If you’ve been in the corporate learning field long enough, odds are you have witnessed a training program that failed despite its great premise. Even organizations with a sound system in place sometimes fail in their employee training programs. All this, despite thorough training needs analysis, a robust instructional design strategy, and beta-testing.
It's apparent when participant feedback focuses mainly on unrelated parts of the training and team leaders report no performance improvements. For example, scrap learning rates in organizations can go up to 80 percent or more. This is a staggering number and comes with a bill to match. To avoid this, make sure you are thorough with the training needs analysis, even if it means pushing back on managerial demand. It’s important to find the root cause of the issue and provide a solution. Whether it’s related to learning or the need for another approach.
Each training intervention is different, and so are organizational circumstances. However, when development programs fail and obstacles prevent adequate training, it’s essential to dig deeper and find the causes of failure. Moving forward and ensuring future programs meet their objectives is also predicated on a thorough analysis of past results and what led to them.
What are the most common reasons why employee training fails?
There are many factors you should consider when evaluating the causes of training failure. Some have to do with design and deployment, others are related to the human factor and external causes. Let’s see what they are:
An outdated LMS
Whether your company delivers most of its training online or opts for a hybrid approach, having an up-to-date and reliable LMS is paramount. Even the most skilled instructional designers can’t do much on an outdated platform that’s difficult to use. Today’s learners are highly discerning and don’t like obsolete or unengaging learning materials.
This is why it’s important to look under the hood when choosing the right LMS for your company. A crucial aspect is flexibility. With accelerated technological developments, you want to make sure you can grow and incorporate relevant items and technologies. Artificial intelligence, big data, AR, and VR are some examples. The way things look now, the intelligent platform appears to be the future of corporate training, so try to look for a platform that is constantly updated.
Read more: What’s in store for the future of training: the intelligent learning platform
Lack of facilitator skills
I've seen this often, especially for technical training. You have a subject matter expert (SME) who everyone turns to whenever there's a question. However, this person might not be the right one when it comes to delivering all the information.
While SME interventions are beneficial to learning, the results will be far from good when they don’t have experience with facilitation. SMEs are generally passionate about their field of expertise. They also tend to provide many more details than needed leading to cognitive overload. It's best to always pair up an SME with a professional trainer for optimal results.
Boring learning intervention
Even if the training subject is highly relevant to the organizational context, it doesn’t mean that participants will automatically be interested or engaged. When everyone's attention is drawn by crafty marketers, successful influencers, and skilled game designers, L&D needs to step up the engagement and interactivity game as well.
Including challenges in the training session, gamifying part of the content, and making sure there are varied presentation methods are a few ideas to avoid participant boredom. Whether the session is in person or online, it's essential to encourage learners to interact and share ideas and opinions.
Read more: Engaging the modern learner: 6 tips for instructional designers
Having an elephant in the room is counterproductive to learning. Whether the issue is that employees didn’t want to attend in the first place or that the organizational context is volatile, learners won't focus on the content if issues remain unaddressed.
This situation can be very tricky. Once you address the problem (which you absolutely must do if you want a chance at smooth training delivery), it could take a lot of time to solve it. Since ignoring the problem is not an option, use tact and empathy to temporarily defuse the situation so that there's room for learning.
Too much theoretical information
There’s a lot of talk about meetings that could have easily been emails. It’s the same with PowerPoint slides that could have very well been anything else: videos, practical demonstrations, stories, infographics, etc. It's important to remember that the point of a learning session is to have an impact. And that's only possible if trainees understand and remember crucial information.
It’s better to give ample opportunity for practice. Delivering slides upon slides of facts and figures is likely to lead to cognitive overload and the inability to tell what is crucial and what isn’t. With this in mind, make sure you chunk up the information into smaller units, include meaningful imagery, and use lists and infographics.
Read more: Online training practice in synchronous and asynchronous settings
Lack of clear rules
Things can get easily out of control unless everyone knows and has agreed to basic house rules. In an effort to be likable, trainers sometimes forgo this part, and it usually ends in chaos. In online training, you might want to specify from the start that cameras should stay on and microphones off except for times when participants wish to share something.
It's also a good idea to explain how communication will work. So, everyone will be able to participate and understand what everyone else is saying. Some other "training etiquette" rules are: keeping communication positive, staying on the subject, respecting diverse points of view, and thoroughly considering one’s words before speaking. In the case of e-learning courses, it is paramount to inform the participants about how they should interact and participate – using the chat for posting questions and sharing ideas, collaborating with peers on various tasks, etc.
No performance support system
What happens before and, most importantly, after the training has an enormous impact on its success. Attitudes and behaviors are difficult to change, even if employees are well-aware it's for the best. A performance support system aims to motivate people when they are struggling or facing a complicated challenge. L&D teams should capitalize on real-life problem-solving opportunities and learning experiences by creating tools that assist employees in overcoming issues. After completing a training module, learning specialists monitor behavior and performance and step in with targeted tools whenever necessary.
There's no follow-up
Even if training is highly engaging, learners are not likely to remember and use the information, let alone turn it into a habit if it all stops with the “Thank you!” slide. Learning is a process, not an event, and as such, learners need opportunities to put the new skills into practice. The best way to ensure this is to get team leaders and managers on board. Then, ask them to monitor and support employees after the intervention. There are also other ways to ensure an appropriate follow-up: sending quizzes via your learning management system sometime after the competition of the course, presenting graphs on performance improvement, asking attendees directly what skills they found most helpful, and more.
Read more: How to increase response rates in post-training surveys
The timing is off
Training can fail because it’s deployed at the wrong time. This is often the case in a classroom setting. When logistics are pricy (venue, travel expenses, etc.), companies look to maximize the number of learners. This means that employees will be taken out of their regular schedule, leading to a lack of motivation or even disgruntlement.
Employee training is doomed to fail when learners see it as a disruptive factor. The best time to train employees is precisely when they need it and are motivated to learn. For example, before a significant change, when there is a challenge when a new skill becomes relevant to the job. Learning on demand is ideal because it gives individuals the freedom to choose what and when they learn. Companies need to invest in modern LMSs with an extensive catalog of courses, robust analytics, and a recommendation system. Thus, they can guide learners towards suitable materials for achieving their goals.
Training was not the solution
This happens when L&D departments don't get to do a proper needs analysis and respond to a training request without having the whole picture. This can also happen when they know that the problem won’t be solved through training. However, they don’t have the agency to convince managers to invest in other solutions.
It's a rather delicate scenario, but it’s always important to explain and provide viable alternatives. Coaching or mentoring programs, access to an extensive learning library so that employees can choose what they feel they need, better organizational support, or an evaluation and re-calibration of procedures and processes are some solutions.
It’s more productive to take a step back and analyze the real reasons why a learning intervention didn’t have the desired outcomes. If the issue turns out to be a lack of resources or motivation, enrolling employees in another training is a further stressor and a waste of resources.
Read more: The need for a Training Needs Analysis
There are many reasons why employee training fails and finding the root cause can feel like playing detective. However, a good diagnosis ensures that future learning interventions will be better planned and executed. Being aware of these potential pitfalls allows L&D specialists to deliver training that meets their objectives.