How to get the best outcomes from your training programs without busting the budget or killing your time

In recent times, when training is being re-evaluated and re-designed to fit the hybrid working environment, it’s tempting to think that everything you’ve ever created needs to be converted into an expensive blended learning journey with full learning transfer and evaluation that takes a lot of time and effort to make. Fortunately, you don’t need to do that for all training. In this article we’ll silo-off what needs to be converted into a journey, what needs evaluation, what needs transfer, and what you can leave just as it is.

What are you trying to achieve?

This is the most important question that any learning intervention should answer, and yet it is the one most often overlooked. Not all training has to have the same outcome or the same impact, but all training does need to have a goal. Those goals typically range from making a company look appealing to a prospective new employee through to altering the strategic direction of an entire organisation.

In a recent article, evaluation expert Professor Robert Brinkerhoff succinctly categorised training into 6 categories of descending order of value to an organisation (1) that all training falls into:

  • Changing or enhancing strategy
  • Improving on-the-job performance
  • Providing a talent pipeline
  • Performing in an emergency
  • Complying with regulatory or statutory requirements
  • Providing staff benefits or perks

Even at first glance it’s obvious that providing training as a perk of the job probably requires nothing more than creating a curated learning course with little or no transfer or evaluation. In other words, some training is provided at a scaled level and available to everyone in the organisation so that people can feel empowered or loved by their company.

On the other hand, leaving something like a change of strategy to the output you’d typically get from a one day curated training event with no transfer ecosystem or evaluation, borders on wishful thinking at best and negligence at worst.

Step One – Create a training portfolio

The first thing is to take an inventory of your training offerings and put them into the value categories listed above. Deciding where to place each offering should be obvious for the most part. For example, first aid training goes into the emergency bucket and leadership training goes into the talent pipeline bucket.

One note of caution. It’s obvious that some training can appear to be easy to bucket whereas how we treat each training intervention within a bucket might require different tactics. For example, not properly filing a tax document and inadvertently taking a bribe from a customer are both covered by financial regulations, and so go into the regulatory and statutory requirements buckets. However, because each error has very different sanctions for breaking the rules, the training for each must be treated differently.

How can you treat each item in your training portfolio?

Although the nuances of how to treat each training program differ at the micro level, the way to treat each value category at the macro level is surprisingly simple. The easiest way to decide how much re-design effort to put in can be be answered by saying Yes or No to the following questions:

  • Can this category achieve its goals with no learning transfer or evaluation?
  • Does this category require some evaluation?
  • Does this category require some learning transfer?
  • For this category to achieve its goals is it essential to have learning transfer and evaluation?

To answer each question, think about putting each category of training into a 2 x 2 grid:

Of course, there should be some flexibility in how you treat each category. There may be some need for compliance training to have a high degree of evaluation, where as some on-the-job performance improvement training might be quite small and the behaviour changes easily observable without formal evaluation. In any case, using the above 2 x 2 as a rough guide to deciding how to treat your training offerings is a good start.

Step Two – Create a points scale of criticality to your portfolio offerings

Now that you know that each category has a different level of criticality you can decide how you can treat each one. The good news is that a lot of training falls into the low transfer/low evaluation quadrant, and so you won’t have to do anything to re-design or update them. For those trainings you can give a very low score of 1 or 2.

For training that requires only evaluation or testing you can give a score of 3. However, if you think such training offerings require some practical workplace application, you can give them a boost to 4 points.

Similarly, for pipeline initiatives there is unlikely to be any evaluation other than the evaluation of whether to advance someone through their career. However, there is usually a need for some low level transfer. So 4 points is appropriate here for most interventions, or 3 points for those that require low transfer.

This means that for the main part, most training will have little to no transfer and evaluation and a smaller amount might require some of either.

For on-the-job performance improvements and strategic changes, it’s likely that they will need beefing up with significant transfer and evaluation. So, depending on the criticality, you can award those types of training a score of 5 or 6.

Overall, placing your training offerings into the 2 x 2 grid and awarding each training course or program a score tells you how much effort you need to put into your re-designs. At PTT, we’d recommend no changes for training that gets a score of 1, low level changes for training that gets a score of 2 or 3, and medium enhancements to training that gets a score of 4. That will be the majority of your training, leaving you time and budget to focus efforts on training that gets a score of 5 or 6.

Finally

Simply categorising your training into the 6 groups and awarding each package a points rating depending on how much or how little transfer or evaluation is needed is just the beginning. But it’s a good start. The final step should be for you to look at how to treat individual training packages to best achieve the high point rating re-designs. At PTT, we advocate designing learning for application, which means to tailor learning journeys and the overall ecosystem according to the learning content. You can learn more about that process by downloading our Designing for application playbook. But whichever method you choose, we hope it’s a success and..

Good luck.

(1) Stop talking about training and start talking value, Robert O. Brinkerhoff & Alexander Brittain-Catlin, Chief learning officer magazine, August 26th, 2021.

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