Are You Gambling With the Development of Your Staff?

Small businesses with little to no resources for hiring a training staff, and larger businesses with tight training budgets, often grapple with how to muster the resources to teach new hires and provide advanced training to tenured employees for their continued development.

One option some organizations employ is to take highly-experienced Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from the business and designate them to provide some, or perhaps all, the training. Pardon me for a second while I cringe….ok, I’m better now…..I think….well, maybe not. Let’s move on.

Why would I balk at this idea? First of all, from personal experience, I have seen this method turn into a train wreck more often than not. The mistake SMEs often make is providing a content-centered training approach. The student is inundated with information that the SME feels must be regurgitated via lectures, PowerPoint presentations, etc. To be honest, I can’t remember sitting through any lecture or screen show that made a significant impact on my work productivity. In fact, I can’t even remember what the last PowerPoint presentation I saw was even about. Can you? If you were the one who delivered it, I sincerely apologize.

The reason this approach often leads to suboptimal results is that SMEs often fail to differentiate between training and learning.  Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”. You can train people all you want, but you cannot force them to learn. Training is something you do to someone else. Learning is something you do to yourself.

Adult learners respond appreciably better to a problem-based learning approach than to a content-centered one. And this is the crux of my cringe (I’m still wincing a bit). SMEs from the business typically want to deliver content and tell learners what they need to know and do. In a problem-based approach, the trainer engages the students more as a facilitator. They structure and facilitate activities and simulations that require learners to:

1. Solve problems that have relevance to their job.

2. Tap into their internal motivation.

3. Bring their experience into the process.

4. Make it clear why the learning is important.

Quite frankly, it is often difficult for SMEs to transition from delivering training by telling what they know to facilitate learning using the problem-based approach. If you are an expert, it follows that you would enjoy telling others about what you know. In addition, SMEs usually haven’t been schooled as a Learning Professional, so how would they know to do it any differently?

Also, just because someone is a trainer doesn’t automatically mean they won’t take the same content-based approach. Some SMEs are hired for trainer jobs due to their expertise, and some trainers simply don’t receive the proper training and development to execute the more effective approach.

Bottom line, regardless of your training situation, ensure the people you are entrusting with the responsibility of training your staff receive the appropriate education regarding adult learning theories and practices, then follow through with implementing it and make sure they receive coaching and feedback on their performance.

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