Are employee training courses a waste of time?

One leading academic says organizations shouldn’t have high expectations when it comes to external courses.

Are employee training courses a waste of time?
There are some long-standing trends in HR that, despite their obvious limitations, look set to continue – at least according to one leading academic who’s questioning the status quo.

According to David Boud, Emeritus Professor at the University of Technology in Sydney, external training sources are still held in much higher esteem than they should be.

Boud says that while most HR professionals have known the limitations of such initiatives for decades, they continue to send employees on external courses, expecting meaningful results.

“You do that to develop individuals, you don’t do that to develop learning at work or work groups,” he said.
The main problem, explained Boud, is that people learn in the context of application.

“If we want to have an impact on the nature of work itself as distinct from an individual then where you do it and how you do it is very important,” he told HRM.

“People learn when they can see why they are learning, the reasons for learning and what they can do with it,” he continued.

“The fewer the opportunities to do something with it, the more problematic it is to learn,” he added.

Boud compared this to the trends and challenges in higher education to make learning more realistic and relevant.

“They do that because students perk up and say: ‘Oh, I could imagine doing something like that when I’m out employed’ and it gets their attention,” he explained.

“It’s the same at any course at any level, anywhere – if you can see what you are going to do with it you say 'well, I better pay attention to this because I could imagine it going somewhere',” he continued.

“Whereas if you see it just as learning for the sake of learning or if you’re thinking one day, maybe, perhaps under some certain circumstances I might sometimes use this then it’s not very compelling,” he added.

However, Boud emphasised that the theory is my no means absolute and agreed that there will be some circumstances in which it is beneficial to send employees out on an external course.  

“For example, you may be tasked with starting up something completely new and you can’t learn that within your work environment because your work environment doesn’t do that kind of stuff right now,” he elaborated.

Do you agree? Are external training courses given more credit then they’re worth? Share your thoughts below.

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