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Alternatives to Training

“Learning should be a process, not an event.”  This mantra, preached by training professionals everywhere, is much easier said than done.  What would this look like if it moved from catch phrase to real life?

Alternative Model for Learning: The 70/20/10 Model

alternatives to training 70-20-10The Center for Creative Leadership began promoting the idea that learning is an ongoing process.  While formal learning experiences such as classroom training, conferences, e-learning courses and webinars are important, they only make up 10% of professional learning experiences.  20% of learning comes from supervisors and other supportive relationships.  The remaining 70% of learning comes from on the job interactions and experiences – the mistakes we make, the solutions we stumble upon and the lessons we take away from going about our daily routine.

What are Formal Learning Experiences?

This is the area that people typically think about when they think “learning” or “training”.  The list of formal training opportunities that employers may offer include:

  • In-house training classes
  • External, vendor-offered training classes
  • Conferences and seminars
  • Elearning courses
  • Webinars
  • Certificate and university degree programs

Having seen organizational budgets and having created departmental budgets, my observation is that even though this is where 10% of organizational learning happens (at least in this model), this is where nearly 100% of the financial investment into professional development is spent.  Speaking of money, a 2010 McKinsey & Company study entitled “Getting more from your training programs” proclaimed that companies spend $100 billion (WITH A “B”!!) on training each year “but training typically doesn’t have much impact.”  Why?  Because managers (and entire companies) generally do a poor job when it comes to being strategic about alternatives to training, which make up the other 90% of organizational learning.

Alternatives to Training: Supervision & Support

In their book Transfer of Training, Mary Broade and John Newstrom provide oodles of research that states an employee’s manager is the single biggest and most influential factor when predicting whether or not skills and knowledge learned through formal training will actually be applied on the job.  Manager supervision and support includes activities such as:

  • Identifying specific skills gaps
  • Setting performance goals
  • Setting expectations and goals around formal learning experiences
  • Following up on goals and expectations once a formal learning experience has been completed
  • Providing ongoing coaching
  • De-briefing on-the-job learning experiences and mistakes to sort out potential lessons learned

When done in isolation – sending an employee for more training or using annual training dollars to attend a conference or asking an employee to simply sit in on a new hire orientation class she may have missed six months ago – learning experiences are often directionless and wasteful.

Managers can super-charge learning experiences through the first several bullet points above in order to offer clear direction to an employee.  The final several bullet points all help learning “stick” and the investment in learning to pay real dividends.

What is On-the-Job Learning?

Most of the time, we’re neither sitting in a training class nor are we sitting in our supervisor’s office.  We’re doing our jobs.  And as we do our jobs, we’re learning – what to do and what not to do.  We may be included to think of all of these as alternatives to training, but it would be more accurate to think of them as informal learning opportunities:

  • Mentors
  • Journaling
  • Stretch assignments
  • Participation in communities of practice
  • Participation in online discussion boards
  • Membership in professional associations or trade groups
  • “Water cooler conversations” with other co-workers
  • Job-aids
  • Checklists
  • User guides
  • Tutorials
  • Employee manuals
  • Reading trade magazines or books (or participating in book clubs around professional topics)

These experiences make up 70% of the learner experience in this model!

The point here is that the classroom may be the highest-profile venue for learning, but it truly is just one small sliver of where learning happens.  And it all goes to waste if companies are not investing in alternatives to classroom training.

The question is: how can these training alternatives get a higher profile when driving toward better performance?

Other posts to help you think through alternatives to training:

What are you doing to help learners that would not be called “training”?

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