I blame it on the approach that many college professors still model. If lecture is good enough for higher education, then many business owners and managers assume that lecture is good enough for their employee training. But as we know, “good enough” is not necessarily the most cost-effective use of training dollars, because there is a lot of learning slippage that occurs.
When a company is interested in training on any topic, I like to meet with the owners or managers to discuss their desired results. When their employees walk out of the training, what does management want them to think or do differently? Sometimes the desired results are attitudinal changes and at other times the focus is on specific skill building. Regardless of the desired end result, I have found that introducing two concepts into the discussion makes all the difference in the ultimate training that is approved.
First, I walk them through the building blocks of learning (Bloom’s Taxonomy of Behavioral Learning Objectives), drawing each step as I go. I ask them if they will be satisfied if their employees leave the training knowing something but not understanding it, the way I can tell them that E= MC2 without knowing what I really mean. Understandably, knowledge alone is usually not the level of learning that appeals to them.
So I ask them if they want the employees to understand what they have learned, which typically garners nods of agreement. So we know that we need to at least get to comprehension. And if attitudinal change is desired, that is where we will stop.
However, if skills are involved, I ask them if it will be all right if the employees know and understand the new skill or technique, but don’t use it. If it is not all right (and we can count on that response!), then I explain that application is the next required level of learning.
Once we have determined that either comprehension or application is appropriate, I ask them what level of learning lecture alone can accomplish. I may need to coach them with the answer, by discussing what many of us were taught years ago regarding lecture: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.” I point out that with lecture, we only know that the lecturer knows the information to the third power. We have no idea if the participants know or understand the content of the lecture until they have some opportunity to interact with the information.
This neatly brings us to the need for more participant-centered learning activities, such as large and small group discussions, pop ups, question and answer sessions, questionnaires, worksheets, case studies, and games. It is a short step from this to the next point, that in order to achieve application as a learning level, the participants need to be able to practice what they have learned in the classroom. At this point, we can introduce hands on, simulation, and role-playing exercises.
To cement the idea that lecture alone is probably insufficient for their desired training results, I pull out a copy of Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience and Learning. This reinforces our previous discussion of learning levels and interactive learning activities by showing the correlation between our level of involvement and how much we tend to remember. Even lecture with visual support garners only 50% retention. The minute we add an opportunity to discuss the content, that increases to 70%- and if we can both say and do it, retention is increased to 90%.
If they want effective and lasting learning, which is the most cost-effective use of their training dollars, then participant-centered learning activities are the logical and only solution. Few reasonable people will argue with that conclusion!!
Deborah Spring Laurel has been a trainer and a consultant in the areas of workplace learning and performance improvement for over thirty years. She has twenty years of experience as the President of Laurel and Associates, Ltd,, an international human resource development training and consulting firm that specializes in enhancing interpersonal dynamics within organizations. She has designed and delivered hundreds of different skill-building participant-based and accelerated learning workshops on various topics, all of which have been tailored to meet her clients’ needs.
Deborah taught management and supervisory topics for the Executive Management Institute and the Small Business Development Center in the School of Business at the University of Wisconsin- Madison for over thirty years.