How to Encourage More Learning with Less “Training”

Medical consultant and two nurses walk along a hospital corridor

When it comes to learning, most organizations either spend too little (not recognizing the cost of underinvestment), or spend too much on developing and delivering training courses, for too little return.  In the former case, the sheer effort and expense of developing a formal training courses can pose a barrier, while for the latter, excessive training spend can become a drag on the bottom line.

The good news for both types is that there are ways to meet the majority of your organization’s learning needs without a massive capital investment.  

For starters, your organization can:

  • Set “learning goals” for staff:  Training directors often lament how “We send people to classes, and they learn all this great stuff, but if managers don’t evaluate them on it, they’ll never apply it.”

    Thankfully, this is a straightforward problem to fix.  Instead of having training prescribed by the learning department, add “learning goals” to every manager and frontline performer’s existing performance review. Then, let them decide how best to achieve those goals (with the learning department playing an advisory role).

    So, if your staff opt for a series of free YouTube videos or coaching from a colleague over your formal curriculum, don’t take offense.  If anything, help them curate and annotate a reading/viewing list and allocate future training development spend to areas where not enough quality material exists.

  • Form learning teams: While learning goals encourage individual accountability, that doesn’t mean learners have to go it alone.  A few years ago, a colleague of mine joined a company with a large number of Flash developers who needed to be reskilled to code in JavaScript.  His company’s prior attempts to bring in outside trainers for workshops didn’t produce the hoped-for results, so my friend took a different approach.

    He formed small teams of developers (sometimes, but not always, from the same project team) consisting of one experienced JS developer, one intermediate developer and a third who had never written a line of javaScript in their life.  He told each team “You are collectively responsible for helping each other achieve your individual learning goals…”

    Thus, the experienced JS developer, whose goal might be to master a few specific tricks, would recommend learning resources to the intermediate developer, who in turn walked the new developer, whose goal was to start writing small chunks of actual product code unassisted within five weeks, through their initial practice exercises and first few work assignments.

    In a relatively short time, all had more or less achieved their goals.  For his part, my friend running the initiative remained largely hands-off,  holding weekly meetings to check on teams’ progress and occasionally recommending a video or article to address specific questions.

  • When all else proves inadequate, develop a formal training program:  For organizations at the forefront of their field (or who serve a unique niche) there will always be some areas where no videos, articles or books exist and almost no one has prior experience.  In these cases, investment in original curriculum development and formal training/coaching programs (either in-person or online) might be warranted. However, you will likely find these cases to be the exception rather than the rule.  

If your organization is interested in developing strategies to maximize learning with minimal formal training, feel free to contact Sonata Learning for a consultation.


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