According to ASTD, US companies spent $156 billion on employee learning in 2011, almost $1200 per employee. No matter how you look at it, $156 billion is a lot of money.
Most of this money was spent on the training events themselves – the classroom sessions and e-learning courses.
But learning is an activity, not an event.
The learning process begins when an individual realizes that a new skill or talent is needed, and concludes when an individual has mastered that skill or talent. The training event is only part of the process, and it may not even be the most critical part of the process.
Effective learning, whether in a traditional classroom or in an e-learning environment, requires a series of pre-course activities to prepare the learner for the class, and post-course activities to allow the learner to practice and apply the material from the course.
The role of the pre-course activities is to motivate the learner to take the training and to be open to the learning experience. Prior to attending the training, it’s important that the usefulness of the course material and the connection between the training and the learner’s job be communicated.
The learning objectives of the training should be communicated as part of the pre-course activities so it’s clear to the learner what new skills, activities, or behaviors are expected upon completion of the training.
The pre-course activities should also provide as much information as is necessary to remove the learner’s apprehension and allow them to enter the training ready to learn. This can be as simple as providing accurate driving directions to the course site for an on ground class, or the number for the help desk for an e-learning course. It can also be more complex when readings or pre-work are required before the class.
Post course activities must allow the learner the opportunity to practice and apply the material from the course. If a technical skill was taught, it’s important that the learner have access to safe environment where they can practice their skills and review the cases and examples from the course. The safe environment should be more of a learning lab, something separate and distinct from the normal work environment.
The second key post-course activity is the opportunity to apply the material in your job. The longer the time it passes between the learning and the use of the new skill, the more likely the new skill will be forgotten. It’s critical that managers support the application of these new skills through situations and projects where the skills can be applied. When a new technology is involved, it’s critical that the employee have access to that technology in order to begin working with it.
Pre-course activities can prepare a learner for a course, and the training event itself can be used to present new skills and provide some opportunity to work with the skills, but most long-term learning will take place following the course after the learner has had the opportunity to practice and apply new skills.
Unfortunately, many organizations focus only on the training event itself, and not on the pre- and post-course activities. Effective learning requires a focus on all three areas.