Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Do People Learn? What Organizations Should Do To Create Better Training Programs Based on Modern Learning Theory

This article, written by Chris Christensen, is a guide that he suggests corporations should follow (regardless of their industry) in order to provide proper training to their employees that will lead to learning. Based on modern learning studies, Christensen discusses ten (out of fourteen) key principles that he believes every corporate training program (CTP) should adopt.

1. Change the Learner's Mental Models
  • In this step, the trainer is simply trying to open the learner's mind to new ideas; the learner's mind needs to be "unfrozen, then changed, and finally the new mental model must then be refrozen."
2. Training is Only One Part of a Behavior Change Program
  • CTP are only a means to an end, therefore training employees itself does not lead to changed behavior. Other elements necessary include clearly defined objectives, rewards for making desired changes, and accountability for displaying the wanted behavior.
3. People Can't Overcome Their Weaknesses
  • CTP should not focus solely on identifying individuals' weaknesses and training them to overcome those weaknesses. Instead, identifying strengths and training individuals to build upon those to compensate for weaknesses would be more effective.
4. Apply Learning Immediately
  • Christensen suggests adopting a "Just-In-Time (JIT)" training strategy that allows trainees who learn new skills to apply them to their daily tasks immediately. He argues that if CTP does not allow trainees to apply these new skills immediately it could lower morale and lead to negative views of the employer.
5. Training Must Improve the Business
  • Donald Kirkpatrick developed a four-level scale to measure the effectiveness of a CTP
  • Level 1 - Did the trainee feel there was value in the training?
  • Level 2 - Was knowledge or skill acquired by the trainee?
  • Level 3 - Did an improvement in the trainee's behavior result from the training?
  • Level 4 - Did the training increase the quality of the business' performance?
  • Most corporations have some mechanism for achieving Level 1, but Levels 2-4 are mostly conducted at an academic level, but should be adopted by corporations.
6. Pay Attention to Short Attention Spans
  • In designing a CTP, corporations should take care as to not overload their trainees. That is, do not schedule an eight-hour training session to be completed in only one day. Most of the trainees will have stopped paying attention by the end of the day and effort could be wasted. Instead, although not as cost-effective, corporations should break these sessions down into, say, four two-hour sessions which would be more effective.
7. Employ the Same Technological Tools and Practices in Training that are Used in Work
  • The idea here is quite simple: train the employees in the EXACT same environment that they conduct their day-to-day tasks. For example, if the employees undergoing training normally teleconference every day, then conduct the training via teleconference, and so forth.
8. Employ "Different Strokes for Different Folks"
  • Not everybody learns the same way, some people are visual learners and others may be auditory or kinesthetic learners. In addition, some people may learn in multiple ways and switch between styles (visual to auditory, etc.) Therefore, CTP trainers should employ these three types of learning styles into their teaching methods which would ensure that each student is learning.
9. Training Must Entertain
  • CTP should include a variety of techniques and material that keep the students engaged. After all, if a student is not interested in the class, it's quite likely that very little or no learning took place.
10. Trainers Must Be Experts
  • In the corporate world, most trainees expect trainers to be experts in the subject matter in addition to being a good instructor. That is, a trainer should have experience applying whatever it is he or she may be teaching to others.
In reading this article, it became quite apparent that Christensen believes that learners in the corporate setting have a much more difficult time acquiring new information than students in an academic setting. I believe that the first step, opening the minds, is the most important that any learner/student must accomplish if he or she is going to be learn anything at all.

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