The disillusionment of training

The Freedictionary provides the following description of disillusionment;

“having lost one’s ideals, illusions, or false ideas about someone or something; disenchanted”

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about the role of training in an organisation and my own journey in to the learning profession. I don’t profess to be an expert, not even close, I didn’t go to university to study psychology or anything related to training & development, HR, business studies or consultancy. My route in to the training department was one of opportunity and chance but they say things happen for a reason don’t they?

I was lucky enough to take my Certificate in Training Practice (CiTP), as I reflect on the last 6 years and the different roles that I’ve had, I think back to my CiTP study and the main things that I remember were:

  • The training cycle
  • SMART objectives
  • Different learner types
  • Learning Styles (Honey & Mumford)
  • Delivery techniques
  • Donald Kirkpatrick evaluation model

It was a mixture of theory and practical assessment with a final dissertation and exercise with observation. If I remember correctly the final exercise was a nerve-racking experience!

As I look back now it was a great introduction and foundation to understand the principles of training and learning pedagogy.  What I also now realise is that my path in to training was exactly that, a path in to training. Training as in instructor led, timed events that were away from the work and set in a classroom environment. Parent child situations based on the trainer having the knowledge and to a degree (although we put in exercises for the Activists) very top down.

In the time that I was in a training delivery role the reaction to learning sheets were the most important thing, the paper based assessments validated that the people who attended my sessions could demonstrate they understood the subject matter. These two stages of the Kirkpatrick model were THE most important things for me – confirmation that I had done a good job.

Some would argue that actually these two stages of the Kirkpatrick model are pointless and the only thing that we as learning professionals should focus on is performance and capability. More specifically how we can improve peoples’ performance through developing new skills, knowledge or changing behaviours.  I would tend to agree with this view as business leaders don’t care about the first two stages, they want to know what’s changed post training, what are their people doing better, where have they improved and how does this benefit the organisation.

Does your organisation care if people enjoyed the training they attended or passed a multiple choice assessment at the end of the session?  I know I’m generalising a little here and there are lots of great training events that do add value, but….if you were to take the 70/20/10 framework and the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve then only 10% of what people learn will be in a formal ‘training’ setting and most of the content will be forgotten after a few hours anyway.

So where does this leave Learning & Development functions that continue to focus on designing and delivering the standalone course, organisations that continue to focus on training to deliver the course and individuals who still associate learning with formal training?

I would argue that it leaves them where they’ve always been because you don’t know what you don’t know, going round and round in circles doing the traditional same old same old. As a Learning Professional I do feel a certain amount of disillusionment about where this place is. Looking to the future I see opportunities to turn this disillusionment in to enlightenment by challenging the status quo in my organisation around training events, the perception of learning, developing capability and improving performance through more effective ways of knowledge sharing in the workplace.

My time in the learning profession has been and continues to be one of discovery and it has been an interesting journey. As learning is a continual process this journey will never end and for that I’m grateful. It’s now time to develop a culture of continual learning in the workplace, how much of this will be made up by traditional approaches to training remains to be seen.

Is there anything that makes you feel disillusioned about training?

Do you agree that training needs to change to add more value in the organisation? If so how?

What if anything are you doing to move away from the classroom?


  1. Great post Mike. Thanks for sharing your ‘journey’ with us. I’d like to wager your path into learning is not that uncommon – mine was similar although quite a long time ago how. I “fell into” training in the mid 80s and have been exploring it as a career ever since.

    To answer your question. Yes – it has to change. L&D as we know it is losing ground to a more demanding workplace that will find the answers to its performance needs itself with new technologies, solutions and innovations if L&D doesn’t. It’s really up to the L&D function as to whether it wants to play a role in this or gradually fade away into a function with less meaning, less importance and less funding.

    I took a left turn out of L&D a few years back to take a lead Knowledge Management role in the business. But I haven’t abandoned “learning” at all. I’m championing a knowledge strategy that will provide just in time, contextual access to process, policy and product information for our 10,000 frontline customer facing staff. It’s pure informal learning and more importantly an enabler to workplace performance. People accessing the right information at the right time – every time. The second half of the strategy will focus on knowledge sharing through collaboration and connection.

    The point of this is I’ve had to leave L&D to make this happen. Why? Because it was the business who understood the problem it had with information – employees making mistakes driving down customer satisfaction, exposing the organisation to compliance breaches, missing opportunities to upsell or cross sell products. We’re not only improving information to serve customers – we’re building sales support into the processes to ensure our customers are presented with the best opportunities for their needs.

    The business is driving the need for improved performance and sadly Learning are nowhere to be seen in any of this. It is still designing and delivering classroom training and elearning modules ad nauseum – that’s the modus operandi for too many L&D functions unfortunately. And it’s not entirely their fault as the business now expects these solutions whether they have an impact on performance or not. It’s more about “activity and deliverables” than performance and learning – what Charles Jennings calls the “conspiracy of convenience”.

    I recently attended a two day Coaching for Leaders workshop. The content was great, the facilitator first class and the mix of theory and practice spot on. Problem was there was no embedding back in the workplace. So the obligatory folder is now sitting gathering dust on my desk and I’ve probably forgotten most of the learnings from the course. It’s a little ironic as the facilitator actually advocated 70-20-10 learning and the value of learning on the job!

