Training Interventions: What Our Populist Revolts Mean For Learning

How To Address The Challenges Faced In Training Interventions

First Brexit and now Trump – we are living in interesting times and one wonders on how it will all turn out. Fortunately, there are a lot of smart people engaged in all of that, so while distressing, I’m hopeful that it will work itself out. And while that is happening, we can use these events to help us understand some of the challenges that we face in our training interventions.

The Workers   

Lower education levels and work skills were a key demographic of voters in Brexit and Trump. We can use these characteristics to consider a group in our own organizations – the novice. New employees and people in new roles may make a sizable portion of your organization. People in this group often lack the skills, sophistication, and knowledge needed to succeed in their jobs. This means that you may need to:

1. Give Them Extra Scaffolding And Control Your Pacing.

Novice employees have a limited understanding of the concepts, procedures, and other knowledge needed for their roles. You will need to provide them with additional background information that they can build up from. This need will increase the amount of content in your training and may require that it is delivered in a more linear sequence.

However, forcing everyone to take this additional content will turn off other students as your training should only focus on what the average user needs to succeed – what is relevant to their experience.

To address this challenge, create structures that support optional content. This content should be easy to access and allow for self-pacing.

2. Give Them Additional Feedback And Focus On Metacognitive Skills.

Providing feedback is important for all your learners, but it is especially crucial for your novice employees. A reason for this is that novices often lack the metacognition skills that allow them to self-monitor and determine how they are doing. Becoming an expert requires an understanding of the stimuli that is available to you as you perform your daily work. This stimulus allows you to diagnose, evaluate, and adjust performance.

To address this challenge, take special care to highlight important notes, alerts, and other clues that indicate performance. You should also provide continuous reinforcement and feedback – one and done training will not help your novices. Use microlearning and curation to account for the forgetting curve that takes place after your activities.

3. Supplement Their Peer Networks.

Novices often lack a developed network of skilled peers. In this regard, their networks are often limited to a few people or they have weak relationship connections. Peer networks influence informal learning activities, which is a major way, in how we learn and develop in our jobs.

To address this challenge, identify and use technologies that supplement their undeveloped networks. Many current Learning Management Systems contain technologies that support communities of practices and curation. Many are also adding data analytic features that will make learning recommendations based on system and peer trends.

4. Give Them Tools To Use On The Job.

By lacking knowledge and networks, novices may have a harder time distinguishing between what is truly important over content that is only nice to know. This may cause them to take on too much and become overwhelmed with your content.

To address this challenge, be concise with your activities and focus on their greatest need – important/frequent content. Nice to know, rarely used and difficult content can be supported with job-aids and takeaways that can be accessed on the job or at a later time. These performance tools can use technologies to create some powerful training interventions that can bypass learning needs.

The Establishment

The establishment took a hit with Brexit and Trump. Hillary’s run was a great example of this and the problems that the establishment faced. These groups were unable to change the view of the populists and they failed at judging the size and passion contained within the movements. This blindness and unwillingness to change are characteristics that we can use to consider with another group in our organizations – the experts. People in this group are often our best employees – they are highly engaged, extremely competent and our informal leaders. As such, it is critical that we have them on board when confronting change. This means that you may need to:

1. Do More Than The Standard Sell Job.

As trainers, we know that changing behavior is a difficult endeavor and one that many will resist. This is why we focus on covering the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) content in our training interventions. We have to sell our students on why they need to change their behavior or how training will make their lives better.

Too often though we take a lazy approach to this and just get a leader to come out and give the standard, “This is important because I said so”, speech. Our experts are more sophisticated than that and will need more convincing.

To address this challenge, create powerful motives for change. Provide case studies and stories that illustrate what change will mean for them. These examples have to be relevant and point to specifics that our experts care about. Part of this will also require that your interventions provide better reporting and feedback tools. To support your claims, you will have to do more than just level 1 and 2 evaluations – give them higher level metrics that illustrate how change is making their lives easier or helping the company.

2. Get Them Involved.

Keeping our experts engaged in training can be difficult as they have prior experience or knowledge about our content. This foundation will allow them to pick up content faster but may encourage them to tune out and make assumptions while our other students play catch-up. While this happens our experts may miss some of the intricacies that make our training interventions unique.

To address this challenge look for ways to get your experts involved as mentors and champions. Use the zone of proximal development and the more knowledgeable other principles to engage your experts and help your regular learners grow.

3. Challenge Them With New Sources And Views.

Our experts are continuously focused on updating their knowledge and skills in their field. If not careful, this search can blind our experts to opportunities. As we develop, we naturally self-filter content based on our background and experience – things that worked well may become a filter to search for with future challenges; things that didn’t go well may become a filter to exclude from our future encounters.

To address this challenge identify rich content streams that provide multiple views and perspectives. Practice, repetition, and feedback are important in getting around the internal echo chambers that our experts may be listening to.

The Pollsters And Pundits

According to the pollsters and pundits, Brexit, and Trump were not supposed to happen. These groups failed at identifying and understanding all the dynamics that were in play within these movements. As such, their tools and approaches were not valid. This is a characteristic that our next groups may face with our training interventions – the designers. Understanding the complete problem within our organizations is necessary in order to define appropriate solutions. This means that you may need to:

1. Move Beyond Skill Gaps.

Design documentation that only defines your audience and their skill gaps is missing a lot of contextual information about our user’s environment. Training often fails when environmental factors are not considered and address as part of the solution.

To address this challenge, include a thorough root cause analysis of the problem in your design documentation. This analysis can highlight issues around manager support, reward systems, conflicting procedures, and resource limitations. If these issues are not addressed as part of your solution they can derail your training or these issues, by themselves, may point to a non-training related need.

2. Include Formative Evaluations In Your Development Activities.

Training interventions are a complex endeavor – no matter how well designed; at some point, something unexpected will happen. Users may struggle with a course interface; a well thought out role-playing activity may fall flat, or you may experience low enrollment because users can’t find your content, these and other issues will influence how successful you are with your interventions.

To address this challenge, plan for and limit the impact these hiccups can produce. Continuous testing and revisions are critical to identifying potential stallers and workarounds. Make sure you prototype and pilot your solutions with real people in your audience. Part of this should include their environments – knowing their technology limitations will help ensure that your solutions meet those needs.

The World May Not End After All

Despite all of your efforts, your intervention may ultimately fail. Don’t let that stop you though as learning from these activities will make your next solutions better. And much like with Brexit and Trump, the world will still go on.