Training Trends, Learning Outcomes, and Setting More Productive Goals

February 10, 2011

When we look at trends and predictions for workplace learning and performance (training) in pieces such as Training Industry, Inc. CEO and Founder Doug Harward’s recent article posted on, we find an intriguing combination of potentially positive changes and misdirected attention.

The positive elements include predictions that “total spending for training services” will increase by seven to nine percent in 2011; “the role of the learning leader” in organizations is changing for the better; “learning technologies are becoming social, collaborative, and virtual”; and “learning content will be transformed for easier consumption”—situations many of us have already been seeing or can, without too much thought, accept as likely.

Sources including the ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) “2010 State of the Industry Report” confirm that training remains a well funded industry in some ways even though many of us note and lament reductions in training budgets: “U.S. organizations spent $125.88 billion on employee learning and development  in 2009” (p. 5)—the year during which the data in the 2010 report was gathered. The eLearning Guild’s “Getting Started with e-Learning 2.0” and co-writers Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, in their book The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media, provide support for the idea that social media tools are already making a positive difference in fostering learner-centric training. And interviews that Lori Reed and I conducted for our forthcoming book on trainers as leaders (Workplace Learning & Leadership) document the increasingly important roles workplace learning and performance professionals are assuming in developing, delivering, and evaluating effective learning opportunities.

One particularly interesting assertion among Harward’s predictions is that learning leaders are becoming solutions architects or learning architects—“someone who designs innovative approaches for employees to access knowledge, when they need it, in relevant chunks, no matter where they are.” This, he suggests, moves them/us closer to the role of consultant—a role which trainer-consultants including Peter Block (Flawless Consulting) and the late Gordon and Ronald Lippitt (The Consulting Process in Action—particularly Chapter 6) have abundantly described in their own work when they write of internal and external consultants (long-term employees as opposed to those hired for well defined projects with specific beginning and end points).

As was the case with Training Industry, Inc.’s report on “How to Promote the Value of Online Training Within Your Organization,” however, there is a bit of myopia among the predictions. The proposal that “metrics for learning will be based on content access, view, involvement, and downloads” rather than “how many students attended a program” doesn’t appear to provide a significant and positive change; furthermore, it ignores the larger issue to be addressed: is all this workplace learning leading to positive change for learners, organizations, and the customers and clients they serve? The unfortunate answer, as documented elsewhere, is an emphatic “no.”

More importantly, this proposed shift in focus misses the larger mark because it still makes no attempt to engage in the levels of assessment suggested in Donald Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels™ Evaluation Model, Robert Binkerhoff’s Telling Training’s Story: Evaluation Made Simple, Credible, and Effective, or Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan’s The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development Into Business Results—those measurements of workplace learning and performance’s real results in terms of positive change.

There is much to admire in what Hayward writes. There is also obviously much room for seeking trends that, in his words, “will reshape the training industry” in a significant and sustainable way. All we have to do is keep our attention on the learners and those they serve. And set even more productive, measurable goals.

Reports from the Field: Learning to Save Money

February 2, 2011

If we’re going to seek positive results from workplace learning and performance (training) efforts, we need to redefine the terms of the conversation many of us are having.

“How to Promote the Value of Online Training Within Your Organization,” an eight-page report first posted online in April 2009 as a jointly produced effort by Training Industry, Inc. and Citrix/Online to promote the benefits of online distance learning with the sort of services and products Citrix provides, remains typical of much of what we find in online and print discussions about e-learning. The white paper accurately presents online learning as an effective way to save money by reducing costs—and never takes us much further than that premise. It never really delves into the learning part of e-learning.

There is no denying that training must be cost-effective. Nor is there any reason to deny that online learning significantly reduces travel costs—up to “40 cents of every dollar spent on in-person training goes to travel and lodging costs, studies show” (p. 2), and those costs disappear when learning moves online—and can be more convenient since learning is delivered to learners rather than learners being delivered to learning opportunities.

But we need to take a broader view of training-teaching-learning and its impact if we’re going to be effective and inspire positive change—the purpose of training-teaching-learning when all is said and done. The writers of the report accurately note that “thousands of full- and part-time students are enrolled in distance learning programs” and “global corporations train remote audiences without regard to language and geographic barriers” (p. 2), but they never substantially ask a basic question: are these learners having positive and productive experiences that justify all that goes into e-learning—or any other sort of learning, for that matter?

The answer is clearly less than obvious and encouraging. Central Michigan University professors Karl Smart and James Cappel, for example, offer a thoughtful and detailed analysis in their 2006 Journal of Information Technology Education article “Students’ Perceptions of Online Learning: A Comparative Study”; we, as readers, are left with the obvious conclusions that e-learning is about far more than cutting costs, and that those who set cost as their overarching concern would do well to broaden their point of view. Corey Brouse’s “Undergraduate Students’ Reactions to Online Learning Related to Health Promotion and Wellness” from the Spring 2007 issue of the Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology, takes us closer to what my own experience as a trainer-teacher-learner suggests: that effective e-learning benefits from including face-to-face contact rather than being seen as a complete replacement—through what is commonly known as blended learning.

What we’re really talking about here is trying to move past the artificial either-or choices of e-learning vs. onsite classroom-based learning and focusing more on “learning” as a goal with many formats from which we can choose. And if we start by moving away from cost-containment as the major selling point and make cost part of an overall package leading to effective and results-producing efforts, the benefits of e-learning cited in “How to Promote the Value of Online Training Within Your Organization” become even more compelling.

Next: The eLearning Guild’s “Getting Started with e-Learning 2.0.”

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