Beyond the training workshop: from event to process learning

by 12 Jan 2010

Trainers have become skilled at creating training events. We do some analysis of training needs, design a workshop and then deliver the training. But we all know that workshops often don’t have a big enough impact to change behaviour. The problem is not that the workshops are badly done; it’s just that there is only so much any single training event can accomplish. The next step for training professionals is to go from delivering training events to delivering a learning process.

Process learning

Think about how someone learns new skills or behaviours. It may start with reading about a topic, perhaps observing how something is done; then attending a workshop, practising under the direction of a mentor and refining skills by working with peers. That extended process does work very well: that is how people learn and grow, and that’s what I mean by process rather than event learning.

It is time to think about whether your training function should begin to make the shift to focusing on process learning, rather than merely providing learning events.

How to begin

The first thing that may come to mind is that no one has asked you to do anything other than set up events such as workshops or an e-learning module. The reason senior management isn’t asking for a different approach is that they don’t know an alternative is possible. This is the chance for you to be the expert in your organisation, pointing out better approaches to learning.

Assuming you are willing to seize the initiative; the next step is finding the right training problem for process learning. Clearly setting up a process is a lot more work than setting up an event. You’ve got to find a problem that is important enough that your company is committed to getting more effective learning – even if it requires more work.

John Darling, an expert on learning and a principal at Q2Learning, said: “Very often the best place to introduce process learning is where speed to proficiency is very important. For example, if you are an insurance company bringing in new underwriters, it’s critically important you quickly get them to the point where they are capable of doing quality work. For this kind of thing you don’t just give a few workshops and cross your fingers that eventually they’ll pick up all the skills they need.”

The skills and tools you need

While the idea of setting up a process may sound daunting, I think most training professionals will find they have most of the know-how they need when they sit down to try. The sorts of things that go into a learning process above and beyond a workshop are not unfamiliar. You will want to ensure people get on-the-job practice at the skill they are learning, you want to create opportunities for them to get together with peers to learn from each other and you may want to set them up with opportunities to work with more senior people who can act as coaches.

If it’s an important issue, then getting the resources to design a truly effective learning intervention should not be an insurmountable barrier. The one problem that may prevent you acting is that you know it’s going to be an enormous amount of work co-ordinating all the different activities. For example, organising and tracking a series of interactions between the people being trained and their coaches can be very time-consuming for HR. Luckily there are tools that can help.

What to do now

It’s important for trainers to stay up to date on new approaches to learning. Process learning is the next big step beyond blended learning and it makes sense to find an opportunity to pilot this approach so that you can understand what’s involved.

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, providing writing, research and commentary on human-capital management.

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