Invest in learning, not training

When we see a problem in the workplace, it’s common to land on training as a solution. We hope to eliminate waste, become effective managers, or learn to resolve conflicts with difficult coworkers. We look at our budget, hire a trainer, and have a great class.

As a trainer, I love that solution. It funds work I enjoy doing. In fact, according to Forbes 2014 Corporate Learning FactBook, corporate spending on training in the U.S. grew by 15% the previous year to over $70 billion. We like training as a solution because it is a concrete step in the right direction. We can check off the activity and move on.

But I sometimes wonder if we’re getting our money’s worth.  Even when the content is outstanding and the facilitator engaging, does the learning really make a difference back at work? 

Over the years, I’ve met people who, three months after a class, can’t recall the core concepts or skills we discussed. They had a good experience in the classroom, but back at work they experience the same frustrations and poor results, which is why I’m called back to mediate.

I also meet people who seem to get more out of the classroom experience. They don’t put the book on a shelf and move on. Their learning doesn’t stop with the end of class.

These people intentionally find ways to stay engaged with the content and practice the skills. Here are some strategies they’ve shared with me. You don’t have to do them all. But the more you do, the better your results will be:

  • Practice. Yes, as simple as that sounds, they actually make time to practice new skills and approaches learned in class.
  • Expect to fail. Be generous with yourself. If you are trying to learn something that is new to you, expect it to feel awkward at first. You will probably fail many times before you do it well. Remember how many times you fell before you learned to walk? Probably not. We tend to forgot the trauma of learning new skills like walking. Watch a toddler take those early steps and you will reconnect with the persistence and joy of success that comes with determined effort.
  • Find a learning buddy. This is a person who you feel comfortable making mistakes with. You can practice with him or her, and get feedback about how to do it better next time.
  • Teach what you learned. Make a personal commitment to teach something you learned in class to your work group. The preparation you’ll do to get ready will deepen your understanding of the material.
  • Be the first to act differently. Overcoming peer pressure can be difficult. You might feel awkward using new skills especially if others resist doing things differently. But your actions can set the stage for others to behave in new ways.
  • Make time during meetings to talk about what you learn. If you attended a class as a team, you have a wonderful advantage of having many co-learners to tap into. Set aside 5 minutes at the end of each team meeting to talk about how you’ve applied what you learned on the job.
  • Focus on one skill at a time. It’s tempting to want to immediately put into action all the skills and tools you learned in a day of training. The typical result is to feel overwhelmed, lose focus, and then stop trying. Instead, focus on just one skill for a week. Really hone it. Get comfortable with it. Then the next week, work on just one more skill. And the next, one more skill. Within a month you will have mastered four new skills. By the end of six months, you’ll be operating at a whole new level of results.
  • Create a learning contract with yourself, and with others, to use one or more of these strategies to keep your learning growing.

The next time you need to learn your way out of a workplace problem, capitalize on your investment by designing ways to keep the learning alive long after the class is over.


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