards or whether your organisation is equipped to provide tablet-friendly learning.

For example, if you have a large and dispersed audience of senior managers, the constraints on their time are likely to be high. This might lead you to create a blend that includes asynchronous, bite-sized training. If they’re a particularly motivated group, they might be more receptive to non-facilitated learning.

The ‘blend’ you choose might also be influenced by learning models such as 70:20:10, from McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger, which highlights how people learn. This suggests that 70% of management learning comes from exposure and experience; 20% comes from sharing and learning from others while only 10% comes from formal learning interventions. The significance of this model is that it shifts the emphasis of training beyond the boundaries of the classroom, by highlighting the importance of workplace and social learning.

Cutting face-to-face in practice

All of this means that face-to-face training sessions that are well established in organisations can and should be challenged to examine whether they’re really delivering the maximum effectiveness and value for money. For example, I recently helped a telecoms client to condense a two-day face-to-face training course down to a half-day workshop with supporting elearning materials.

"it’s possible to cut down the duration of face-to-face training by as much as 75%, by introducing delivery methods that are better suited to the need and by moving the learning into the workplace."

The starting point here was to consider the learning objective, which was to help managers in the business to analyse the performance and potential of people in their teams, so they could work with them to plan appropriate development activities. Each manager needed to be able to provide effective feedback, justify their decisions and be comfortable if ‘difficult conversations’ were required.

Rather than ‘developing knowledge’ in a face-to-face session - which is what the client was doing previously - I created an elearning resource that explained what the managers had to do and why. This included case study examples to help the learners develop their confidence, exercise their judgement and explore different options. Video examples were included to provide a best practice blueprint for success. As with any elearning course, a key advantage of this resource was that the managers could access it at their own convenience.

Action learning was then utilised to help the managers prepare for a face-to-face skills workshop. They were asked to undertake the analysis and preparation for two people from their team. As a result, each manager arrived at the workshop with targeted questions to help them specifically.

Introducing the elearning and action learning components meant that the actual face-to-face element of the course could be reduced to just half a day. This session became a focused, skills practise workshop in which the managers could clarify any aspects of the learning and role-play good practice, while receiving targeted guidance and feedback from a facilitator and from their peers. This blend of elements helped to ensure that the intervention was not only more effective but it was also a more efficient use of managers’ time. To complete the intervention, interactive, on-the-job reference materials were provided to support the managers in the workplace.

As this example shows, it’s possible to cut down the duration of face-to-face training by as much as 75%, by introducing delivery methods that are better suited to the need and by moving the learning into the workplace. With elearning, less time is wasted getting everyone to the same level of knowledge and with action learning and face-to-face support, learners are able to practise their skills, get targeted feedback, grow their confidence and improve their effectiveness.

Face-to-face training is most effective for skills practise when it is targeted at each individual’s specific needs and involves learning from peers and experts. However, it’s expensive and it’s not always viable, particularly for globally-distributed organisations. Importantly, it’s usually a less efficient option for developing knowledge, which means it’s inappropriate for ‘telling’ or instructing people. Other asynchronous options such as elearning or a recorded podcast can be more effective for knowledge delivery. And if the delivery needs to be synchronous, a virtual classroom or a webinar are good choices.

By re-examining your objectives, breaking down your learning content and choosing an optimal blend, you can certainly make every element of your training intervention more efficient. Doing so can not only cut your costs and ensure that no training time is wasted, it can also enhance the overall effectiveness of your intervention.

Kim Whitmore is development director at the elearning company Engage in Learning

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