Training: Knowledge, skills and ability taught in a controlled learning environment.
Reality: Applying knowledge, skills and ability in the uncontrolled environment of life.
How well do YOU bridge the gap between a controlled learning environment and the uncontrolled environment of the workplace? Anytime we discuss training and the workplace, some basic questions arise.
- Who is responsible for bringing students from the training environment forward through real-world application?
- Does the curriculum you’re using take real-world application into consideration?
- Does the curriculum allow reasonable latitude for instructors to bridge the gaps?
- Is performance of the training program actually measured against performance in the workplace?
Great gains can be made when training makes an effort to bridge the gap between academics and reality. Here are four steps that can help increase the value of training as it relates to the actual workplace.
1. Use Outcomes to Guide Training
Outcome-based education is more than a buzzword. Many instructors and training center staff members have debated the terminology. Reaching an “objective” means simply that you have achieved something specific and measurable at a moment in time. Think about military action – units are tasked with achieving a specific objective. Most instructional programs use objective liberally.
A great example from an instructor methodology text: “The instructor candidate can identify three characteristics of ethical behavior.” This ranks right up there with “the student will be able to identify an instructor credential.” That would be the one that has INSTRUCTOR written on it, maybe? In both cases, the objective doesn’t really translate to the behavior training is trying to encourage.
Outcome means that students have ownership of the major concepts and can apply them going forward. Outcomes can be just as specific, but are often more difficult to measure. Nobody said training people was easy! In the examples above, there is no doubt the outcome was for the instructor to be an ethical instructor. Whether you met that outcome for your program can certainly be measured during the educational process using scenario-based questions or evolutions. Even more importantly it must be measured over time, after completion of the program.
Some training center managers have stated that outcomes are too academic a concept. The fact is, outcomes are simpler. When constructed correctly, they more accurately mirror the real world than a simple objective. In one class, a list of about 30 objectives was replaced with five outcomes. Objectives are the academic throwback; outcomes are reality-based.
2. Use People that Do the Job
Training centers should use people that actually do the job in two key areas. First, they should be an integral part of the curriculum development process. Second, they should be utilized as instructors or adjuncts in the learning environment.
Individuals that perform a job have institutional knowledge that often isn’t found in a service or operations manual. Getting this information integrated into training improves the value of the program. Capturing institutional knowledge is critical for business continuity purposes. How is this information captured? Use experienced individuals as part of your peer review or curriculum development group. Especially when developing performance.
Involvement also means integrating experienced personnel into the curriculum materials. In some cases, this can mean using them in visuals, such as photographs and videos. Although training videos may be available, showing coworkers using the actual equipment or machinery in the real work environment. Creating strong visual ties between training and real-world performance reinforces the auditory material being presented.
These experienced personnel may present a challenge when placed in the training environment as students. They can show up in class as the know-it-all, the story teller, the side-tracker, or the antagonist. They may simply dominate discussion, thus preventing students with actual needs from getting information. One good solution that helps bridge the gap between academics and reality? Involve experienced individuals as adjunct instructors or skill specialists. Invest some time teaching them basic instruction and coaching techniques.
3. Provide Opportunities for Practice
The opportunity to practice is a significant part of providing realistic training. Practice provides the opportunity to apply knowledge and gain experience. Too often, time and resource constraints limit practice opportunity. Students need enough time to master a skill through repetition. The opportunity to make errors is equally important, though your staff needs to be skilled in coaching and feedback.
You need to conduct practice under effective practice conditions. Often, training centers confuse realistic training with full-scale scenario-based training. When building practice, there are some basic conditions that must be met.
Practice must involve the actions required to achieve the desired outcome.
Remember, most skills require mental and physical effort. Complexity is a consideration as well. Whether these actions are practiced one-at-a-time, or as part of the whole skill, is determined by considering these factors. Instructors should consider breaking down a complex or time-consuming skill into several parts. Breaking a skill down to multiple practice components allows more opportunity for repetition and potentially fewer resources.
Practice must be completed under conditions that will be encountered.
Realistic training can be expensive. One way to trim costs is to break down skills to simpler tasks. For example, a regional fire academy relies on a shared resource to train firefighters to search smoke-filled rooms. Initially, the academy rearranges a classroom and has students navigate only with the lights off. More rooms and stairwells are added, firefighter gear is worn, electric heaters create a warmer-than-average room, and electrical tape placed over their face mask. On testing day, the actual smoke-filled environment actually seems less challenging to students. Another trick? Buying $29 smoke machines and fog fluid at Halloween for basic exercises, instead of spending $75 per hour operating purpose-built smoke generators. You can often find ways to recreate realistic conditions through creativity and a true understanding of both the task and the work environment.
Practice must be observed, evaluated against standards, and result in feedback to the student.
Students need feedback. As discussed, this is where individuals with extensive institutional knowledge can be a huge help. Clear guidelines for performance expectations and remediation help keep practice focused and constructive.
The elements governing practice are a critical part of the curriculum. The NFL ran an ad some years ago, carrying the message “Amateurs practice until they get it right … professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” Although everyone understands that absolutes such as “can’t” are unrealistic, the underlying principle is simple. Lots of realistic practice pays dividends.
4. Ongoing Evaluation and Feedback
Evaluation is often thought of as specific to a student, instructor or class occurrence. But to truly provide realistic training, evaluation should almost be a component of corporate culture (much like quality). Often, academics and reality are considered opposites, when they actually should be synonymous when discussing workplace training.
Managers, mentors, supervisors – they should be providing constructive feedback and coaching to workers on a daily basis. Feedback must be consistent with the curricula. Ongoing performance monitoring helps the training center identify skills and performance gaps within the company. TrainingForce, for example, supports a myriad of skill assignments based on job title, organization / department, or assigned equipment. Managing skill acquisition and performance is a function of your learning management system.
Training centers should be looking for skills gaps at the individual level and performance gaps in groups of students performing the same job or working on the same equipment. Skills gaps are areas where an individual is performing one or more necessary skills below the necessary performance level. The performance gap is defined as the difference between the highest and lowest performance of a single skill within a group. Both of these gaps drive the need for training, and relate directly to perfomance on the job.
Individuals should also be providing feedback to the training center on classes or courses. Ask students about correlation between the class and training material initially, but also at intervals after the class. Will Thalheimer provides a good tool for performance-based course review on his blog, Will at Work Learning.
Realistic training can have a real impact on results. By constructing proper outcomes, using the right individuals, setting up realistic practice, and encouraging feedback, you create realistic training for your students.
Employee Training & Development 5th Edition, Raymond A. Noe. McGraw-Hill Irwin. 2010.
Will at Work Learning, Will Thalheimer. http://www.willatworklearning.com/.