Organizations spend billions of dollars on training each year. Unfortunately most of it is wasted. Most training programs focus on didactics, following the tradition of school, where a trainer lectures and delivers a message for the attendees, who are expected to soak up what was said and magically apply it to their work. That’s not how learning works. Learning requires more than listening and taking notes. Learning requires active participation and feedback. While the research is clear, too many trainings continue to throw research out the window and expect their employees to learn through the process of information osmosis.
There are effective ways to train employees. And, when training is effective AND organizations create environments that encourage the application of training material, it can be expected that time is no longer wasted. In this article, we will focus on how to ensure training is effective. We discussed how to create environments that support new learning in our article entitled “Creating Environments that Support Training”.
One of the most effective ways to train staff is called Behavior Skills Training (BST; Ward-Horner & Sturmey, 2012). This training procedure consists of four steps.
Step 1: Review
The first step of BST mimics most typical training programs. It focuses on didactics. While this step may be the least important step in the training process, there are a few things that will make this step more useful. In addition to providing the specific instructions on how to complete the task being trained, employees should be provided with the specific context in which the task should be performed. Ensure you answer these questions:
When should this task be completed?
Why should one complete this task?
How does this task help employees reach the mission of their jobs?
Finally, ensure that participants are provided a written copy of the instructions on how to complete the task and are not expected to perform it from memory.
Step 2: Model
Providing employees with a model of task performance or task completion is essential. When possible, training should include a demonstration of the task being completed for participants to observe. When it is not feasible to provide an actual demonstration, employees should be provided with an example of the completed task. For example, if I am training on how to write a proposal, I may not demonstrate writing the proposal. Employees will likely not need to see me typing at my computer. However, providing them with an example of a completed proposal will show them exactly what is expected. Reviewing the completed proposal will also allow the trainer to highlight important variables including font sizes, formatting, content to be included in each section, and so on.
Step 3: Practice
Once employees have been provided with a model, they should be allowed time to practice. When the task can be demonstrated, role plays are an excellent way to practice the skills. Role plays should be conducted with any skill that requires a specific performance. Examples of these skills include teaching, customer service, sales, completing a tune up on a car, cutting glass, and painting a picture. Skills that don’t require steps to be performed in an exact way, but that result in a specific outcome can be practiced by allowing the trainees to complete parts of the task during training.
Step 4: Feedback
The final step of the BST model is feedback. Grant Wiggins, the former president of Authentic Education, once said “Learners need endless feedback more than they need endless teaching.” He was exactly right. The most effective step in training is actually feedback. Feedback provides information to the employee about their performance rather than leaving the employee to practice their new skills, not knowing if they are performing them correctly or not. When feedback is used correctly, it decreases the learning curve and ensures employees are performing the skills exactly as they were taught. Participants should be given feedback on their performance during role plays or their completed activities if working on skills that result in a permanent product. This should continue until the employee has performed the skill correctly.
While not part of the BST process, the fifth step to ensure effective employee training is a necessary and often overlooked step. Without this final step, employees may learn the skill, but either forget it before they perform it again or perform it at a rate much slower than expected. This final step will ensure the skill continues to be performed over time as quickly and accurately as you need it to be.
Step 5: Fluency
Fluency training has been demonstrated to increase behaviors of employees quickly and efficiently. In fact, one study found that new sales trainees who were trained using fluency-based training procedures were considered by their management to be more knowledgeable than senior sales representatives with up to 6 years of experience (Bloom, 1989). Imagine being able to ensure new sales representatives performed with or better than those who have been on the team for 6 years! This final step of training focuses on ensuring the employee can perform the task at the rate it needs to be performed, fluidly, without breaks or hesitations. Consider someone who enters information into a database. Training this individual using only didactics, as is done traditionally, will likely result in errors, task avoidance, or very slow task completion, as the employee will likely have to look up the steps and specifications of the task. Training this individual using BST will ensure the employee can complete the task accurately; however, the employee may still complete the task slowly. Fluency training ensures the employee practices the task, focusing on decreasing the errors and time it takes to complete it.
Let’s look at an example to illustrate how each of these steps would be taught. You are a new professor at a university and are learning how to create a course curriculum. Your task is to create a syllabus, complete with learning objectives, assignments, readings, and a weekly schedule.
Step 1, Review.
You are instructed that you will be learning to develop a course curriculum and create a syllabus to reflect and outline your curriculum. Each section of the course syllabus is discussed, along with the expected outcomes for each. You are provided with instructions that detail what should go into each section.
Step 2, Model.
You are provided with three examples. Each example is for a different subject matter to illustrate the different ways the syllabus template can be used. The models are reviewed and the instructor points out key areas that were reviewed in step 1 to ensure you are provided with clear examples.
Step 3, Rehearsal.
The instructor provides you instructions and asks you to complete the first section of the syllabus, the course objectives. You are then provided 15 minutes to complete at least 3 objectives for the course.
Step 4, Feedback.
Once the 15 minutes pass, you are asked to discuss your objectives with the trainer and other participants. The trainer provides feedback on the objectives, ensuring they align with the specifications outlined earlier. After feedback is provided, you are instructed to fix your mistakes and develop one additional objective. Feedback is provided on your corrections as well as the additional objective developed.
Step 5, Fluency.
The instructor now states that it should take approximately 30 minutes to develop the course objectives of any course. She asks you to choose a different course you will be teaching and to develop 10 objectives for the course. She sets a timer for 30 minutes and checks in with you after the time has passed. You only developed 5 objectives. She provides you feedback along with strategies to decrease your time and asks you to try again.
Once all of these steps are completed, the instructor moves on to the second area of the syllabus and repeats steps 3-5.
Training is one of the most important things organizations provide their employees. Training is part of almost all onboarding processes, incorporated into professional development, and often the modality used any time changes occur within the organization. Ineffective training results in poor performance and wasted time and money. Next time you are planning a training for your employees, incorporate these steps to ensure the skills and topics are actually learned and will be incorporated into your employee’s daily work.