Selecting Appropriate Training Methods: Haste Makes Waste

Haste and convenience in selecting methods of training can be hazardous to your training program’s health. Unless certain guidelines are followed in selecting training methods, managers or trainers risk turning a good program into a waste of time.

People might like the program, but it might not change their ways of behaving (like selling, communicating, working with others) or increase their self-confidence.

A previous article, Six Powerful Steps to Dynamic Training, discussed how good sales training programs are built on the needs of the participants and the result needs of the organization. Needs give you the facts to write goals for a program. And the goals are achieved by using appropriate training methods. A method is simply a manner in which something is done. But for some reason, people think that selecting training methods has the same aura of a witch doctor choosing a magic potion.

So trainers often stick with methods they are comfortable with instead of using the needs and goals to dictate their selection of methods. Often these methods involve lecturing or DVDs or PowerPoint slides.

If you think about the best learning or training experience you’ve ever had, it’s probably one where you dug right in and got involved rather than one where you sat back and watched from the sidelines. Research indicates that learning is more likely to take place with the learner actively involved in activities.

Active involvement means first-hand experience by thinking, discussing, practicing/sharing, criticizing, solving problems, and making decisions. A good novel gets the reader involved in the action. A good training program gets the participant involved in the action, too.

When you determine methods for training programs, there are two broad categories. First is didactic, such as lectures in which the trainer tells or gives the information to the participants. This is most often done using PowerPoint slides or flip-charts. (Overheads are dead, today.) Second is experiential, such as a small-group setting where the participants discover or learn new information and skills through activities. The best training sessions use a blend of both with a heavy emphasis on experiential. To determine which approach to use, ask these three questions:

  1. How will the learning be used?
  2. Will everyone use the learning the same way or will it vary?
  3. How often will the learning be used?

To answer question one, refer to the goals of the training program. If you simply want someone to know about the marketing plan, then use a lecture. But if you want someone to perform in a new way, such as making a proposal or handling objections better, then use a role-play or structured activity.The possession of knowledge is no guarantee that it will be used. The higher the need for application, the more experiential the method-more involvement- and the greater the tendency for learning.

For the second question, if you want people to use the learning in many different situations, then use more experiential methods in training. For example, to teach someone to follow a written procedure requires less an experiential approach than to teach someone to close a sale or handle a customer complaint or deal with a performance problem. Following a procedure is fairly basic. The examples with people interaction require much flexibility and creativity.

In the last question, if you want participants to remember information for an extended period, use an experiential training method. All the videos or DVDs in the world on proper communication techniques for example, are no substitute for the experience or practice of managing others. Just as the proper evacuation of a building is better learned through “live” fire drills than through frequent lectures on evacuation procedures.

Then, remember to coach, give feedback and review to reinforce learned and practiced skills. These are methods that need to be built-in to almost any training session as follow-up to achieve a bottom line impact. As a manager or trainer, providing proper and appropriate training with follow-up coaching in your programs will add to your success, your employees and that of your organization.

Use the following information as a guide in selecting training methods:

Gaining Knowledge or competence-low involvement methods:

  • Reading
  • Presentations/lectures
  • DVDs/videos

Improving Understanding or commitment-medium involvement methods:

  • Case study
  • Discussion
  • Assessment/instruments

Gaining skills and confidence-higher involvement methods:

  • Role-playing
  • Structured activity
  • Group exercise

As the old adage goes, haste makes waste. And in selecting appropriate training methods, haste can be a hazardous waste–of your time and others’ abilities and success. Intelligent needs assessment, excellent delivery and appropriate methods will help you provide dynamic training.