4 Steps to Successful Training (or Retraining)

If you’re looking for a job, training (or retraining) is a prescription for success. But how do people acquire new skills—for their current job or for a different career path? Here are some ideas.

Good training is hard to come by. Back in the day, when I switched from food service to a higher-paying profession, my union benefits included “training” of sorts. But it consisted of a dozen technical manuals—based on procedures that were already outdated. I attended no classes. My real training was from friendly coworkers and a patient boss.


Today’s workers fare no better. According to a research report by Degreed, How the Workforce Learns in 2016, the average worker spends up to five times more time each week learning on their own than from their employer. Much of the former happens via weekly peer interactions. A lot also happens online, using everything from web searches to videos to online courses (either free or paid for by the employee).

This doesn’t mean that employer-sponsored training is a bad thing. But it does indicate that HR-directed programs are lagging behind, or not taking full advantage of the technology that their workers commonly use. With that in mind, here are five general guidelines—not just for employees to learn better on their own, but for corporate and government training programs to improve their effectiveness, especially with new or displaced workers.


1. Mobilize

The Degreed study found that over three quarters of workers surveyed said they do at least some of their learning on a smartphone or tablet. This will increase. Unfortunately, many courseware systems rely on desktop technology—especially the area of video. Adobe Flash is the most commonly-cited example, but the problem goes deeper. Older versions of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer are also problematic. In fact, one of the chief complaints for workers of all kinds is the fact that their own personal technology is more advanced than what their employers require in the workplace.

For training, this means potential for frustration. Employees who are used to high-end technology on their phones have a high expectation when it comes to training content delivery. When an LMS seems to fall short (in their opinion), it’s harder to get them excited about training.

The answer is for training applications to look and feel more like consumer apps for smartphones and tablets. This can be a tall order, but the reality is that “consumer IT” is not just a passing fad. Training of all kinds must be reinvented for the mobile experience.


2. Keep Irregular Hours

The same study asked when workers typically experienced learning, whether on their own or with their companies’ help. About 66% said that learning occurred during personal time, with 39% saying that learning occurred during both work and personal time. (18% said that learning occurred during commute time.)

Some of this is the result of mobile technology. People can watch a video almost everywhere, at any time. The problem is that focused, interactive training requires the same ubiquity as YouTube or Google, but typical corporate or government-sponsored training often does not have that kind of reach. (YouTube and Google are not the ideal solutions, by the way. Often, training has to be secure and well-managed—something YouTube is not famous for.)

Whether it is self-led, L&D-led, or part of an academic or government-sponsored initiative, training increasingly occurs outside normal business hours. To be successful, training technology has to work 24/7. That means that it must be on-demand in nature (asynchronous) and inherently interactive.

3. Interact

The study also cited several major obstacles common to workplace training. These include lack of time, insufficient guidance or direction, lack of recognition or rewards, difficulty in finding materials, and (significantly) lack of one-on-one engagement. This is perhaps the consequence of companies’ increasingly fast pace, and the decline of opportunities to interact in person.

We can’t turn back time, but we can develop new ways to interact—even when separated by schedules and time zones. There’s no substitute for real human interaction, but there are ways to make online interaction more personal and relevant. Before the digital revolution, real training involved give-and-take between instructors and students. There’s no reason why online training should be a passive, one-way experience.

This isn’t easy. Before I joined Viddler, online video seemed like a frustrating experience for training. YouTube-based instruction was like those boring instructional films the teachers would play when they wanted to take a nap. I know better now. With the right technology—like in-video questions and comments—the medium is perfect for training, inside the office or around the world.

4. Participate

Probably the most important facet of successful training is the level of participation by the trainees. With live training, and a good instructor, this is a given. With online efforts, it is far more difficult.

As I’ve said many times, inviting trainees to practice what they learn is the single most important aspect of any training program. Doing so online is the ultimate challenge. The fact that so many employees are pursuing self-led instruction means it’s time for formal training by companies and government agencies to take a closer look at practice reinforcement, via recorded video.

The good news is that participation is human nature. The same technology that seems to be pulling us in many directions has the potential (in my opinion) to bring us together in a team context. With the right mix of challenges, responses, and team evaluation, organized training can again be a powerful force for those who want to do well at their jobs—or find new ones.


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