Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sacred Training Cows

I am just home from Training 2009 where, among other things, I offered sessions on "Better than Bullet Points" and "Instructional Design for the Real World". With both these topics I always manage to tip a few sacred cows. While I hope the presentations provoke thought more than ire, I know that I sometimes ruffle feathers -- often, I suspect, by hitting too close to home. Here are some of the sacred training cows I tipped in Atlanta:

--Much of what we call 'e-learning' would be much more useful if distributed as text documents.
--The traditional approach to training evaluation is seriously flawed.
--Good e-learning is about design, not software.
--Irrelevant or cute art, graphics, animations, and colors only distract the learner; they do not enhance the training by "adding visual interest". (How about the example in this post: relevant, or distracting?)
--Boring content is no excuse for boring training.
--The tendency for trainers to fall into the role of order taker ("Yes, sir, you want an order of teambuilding with a side of stress management? Coming right up.") does not constitute good "customer service". It is harmful to the learners, the managers, and ultimately the credibility of the training profession.

What other sacred training cows would you add to the list?


Anonymous said...

I don't know about "much," but a lot of the e-learning I've seen would be more useful had it never seen the light of day. That's because the victims--I mean, the learners--wouldn't have had to endure:

Gratuitous animation, ponderous voiceover, baffling interface, corporate or organizational sermonizing, compulsory page-by-page navigation, and what Donald Cook more than 25 years ago called "back to the salt mines" remediation ("do Module 3 again").

I'd add to the list icebreakers with no connection to the learners or the topic, "Jeopardy" games in any form, the ritual recitation of objectives with the mandatory "At the end of this session you will be able to..."

And, speaking of ritual, projected images as votive candles: never, ever turned off.

Anonymous said...

Nice list, Jane. What strikes me is that, even though you mention e-learning twice and imply digital technologies in others, there is no "sacred cow" that is inherently technology-dependent. The important scared cows deal were and are those that address aspects such as the design and structure of the curriculum, the purpose and ways in which we use assessments, and the power imbalance between teacher/trainer/facilitator and student/trainee/learner.

Jane Bozarth said...

Portable learner: I see what you mean about the technology references. One of the sessions was on e-learning design so I suppose I was seeing the cows in that context.

Another thing I've noticed: the golden glow of the sacred cow called "traditional classroom" or "face-to-face" (v. the cold inhumanity of e-learning). When did the classroom get to be so great, anyway?

Anonymous said...

My current sacred cow could be described as "the customer is always right". I've pretty much been bounced off projects because I'm not willing to just do exactly what some reviewer wants.

The fact that you once SAT in a classroom, taking in learning, really doesn't qualify you to help design a learning experience. (Any more than the fact that I've HAD brain surgery makes me a neurosurgeon.)

Most of the groups I work with on a vendor basis expect to give me subject-matter feedback (quite valid) along with lots of design feedback (usually pretty useless). It's sometimes hard to explain why I really don't think the training "needs more cowbell" and I'm not really willing to discuss it with them.

I'm also not looking for their ideas on adding more war stories, including their short 120-slide PowerPoint decks, interviewing their CEO for a one-hour video, printing out the brochures from marketing, having the Sales Manager stop by for a quick Keynote on Day Two, or including the complete 25-page mission statement in the front of the manual.

I'm just pissy that way.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of "sacred cows" that should be removed in the implementation of training, regardless of delivery platform. It's before training even occurs that other cows are worshiped. For example, training to fix a performance problem. Training to check the box of some manager's performance. Training for attitude adjustments (only for those in the class).

Sound like a pessimist? Actually I think the industry is making a terrific turn-around. We have to prove we are value-added, or else our function with the sacred cows get cut from the budget.

Anonymous said...

Pointless icebreakers, votive candle images, module re-do's, printing out the brochures from another department, stop-by's by big wigs (how long do I have?)...oh gosh, the tears...so. many. tears. they just keep coming.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP said...

Another sacred cow that needs tipping is that learners have to complete the program before they can take the quiz. If they can pass the quiz without actually watching/reading the e-learning program they
a) either knew the information,
b) the quiz was too easy,
c) the quiz did not assess what the writer thought it assessed, or
d) all of the above

Jane Bozarth said...

Not just e-learning. The "if they can pass the quiz" rule applies to traditional classroom training program, for that matter.

I used to have a handout somewhere titled "How to Pass Most Tests". My favorite tip: "It's hardly ever 'E'."

Sreya Dutta said...

A very real list you have here Jane. I so totally agree. I do try to keep in mind when creating training that many instructional designers try to decorate the courses by unnecessary text and colorful graphics without validating if either is relevant to the achievement of the objective. It is better to use clever conceptual graphics that speak more than the text where relevant and save the day for the learner. Short demos teaching the specific task are also very useful.

The point is to be to the point and give the learner what the need to do their job.


Mere said...

I love this...now if we could just get higher ups to read AND understand this...