Answering this question reminds me of a joke I heard about the mathematician, an accountant and the economist applying for the same job.
The interviewer calls in the mathematician and asks, “What do two plus two equal?” The mathematician replies, “Four.” The interviewer asks, “Four, exactly?” The mathematician looks at the interviewer incredulously and says “Yes, four, exactly.”
Then the interviewer calls in the accountant and asks the same question: “What do two plus two equal?” The accountant says, “On average, four – give or take ten percent, but on average, four.”
Then the interviewer calls in the economist and again, poses the same question: “What do two plus two equal?” The economist gets up, locks the door, closes the shade, sits down next to the interviewer, and says, “What do you want it to equal?”
The same problem exists in answering the question, “What makes good training?”
Is the answer technology-based learning? Or simulators? Or on-the-job training?
How about coaching and mentoring? The good “old-fashioned” lectures?
Group discussions & tutorials? Role-playing? Games? Or maybe self-directed learning?
I think the reason this question is difficult to answer is that most of us try answering the question with a technique (or set of techniques), instead of getting to the core of the question. In actuality, in our little joke at the beginning of this post, the economist really is closer to defining the real question. We must start with: What is your desired outcome of the training?
Our society today has a tough time defining desired outcomes. I think there are many reasons for this, but I believe it mostly has to do with trying to avoid accountability.
In other words, if you define the purpose of training as changing a behavior from “A” to “B,” you end up with a different set of answers than if you approach it from a technique standpoint. That causes discomfort – especially when you assess the results of the training based on metrics.
Let me explain:
If you ask an e-learning instructional designer, “What makes good training?” they will answer with techniques such as: micro-learning, engaging graphics, gamification, interactivity, and learner engagement.
However, if you ask a business owner or sales manager the same question, they will answer with measurable results such as increased close ratio, increased margins, or increased market share. Each of these requires a change in behavior. The sales rep must do something different to increase his close ratio. In order for a sale to lead to increased margins, the approach must change. To increase market share and drive net-new business, you must move from passive sales to a more proactive sales approach.