eLearning Concepts

Soft Skills Training that Actually Isn’t


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Do you remember taking a “soft skills” training class earlier in your career?  Perhaps a sales skills training course?  A leadership communication skills class?  I’m betting you spent the majority of your training time listening to an instructor, watching a few video segments and taking some notes. What percentage of the time in your class was focused on role plays or other behavioral learning activities that allowed you to practice the skills you were supposed to learn?

Soft Skills Training that Actually Isn’t

If the training was online, was it elearning?  What percentage of the training time was at the application (skill practice) level?  Was it a trainer-led webinar or blended learning program?  Any role plays or practice exercises included as part of the program?  Hopefully the answer is “yes”, but again, take a second to calculate your estimate of the training time in the program devoted to skill practice.

In my own soft skills training experience (coupled with my ongoing unscientific poll of several industry colleagues), the training time dedicated to application-level practice in most soft skills training seems to fall into the 10% to 25% range.  What is your personal experience?  If it varies greatly from this range, please share it in a comment below this article.

Lack of Skill Practice Shrinks Training Effectiveness

I have two concerns with most corporate soft skills training and the small amount of focus on actually practicing and anchoring the skills.  The first is the failure to engage.

  • If employees spend most of their time listening to a lecture, watching a video, or other passive learning activities, this translates into a low level of learner engagement and interest. Learners often leave the training feeling it was just a waste of time, or of limited practical value.
  • And elearning developers that count clicking on the “forward” button of their courses as an interaction?  Or provide audio that simply narrates the text on the page and claim it is “multimedia” training?  Don’t get me started.  Most of us will admit there is an engagement issue with most training we connect our employees to.

It’s not that internal and vendor content developers are lazy, or don’t know how to develop engaging training.  It’s almost always a function of the volume of training needed by the organization, the amount of development time or resources available, and/or the budget available.  Tight constraints make for very thin soft skills training.The other concern I have with the lack of skill practice in most soft skills training, and this is the serious one, is the employee’s low likelihood of effectively internalizing the taught skills.It often seems that everyone in the business world, both corporate and government, is trying to reduce formal training time. Managers want 2-day classes shortened to 1 day, and 1-day classes shortened to a half-day.  As we implement more learning via social media in 5 to 10 minute chunks, what happens to soft skills training?  Let’s be realistic – the acquisition, mastery and internalization of complex skills requires hours of practice in a safe environment, not minutes.Practice-deficient soft skills training is not likely to be effective in improving performance in the targeted skills.  So why spend the time to develop it, or the time for the employees to take it?  Why even call it soft “skillstraining?  Collectively, we have to address this issue, not only to maintain our credibility, but more importantly to improve the business impact of the organization by REALLY increasing employee proficiency in critical business skills.

The Answer:  Get Your Game OnThis is where I’ve been really impressed with soft skills training designed from the ground up as a serious learning gameIs digital game based learning engaging?  Short answer:  yes.  The soft skills game based learning courses our clients use have produced phenomenal engagement numbers.  Over 30,000 learners have completed the courses, and here is a summary of their feedback:

  • 94% rated the game based learning experience at the highest level on the feedback scale.
  • 93% felt the game designed course had a high educational value.
  • 99% would recommend the online training course to others.
  • 98% felt the game based training was applicable to real-world concerns and situations.

The learner engagement of digital game based learning is what gets most of the buzz over the last year or two. And the engagement factor is frankly what first drew me to investigate corporate training games.

But I’ve come to believe that learner engagement, while important, is not where game based learning provides its greatest value. The learning models employed by serious games are simply better at teaching soft skills and critical business skills. The comprehensive training game our clients use in persuasive communication and negotiation skills is a great example. This negotiation training, called Merchants®, and taken online over a 5 to 6 week period in cohorts of 20 to 40 learners, provides a learning experience where employees spend 90% to 95% of training time at the application level. Think about that for a moment – over 90% of training time is spent practicing the skills and behaviors. Add in the highly individualized learner feedback on that practice from the skill simulator, and you have to ask: how can classroom training or traditional elearning build skills as effectively?

Is game based learning the answer to every learner engagement challenge?  Hardly.  But if the workforce performance challenges in your organization include developing critical soft skills like persuasive communication, negotiation, personal productivity or time management, this cutting-edge skill building strategy is worth a look, no matter where you source it. And the time and cost to implement?  That makes it a no-brainer.