Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rethink Refresher Training

By Shelley A. Gable

How often do you receive requests for refresher training? And how do you handle those requests?

When I first started working in training, I'd usually ask the client exactly what skills and knowledge needed to be refreshed. Then I'd dig for existing training materials that could meet the stated need.

I've wised up since then.

First of all, I've learned to identify an actual performance gap. Instead of simply asking what skills to refresh, I now know to determine the client's broader goals and where the current state is relative to that.

Secondly, I've learned to look for causes of the performance gap. While there are a lot of great researchers and authors who have shed some light on cause analysis, it was the Analyzing Performance Problems book that first cautioned me against assuming that poor performance must be a cry for training (thank you Mager and Pipe).

One of the most poignant points from the book:
If their lives depended on it, would they still not be able to perform?

Here's a recent case in point...

I worked with a client last year on training to support a new software application. Months after the initial training, the client requested refresher training. He explained that work errors were unacceptably high, and he observed employees working procedures incorrectly.

This time, instead of simply asking what skills to refresh, I marched down the path of gap and cause analysis. It turned out that when asked directly, employees were generally able to demonstrate procedures correctly. But since oodles of bugs made the software unreliable, employees were using their own (often not quite right) workarounds.

So what do you do?

In my example, we worked with the client to identify bugs, take steps to fix those bugs, and communicate temporary workarounds.

But let's look at this from another angle too.
  • What if the problem was caused by performers forgetting how to conduct a task they don't do very often?
  • What if performers know how to conduct core tasks, but struggle to remember what to do when things go wrong?
While these are skill and knowledge gaps, refresher training still might not have a lasting impact. After all, if performers rarely conduct a certain task, who's to say they'll remember anything from the refresher training when the time comes to work that task again?

This is where job aids and other forms of performance support come in handy. A previous post on this blog (Pointing to the Five Moments of Learning Need) discusses this in more detail.

The moral of this story?

Avoid being a training order-taker, especially when it comes to requests for refresher training. Ever since I wised up, I've found very few problems that refresher training could resolve. Ask questions. Identify causes.

Do you have similar stories to share?

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