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Guest blog: Training Promotes Learning From the Inside Out

Training Promotes Learning From the Inside Out

By Dr. Bruce A. Johnson

The ideal outcome for corporate training programs is to put students into a class, provide them with information, and expect that by the end of the class they will be able to meet specific learning outcomes. This includes developing skills, learning processes, and retention of specific knowledge. However, it is possible that many of those participants will leave the class without having produced any immediate results or change in their skillsets and behavior. Another common challenge for training classes is a low retention rate for the information that the participants have been given.

It is not uncommon for most information received in training classes to be forgotten within 30 days following the class if there is not consideration given to how the participants engage with and process the information received. If these issues are present then it is likely due to the course design, instructional strategies, method of delivery, or any combination of these factors. What experienced instructional designers know is that learning is an inside job and that is where training must focus first; on the participant’s mindset or mental capacity and ability to be actively engaged in the learning process while they are involved in a training class.

Types of Training

The type of training developed is typically based upon specific needs and those can be performance-based, individually-based, or a result of organizational needs and goals. There are generally three categories for the types of training that takes place in most organizations. The first is related to specific skills that must be learned, whether it involves technical or non-technical skills that are job related. The second category includes processes or procedures that must be learned or updated due to recent changes. The third category consists of soft skills and strategies related to performance improvement. The standard training approach for all of these classes is a traditional lecture-based delivery; however, this is starting to change as organizations acquire learning management systems. The nature of the course and what must be learned determines if the instructional method used has any flexibility. For example, soft skill training such as customer service basics could be delivered as an online class. In contrast, an online format would not like be effective for delivery of technical safety training.

Types of Learning

The type of training classes developed in organizations can be further classified as to whether it is essential or non-essential, which means it is either necessary, preferred, or developmental in nature. Anything that must be learned immediately or soon as possible is essential in nature. Anything that is non-essential or not mandatory includes topics and skill sets that are helpful to learn. Additional classes may be established as optional or elective in nature and those are developed for individual or departmental needs. These classifications establish the level of importance and sets priorities for instructional design, which also helps to determine when it is developed and implemented. This also helps to determine what the instructional strategy should be and this could include hands-on activities, a traditional lecture, activities that promote practical application of the materials, or anything else that allows the training to be delivered and used immediately on the job.

Cognitive Architecture: The Inside Job

The phrase cognitive architecture refers to how the mind receives and processes information. The mind is in control of the flow of information and knowledge, which must always be a consideration for instructional design. The setting for a training class, whether it is mandatory or voluntary training, often determines an initial mindset. This means that a participant will either begin from a mindset of being willing or resistant to the class. Once the class has begun and materials are delivered to the participants, they are now the passive recipients of information and the mind is then engaged. The style of course design and training delivery will have a direct impact on how that information is received, processed, and filtered. Other factors such as attention span, focus, and academic preparedness will further determine what happens when that information is received.

Initially all information received is stored in the mind’s working memory, which has a limited capacity for how much it can hold. This means that it can become quickly filled and that further indicates that information may be easily discarded. The goal of any training class is to ensure that the information is retained in long-term memory but to do this requires the participants to engage with it in a manner that this is like to occur. The information must be placed into a context that is relevant to the participants’ existing knowledge, background, and experience. If the learning activities are successful in helping participants retain the information and knowledge it is then stored, categorized, and organized in long-term memory. What is learned must also be relevant because knowledge is only retained in the long-term if it is useful for the purpose of being recalled and utilized again.

Training, Teaching, Facilitating

The words training, teaching, and facilitation are all relevant and necessary for corporate training, along with a student centered approach. Training implies an organizational perspective and why a class was initiated and designed. Teaching is an academic perspective and that is necessary for the purpose of developing learning activities and instructional strategies. Facilitation is also relevant as a trainer serves as a facilitator or guide for the process of learning. There is a trend in higher education to de-emphasize a teacher-led approach for traditional classes. But in corporate training that is still needed as a student centered approach assumes that participants know how to be involved in the process and workplace learning is different than an academic environment. Participants in corporate training have a capacity to acquire new information and they are capable of being involved; however, they still need direction as training is designed for specific needs.

The Training and Learning Connection

There are many tools and new trends in adult education, which includes social learning, collaborative learning, m-learning, digital learning, and online learning. It is important to remember for the design of any training course to never rely on these tools alone to ensure that learning takes place. Workplace learning occurs as a product of training and more importantly, it takes place from the inside out. It also is a result of a willing and engaged mind, which means the tools that are used must help make a connection to the information and encourage retention in long-term memory. Whether training occurs in a traditional classroom or through the use of online classes, learning all takes place in the mind of the participants.

A majority of learning for workplace employees occurs on the job and as a result of the daily processes and procedures followed for that job. Training classes establish formal learning conditions and are designed to ensure uniformity and the acquisition of information or skills that are absolutely required, whether it is technical or procedural in nature, along with performance-based classes that are developmental in nature. Timing is always a critical factor for corporate training classes as the learning process takes time, regardless of the tools and instructional strategies that are used. That is why it is extremely important to include learning activities that engage the mind of the participants and help them connect with the information in a manner that assists them with the long-term retention of what they have learned. While there are many external components involved for the development of corporate training, it is the internalized processes that matter most and determines the effectiveness of those classes.

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has developed expertise with adult learning through advanced education in the field of adult education, along with his work as an instructional designer, college educator, professional writer, corporate trainer, and manager of training and development.

Dr. J offers resources that include resume writing and a brand new career coaching program. To learn more about these resources please visit:

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