The AURA of Effective Training

My personal experiences as a trainer have been a bit varied over the years.  For the past eighteen years, I have been solely doing classroom style training. You know, the kind where a presenter shares their data viz and talks, while also challenging their students with the low probability of actual skill retention.  For the three years prior to that time, I hardly did any classroom style training at all. Paradoxically, even though I was plant manager in a rapidly growing company, I had a significant need to teach people on an almost daily basis. Which experience represents more effective training?

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In both cases, I spent a lot of time with a lot of students.  In both cases, I think they actually learned something.  After comparing both stretches of time against each other from a training effectiveness perspective, I am still left wondering. Am I really delivering classroom style training that is value added?  If you have read this column before over the years, you probably know what my opinions about classroom training are.  In short, I think most lecture-based training is a waste of time. The statistics show that people retain, let alone apply, very little of what they hear in a lecture over the weeks that follow course completion.

Classroom training previously was the dominant training delivery method. Computer-based training (CBT) is now in the lead.  I am cost-conscious industrial engineer at heart, and I know that organizations collectively invest millions of dollars in training each day. This really bothers me.  I could easily go off on a rant about this, but I already use post space to do so in the past on this topic. We would be better off to talk about what we might want to try to do to improve the situation instead. I really doubt that the number of hours we spend on training each year will decline in future years.

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The Need for Training Work System Improvement

Training design and delivery is definitely a process that is crying out for improvement.  There is also a pressing need for this improvement to occur.  Our workforce continues to age and retire. This means we will have to somehow capture and transfer the tribal knowledge our older employees possess to our younger folks before the ‘gray beards’ hit the golf course for good.  Business and education groups continue to debate about, and struggle to find, a way to better prepare graduates for the workplace.  This was a problem fifteen years ago, by the way. I don’t think we have made that much progress, but I do know that the workplace has sure changed a lot.

The bottom line is simple.  We spend a lot of money on training, and we don’t have very good metrics for gauging the effectiveness of this investment. If my suspicions are correct, we waste a lot of money each day, and in a lot of cases, don’t really worry about this waste that much.  Fortunately, the solution is also simple IF we will alter our mental models as to what really constitutes effective training.  At the start of this article, I stated that I did not do much classroom training as a plant manager.  I did not state however that we did not train our people. We did a lot of training, but not in the traditional lecture-based way.

The AURA of Effective Training

Provide ‘Just In Time’ Skill Training Where the Work is Done

In essence, we trained on the job as the need arose.  When I say ‘we’, I mean each of the leaders on our plant floor and in our support groups.  The phrase ‘on the job’ means out on the floor where the work is done instead of in a classroom.  When I say ‘as the need arose’, I mean we look for learning moments as each day unfolds. We can use these moments to help meet the training needs we know exist from our performance trends and customer requirements.  This approach worked, but as plant leaders, we had to perform our jobs as managers, supervisors, and support people in a manner that was quite different than the norm.

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We didn’t spend a lot of time in our offices or in meeting rooms.  A lot of time was spent watching people work. We would ask people questions and review performance trends to help us be in a better position to consistently meet the needs of our customers.  This training tactic worked much better than bringing people into a classroom to cover job performance ‘how to’s’.  Because we were able to provide immediate, and usually positive, performance feedback while our students were ‘practicing’, we helped them better retain and apply the skills as we needed to have them performed.

What is the AURA of Effective Training?

That’s what the AURA of effective training is all about.  AURA is an acronym for Awareness-Understanding-Retention-Application.  In my previous life as a Training Manager, I began using this four-word chain to help me develop more effective training.  At that time, I called it the learning continuum.  In some recent classroom training however, I was talking about the need to improve our training approaches so we can better bridge the gap between awareness creation and skill application. One of my students pointed out that the four letters of this chain spelled out the word AURA. I was delighted with this observation. It sure made me glad that I try to let my students talk a little bit when I teach in a classroom setting.

If we want to improve our training process, we need to find ways to be successful in helping our students actually retain and apply the skills we are hopefully making them more aware of and helping them to better understand.  The easiest way to do this is to make our courses more practice focused when we have to present them in a classroom setting. More importantly, we need to find ways to spend a greater portion of our training time out on the practice field itself, instead of in the locker room.

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Effective Training Requires Skill Repetition and Practice

Our people cannot effectively retain and apply most of the skills we need without repetition and practice.  We can’t ensure our work teams retain and apply the right skills correctly unless we as leaders provide performance feedback on a regular basis.  To significantly decrease the amount of waste that occurs in the training world, we have to find ways to get out of our offices and meeting rooms. Today’s leaders must spend time to actually help people learn, instead of listen to themselves talk.  How do you teach people to lift safely?  Do you have them demonstrate safe lifts over and over or do you merely show and tell them how to lift correctly? How often do you simply show them a film or CBT PowerPoint on the topic?

If you doubt me, think about the last course you attended. How much of what you heard do you still remember? Of those things you remember, how much do you actually use?  For example, did you attend several days of statistics-laden six sigma training? How much of this training do you remember and use? Did you feel competent to lead and facilitate a team after only two days of lecture on those topics? Would you like to practice those skills for a while before you begin to use them?

Don’t you think we need to improve our training processes a little bit here?  Is there an aura of effectiveness that emanates from the training you participate in and provide?  I know that I continue to look for ways to practice more in my classrooms so my training is more effective. I hope you will as well.

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Keep improving! – Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

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