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I Can’t Make You Learn a Thing! Let the Machines Do It!

Really! What you learn is really up to you. But it is up to us to give you the best means to do that. There are methods and modalities. By methods, I mean approaches to training; by modalities, I mean training tools by which we deliver the training.

Can we use multiple modalities for training materials? Of course, we can. We can suit individual tastes, preferences really, and select the appropriate method or modality to fit the subject, importance and depth of the training; however, several questions need to be addressed first.

From the employer: what is most cost effective? It is usually not cost effective to use more than one modality at a time, although I could be wrong, and I think to mix in several types of training may prove unwieldy by training managers unless it is done in large enough groups at separate times to make it feasible.

I like the idea of the flexibility and the fact that we can take into account the employee’s preference, but sometimes it is just not practical. This may be one time where the welfare of the many outweighs the few. Yet, there are times when the training result itself is considered less important than just administering the training. Time management and prioritizing decisions must be made, it makes perfect sense to use these modalities on the more “no-brainer” kind of training–soft skill training that is really intended to be constant reminders of behavior and proper decorum in the workplace rather than a productivity issue.

The following questions were asked by a Gov Loop colleague:

“Which modalities should be offered for employee training based on our road to utilizing more technology?”

That is to assume we are on a road to using more technology in training and that is what we desire. When you read on I think you’ll see that I think there are some inherent problems in overusing technology to communicate ideas and train individuals and groups without an immediate interface for feedback. Admittedly, there are some very good programs out there, but, if I had to choose, it would be one that is as interactive as possible. There is not really a way to see when the “subject” employee has disengaged mentally though.

“Secondly, should different modalities be offered to different groups of employees?”

Yes and no.

Not to stereotype generations, but perhaps more traditional training methods to be utilized on older, more traditional employees – and modern-day modalities (e-learning, digital training modules) for the tech-savvy employees. What are your thoughts?

There is an assumption that modern “modalities” or media environments are more effective for the tech-savvy employees. First and foremost, these tech-savvy employees are still employees who have the same needs as other employees, and that doesn’t rule out that face-to-face communication where direct interaction is important doesn’t work for them. Second, I think with all the emphasis on technology and the “newer” generations we may have a bigger problem. What we may gain in their technical savvy we lose in people skills–the ability to listen and respond in kind to others. This is not just a social concern.

Schools are already seeing students who can’t communicate with others face-to-face. I’ve had students so shy they couldn’t look at me because most of their lives they were able to hide behind technology. The most prevalent mode of communication for young people today is texting, not talking.

Teaching writing today is about unlearning bad habits and trying to incorporate the positive ones students need in life to get along and work with his fellow man or woman.

Teaching speech is getting students to think on their feet and interact with people. That job is getting more difficult. Is it the result of the abundant use of technology.

Social technology? Who would have thought? What about intimate social relationships based on the ability to communicate with one another. Through texting?

There was a time when being an antisocial “nerd” was laughable; now it is something to be proud of. Is this a trend we want to see comtnue? Not that I have anything against the techno-savvy stereotype. Granted the world is changing and we must change with it, but as people become more disconnected from each other problems develop. Think bigger. World wars happened when one country has been totally focused within.

This may be more than my Gov Loop colleague wanted to be sure, but it is an area of training that concerns me.

What also concerns me is the plethora of methods and modalities available to be sold not by trainers or training experts, but by entrepreneurs marketing what sounds good–not necessary what works in all situations or with all groups of people. Sometimes an employer can’t tell the difference. A good, experienced trainer can.

With the grim economy improving ever so slightly, we see businesses move in to encourage those dollars to change hands. The marketing of training tools has increased more as desperate employers are trying to be more efficient with their training dollars and still make their companies more productive. Training people well does make that possible in many cases, but it’s those cases where the training dollars aren’t spent on “professional training” that concerns me–those times when the training tools are touted by salespeople, not training professionals to do the same thing. If the person engaged in buying these services is not a training professional, it makes sense to ensure the products do what you want them to do–even if you have to hire a professional trainer or consultant to determine that. And, it’s probably cost effective as well.

For what it’s worth, it makes the job all the more difficult for legitimate vendors as well as trainers. Well, ’nuff said on that topic for now.

All that’s left now is for someone to invent a hand-held gadget that has everything we can put on a computer and we won’t have to know anything except how to look up information. Oh, wait, we have that. It’s a Smart Phone. Won’t be long before the devices no longer have a phone function so we don’t have to talk to anyone. Wait! That would be a tablet–albeit a small one. Then we make them bigger, but thinner. Less cumbersome. Easier to tote or put in a bag and keep it with us always.

Now, I’m making fun, but we do need to be careful in how much we depend on technology to teach humans how to perform better. Faster and cheaper isn’t always better, is it? What about flexibility and creativity? And, there is the final caveat: I can’t teach you anything if you don’t want to learn it.

