The Death of Training: Rumors Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Chances are good that I have contributed to those rumors, though not with an inkling of anything resembling malicious intent. Several of the professional groups I have joined through LinkedIn yield consistent discussion themes that register concern for the future of training. The concern comes from a cross-section of trainers, designers, training managers, and vendors. You would think tough economic times are a driver behind why this concern exists. I agree, but only in part. We were seeing signs of this before the economy went bust. Tough times have just turned up the light shining on a significant opportunity. Agreed, training budgets are shrinking and free-lance trainers and owners of training companies are wringing their hands searching for the next big thing. So…what is the next big thing in the world of training? Okay, here comes an opinion, not to be confused as rumor – The next big thing will not be manifest in the scope of training.

My point is this – training is no longer our primary source of viable learning. Here is another rumor I will attempt to debunk – The role of training is diminishing. Well…not so. Here is why I think not. Compare the size of the earth to the moon, and we can easily see the earth is larger. Compare the earth to the sun and the earth is no longer the largest object. Our point of reference, when limited to earth and moon, sets a standard for comparison. This remains a viable standard if the scope is limited to the earth and the moon. Open up the scope to include the sun and what we perceived as large is now small. Did the earth shrink? Not at all, what grew was our frame of reference. That frame of reference grew in scope similar to expansion in scope when we consider the role training plays in a continuous learning environment.

In the course of following several key blogs and actively collaborating and contributing to at least as many communities of learning professionals, I find my depth of perception and the richness of perspective on current issues and trends alive and well, growing in a wealth of diversity of thought. I am living in learning. We all are. We wake up each day in a continuous learning environment. For me, that is the new future – that is the next big thing. Rarely in this diverse mix of professional perspective and collaborative dialog am I engaged in training. However,that does not mean training has outlived its usefulness, or as has been rumored, given up the ghost. Training has not shrunk in importance. Training is not going away. We have to frame our reference with the expanded scope that integrates the continuous learning environment, its exponential growth, and no signs of slowing down.

Training is still the same “size”, but the frame of reference now includes rich diversity we find in numerous venues and methodologies that enable learning – continuously. In an earlier writing, I described the composition of continuous learning as:
Training – knowledge and skills acquired through formal learning venues
Information – capability supported through just-in-time informal learning venues
Knowledge – experience enriched through collaboration and community venues

The scope of continuous learning includes training. I suppose we could say, by comparison, the importance of training has decreased, but I am not convinced that is a true statement. There are some venues where training and all the instructional design methodologies to create it (a.k.a. ADDIE) are, and will continue, to be viable contributions to learning. Training did not shrink, the world of learning exploded in size around it.

Many compliance thresholds require formal training classes or verifiable on-line certifications. Some aspects of on-boarding and new hire orientation programs are most effective in a live classroom setting. You may be able to rattle off others specific to your own industry or profession. I do not see radical change happening here. The point is, training is alive and well within its own frame of reference. Methinks the source of these nasty rumors regarding the health of training are more about the validity of learning’s expanded frame of reference than the training discipline framed by it.

If anything is in danger of dying, it is the budgetary funding of training organizations that do not expand their frame of reference to include continuous learning. Training has company – information and knowledge – in this world of learning we live in. The internet is open 24/7 and by virtue of that, so is access to information and knowledge. Throw in wireless availability and access to information and knowledge is virtually ubiquitous. Our role in the training department and our learning solutions must render venues that support training and meet the information and knowledge requirements of our learners in their work context.

To do that our perspective must move beyond the comfort zone of designing solutions limited to enabling knowledge and skills. Our end game must extend to direct linkage to the post-training domain of levels three and four evaluation – impact to performance and to the business. Both of these points of impact are downstream from the frame of reference of training. Where we often come up short is recognizing the learning value inherent in both information and knowledge that play such a critical role sustaining capability in that downstream environment. Traditional training roles do not automatically extend downstream. While it is true we plant seeds of knowledge and skills, we do little to cultivate post-training performance results , and we do less (or nothing at all) to harvest the fruits of working knowledge that evolve into valuable, re-usable best practices. We should actively harvest this crop for processing into our formal training to keep it fresh and current.

We find ourselves, in our traditional training roles, missing in action right where we need to be – in the middle of the learner’s work context. Obviously, we cannot ride shotgun through our learner’s day as they do their work, but we could be better prepared in knowing about the demands of that workday when we design our training solutions. Implications abound that our approach to learning discovery must expand to include the downstream work context in order to inject the necessary threads of continuity that extend beyond the classroom. In other words, information and knowledge are not mutually exclusive learning assets from those we design to satisfy the training component (knowledge and skills) in a continuous learning environment.

All three components are critical to producing a sustained capability. We all can take comfort in knowing that we supplement capability by designing in and delivering the correct knowledge and skills. Therein, training is safe. The value we, as training organizations, must generate, resides in the greatest learning opportunities downstream in the work context. Therein we find our greatest risk and exposure to become the source of future rumors. The worst thing that could happen is what we are all wishing for – a resurgent economy. If the velocity of business takes off and we do not anticipate what that means to the work context in a downsized workforce – the results of hiring new workers faced with steep learning curves to competency – we are in deep doo-dah. Then the rumors of the death of training may become reality – not from becoming non-essential, but from a massive heart attack while trying to keep pace with the velocity of work.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
LinkedIn Profile
Twitter: Gdogwise