I am spending the day in a training program for the San Diego MLS, Sandicor. The intent of the program is to teach people how to use the MLS system. The training is nothing more than a handshake: nobody’s ever going to remember what we saw and heard, however most will now be comfortable with going on line and clicking around. In other words: it’s a typical training class. It’s basically one guy standing up in front of a room full of people talking at us and pointing and clicking. The idea that people learn this way is baffling to me.
Here’s my point of view: any app, software or website that requires a training program for effective use is poorly designed. Period. In 2013, you should be able to find your way around almost any computer driven thing by intuition and experience with similar things. The idea that you’d put butts in chairs to learn . . . software! Absurd!
Here’s what happens when we insist on doing this archaic ritual of ‘training.’ The instructor is forced into gearing the class toward the least able attendees. In this case we have a few who barely know how to turn on their computers. So that’s the level of the class. Anyone a little more comfortable with technology is going to be playing Angry Birds on their smartphone.
Everything done in this class could have easily be done in half the time online. Better yet, with contextual help so that users get the training at the point they are using the system and need help? Less than half the time. Truth is, I think it all IS online and this classroom exercise is here just to justify a job or two.
I’ve been creating training for 30+ years. I’ve made bad stuff and I’ve made good stuff. What I know is this: the number one mistake companies make with training is to declare their best technician to be the trainer. They continually take the person who knows the most about what they want the learners to learn and put them in front of the class. The result is a person with no understanding of how people learn, of instructional strategies, of instructional design, talking about what they do all day. And to quote a performance improvement icon, Dr. Harold Stolovitch, ‘Telling Ain’t Training!’
The smart thing to do is to pair that Subject Matter Expert (SME) with a talented educational specialist who takes what the SME knows, strips most of it away, and packages what’s left in an easy to digest educational bite. The person who actually delivers the training might be the SME, but more likely will be the educational specialist, and may well be a whole ‘nother person all together. It takes one kind of person to know everything there is about what we need to learn (the SME). It takes another kind of person to pull the nuggets out of that knowledge and package them in an educationally digestible format (the Instructional Designer). And it takes another kind of person all together to facilitate the learning that was the original goal.
Most of what passes for ‘training’ today is useless. Nothing is learned or retained in our classrooms because we have decided that subject matter expertise trumps sound educational strategy. It’s bass-ackward. If the objective is LEARNING, the learning specialists have to rule. The SME’s are very important . . . but they are just the fodder.
My friend, Jeanne Strayer is an Instructional Designer and Performance Improvement Specialist. She is a little famous in the elite clique of her peers, having made important contributions to the evolution of the profession. It has been my pleasure, my blessing, to work with her on a variety of training-oriented projects over the past 30 years. Sometimes, I was the SME, but more often I acted as a liaison between the SMEs, the corporate client and the designers. I learned that letting a great technician lead a learning segment and tell EVERYTHING they know about the topic in which they have specialized the past several years . . . is death. I’ve learned that it takes a dispassionate outsider, who can take the SMEs information and pare it down to edible chunks, to make learning happen. I’ve learned that the best instructors step down off the stage and stand to the side. Instead of telling, telling, telling, they ask questions and create situations.
We have to get over this tendency to skip steps. We can’t continue to leap from noticing a problem to stuffing butts into chairs and asking the closest SME to give a talk. It doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked in the past, and it will never work. When we have a performance problem or a learning objective, we must work with the people who understand these things to craft a solution.
In the case of my MLS training today, I believe a good instructional designer would have axed the live training. S/he would have created a 2 minute video overview of the system and how to use online training and contextual help to learn it. I believe s/he would have created a dummy database and a series of mock examples for novices to work through. I believe s/he would have taken some of the resources saved by not having a class to beef up telephone and chat support.
Please, people, when you have a learning or performance challenge, call an expert. If you don’t know one, call me: I’ll steer you in the right direction. Your learners will thank you!