There is more than one good thing about using various modalities. Some people are willing to use them because they are convenient; however, that doesn’t necessarily make them more effective. And, sometimes these modalities are more effective. At least cost effective. They also may be the most appropriate in certain training environments.

I have no doubt I will stir some comments with this article, but that’s what you get from the cave man trainer. My philosophy lies in simple, basic, audience-approved training. Check out more of my radical ideas on my web page. I actually write and and rant about other topics besides training like public speaking, speech consulting, theatre arts and communication in general. My book, The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development is available through most major vendors of eBooks, including direct from Smashwords. My novel, In Makr’s Shadow should be out early this year. In it I look at what happens when people stop talking face-to-face, content to let the machines do all the work. Their fantasies and realities are one and the same until it all goes wrong.

Don’t let your day go “wrong.” Happy Training.

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Stacy L. Carpenter

As one that trains natural resources managers/environmental professionals, I have been facing this very thing. Textbooks and load them onto Kindles or use traditional textbooks? The Y generation is more open to Kindle and like the storage/pdf upload capacities, but don’t like the inability to reference multiple sources at once. Plus it is often requested that everything studied on the Kindle be provided in paper form ahead of time for notes. X and up are more likely to want traditional textbooks, but hate the bulkiness and shelf space. Using both creates a potential logistics issue and cost difference. I’d be interested to hear how other trainers/workforce developers have handled this.

Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci

I really appreciate the final sentiment in this post … “I can’t teach you anything if you don’t want to learn it”. I have worked in several organizations where this was the biggest obstacle. Perhaps explaining the “why” before the “how” might get some of the more stubborn employees on board before a major change.

Jack Shaw

I generally focus more on the people aspects of training, but technology and the next generations of learners has been a focus of training of late. Some needs and behaviors in the workplace are the same. Despite the technology, we still want to know why and how it will benefit us. I think it is naive of a company or an organization to think that the only motivation we have as employees is to check the box and keep our jobs. You’ll appreciate this blog/rant that was basically my reaction to a Needs Assessment. http://managementhelp.org/blogs/training-and-development/2011/03/17/the-training-needs-assessment-disconnect/

Mark Hammer

Folks who work in the area of pedagogy often talk about “the teachable moment”: that point where the learner is able to connect things in a deep way, so as to facilitate solid, rather than superficial, comprehension.

And it’s a VERY hard task to find that moment for any given learner in large and.or diverse groups, whether they are school classrooms, university lecture halls, or organizations. So there is an understandable urge to use technology to wait for, and pounce on, those moments when they happen, like some sort of Stargate opening.

At the same time, teachable moments require the teacher (“comprehension facilitator”) to provide a supportive context. Great teachers are able to “read the learner’s mind” and draw the connections for the learner between the new content and the existng knowledge base the learner is applying at that moment. Technology is not always as plastic or dynamically adaptive as to be able to do that. Not that it can’t be, but it’s a tall order to fill.

I think, as well, that when we talk about the reality of someone not learning unless they want to, what we are really talking about is not stubbornness or some other motivational concept. Rather, the learner has to have somewhere to connect the new knowledge. Otherwise they are trying to hang up their coat in a completely empty room with no hooks on the walls. A “willing” learner brings a context forward, and has activated something in their knowledge base that is relatively linkable to the new information, permitting the new informaton to be connected to what is already known, rendering it findable and usable in the future. That’s a big part of what we mean by being “ready to learn”: providing something to connect to. Motivation not only prompts the learner to activate potentially relevant and well-organized knowledge, but also prompts them to more exhaustively search for linkages between the pre-existing and the new. Not really much different, really, than how an infant handed a novel object gums the darn thing every which way from Sunday.

At a basic level, nobody really learns differently from anybody else, or indeed, from very many other species. Where they will differ is in what sorts of circumstances prompt them to activate, sustain, and explore relevant knowedge in a way that supports them in connecting new information with what they already comprehend. Sometimes its pictures. Sometimes it’s watching a group. Sometimes it’s exploring with, and participating in a group. Sometimes it’s private time with a device.

Jack Shaw

Great comment, Mark. I agree a hundred percent. Of course, I was being much more simplistic in my explanation, but you lay it out nicely. I think the essence of my article is that you can provide someone training, but if they really don’t care, the format of the training doesn’t matter. At least with some face-to-face, a trainer has the opportunity to instill caring or wanting to learn something. Again, managers don’t always view all training as relevant to their priorities and give some training short shrift–hence the development of short cuts for some these “modalities.” If we are thinking as broadly as the market, all training modalities or channels have their places. From a trainer’s view, I want to make sure the training is effective. My aim is probably not the same as the manager’s, but what we do with that information is a judgment call. Is just exposure or repetition of some information enough, and do we need to find teachable moments for every time someone calls a transfer of information to a large group of employees, training?