    I would love to see a re-invention of L&D. Not a complete route – more of a re-evaluation of what it needs to be doing in organisations followed by a look at the skills it has and the skills it needs to fulfil a more strategically valuable role. I believe to begin with it must shift its focus to performance – perhaps drop ‘learning’ from its title for a start? Learning alone is not enough because history has shown us learning alone does not necessarily lead to improved or even required performance. How many organisations are truly compliant even with all the compliance training going on?

    A ‘performance-centred’ function within an organisation could be one of great value in any industry. Who wouldn’t want people specialised in understanding how work, learning, knowledge, systems, processes and people all come together in an optimal way with greater performance as the goal?

    Yes there is disillusion Mike and I think it’s healthy. Change rarely happens with contentment.

  2. Hi Peter,

    Thanks very much for commenting with such an interesting and insightful reply. There is so much to consider here, I have to admit I’ve read and re-read your comment a number of times today 🙂

    I agree with all your points concluding that L&D have to change or it will become obsolete. I can see this happening in a number of ways as departments and teams manage there development needs themselves and avoid what sometimes can be seen as long development times, excessive governance and red tape just to create a learning solution. As technology allows the flow of information to occur far more effectively within an organisation and remove the middle man why involve an area that isn’t close to or carries out the work themselves. If we can’t add value and improve performance quickly and in other ways than ‘ the course’ then training teams may be consigned to induction training alone or specialists are hired to deliver bespoke programmes. Even if inductions are the bread and butter I can see this being more of a support role where an SME deals with more technical knowledge transfer.

    I don’t mean this to devalue the role of the training dept but their focus and where resources (time & people) are aligned is all wrong in my opinion and I agree with your point that organisations themselves can drive this behaviour. This perception of training in the org and expectations placed on training by managers is false economy and whilst it’s visible and ticks a box it doesn’t really do anything in isolation and this links strongly to my last post It’s this culture around training we need to break. We talk about 70.20.10 and know that learning happens informally and on the job but as you provide evidence for sometimes it is just talk and the most important element that of practical application, feedback and practical application is more often missed because we’re off on to deliver the next course.

    So where does this leave us? Time to re-invent? Absolutely, I’m really keen to understand more about the strategies around knowledge management and rather than focus on reactive action to be more proactive and meet the needs of the organisation in different ways either through more transparent collaboration and removing silo’s and improving the flow and sharing of information in the workplace. Perhaps to break the shackles that we seem to find ourselves in we DO need to do something radical and remove learning from our job titles as well as re-align ourselves with what matters most in the organisation.

    I love your last line and after this conversation I’m glad I feel disillusioned about training as you’re bang on the money….change rarely happens with contentment! To be able to continually improve what we do is one of the most enjoyable things around being involved in learning. Bring on tomorrow !

  3. Mike, thanks for starting an interesting (and potentially deep) line of thought. I am one of the “specialists hired to deliver bespoke programmes” that you referred to 😉 One of the key areas I see is the lack of internal focus within companies to keep their people progressing after a training event (or series of events).

    This isn’t so much to do with the trainer (or training dept), or the structure of program or material – although obviously those factors are extremely important. It’s really to do with management of the team, by the team leader.

    Does the team leader really pursue (and expect) progress and provide the regular coaching/support/carrot-or-stick that is needed to maximise adoption of the new behaviours emanating from the training?

    Many do not. They have other priorities. To me this raises issues of corporate culture and/or management ability.

    Maybe L&D (or whatever name is used) should focus on transfering responsibility to the team leader for results. Is that too revolutionary?

  4. Thanks for your thoughts Stuart.

    I agree that team leaders are massively important in embedding change, coaching, supporting development and role modelling. Far too often I have heard of (and delivered) training courses where the team leader ‘couldn’t’ attend due to other commitments. How is it possible for that team leader to then coach their team members or provide constructive feedback to help them put new knowledge in to practice, it isn’t !

    Not only the does this impact post event but what message does it send out to the team when their team leader can’t attend a training session with them – it can’t be THAT important then can it? It doesn’t all rest at the feet of the team leader as you’re right the culture of the organisation will dictate if this sort of behaviour is permitted.

    I can imagine this would be one of the most frustrating things as a provider of bespoke solutions as you must be judged of your results and if the success of the programme is limited to say a classroom event and doesn’t get the support of management for what ever reason and the desired change is not embedded then it’s an exercise in futility.

    L&D or anyone delivering training of any nature needs the support and buy in (WIIFM) from the individual, line manager and senior manager and the commitment that training isn’t confined to the classroom or stops when the session is over. Really this is where the learning starts as it’s the chance to apply what ever you’ve just done in the workplace and in your role.

    Without support and guidance from your team leader or suitable coach then I can’t see how this can be done effectively. I think there should be more work done with the team leaders and coaches to engage them in whatever the training is (even in design?) and how they can support during and after the event so they are aware of their role and they are involved and part of the solution.

    It would create a more team approach to workplace training / learning bridging the gap between L&D and operational areas – it’s not groundbreaking or revolutionary but it would make a big difference in some cases without doubt.

Comments are closed.