Why Training has a Bad Name (and how we can change it)

You’ve just been informed that you’ve been signed up for “training”.

What is your immediate thought?

  1. Oh, crap. There goes my day.
  2. Maybe this time I’ll learn something.
  3. Maybe the training experience won’t be so bad.
  4. Yay! I always get something out of training sessions!

I’m guessing that a fair amount of the time, it’s “Oh, crap – There’s goes my day.” Through drips and drops – we, L&D, are responsible for giving training a bad name. We shine it up and call ourselves “Learning Professionals” or “Talent Development” or “Performance Catalysts” – but despite any fancy name, people still think of us as “training”.  Not the good type of training either, but the “sit, stay, good boy” type of bad training experience. This, in spite of our best efforts to liven it up and give training meaning. Ever try to tell someone what you do for a living? Just saying the job title isn’t enough – you have to explain it. Then there’s the response: “Oh, you’re the one I have to blame for Sexual Harassment training.” Sigh.

Yes, we’ve put that brand out there. How has this evolved? How has training become the scourge of the people? It’s because people remember the bad stuff that has been poorly delivered. Not that brilliant sales program you helped to design – but the bad, the boring and the “Kill me now” stuff. Bad training experiences and poorly designed (or non-existent) job resources have become the brand of “Learning and Development” or “Training”.

So, who’s at fault for giving training a bad name? Us. We are burning down our own house. We have worn down the hopeful and motivated learners in our organizations, but we can change this perception. How? I have four thoughts.


1. Stop fearing change. 

The workforce of the 21st century no longer resembles the workforce of the 18th or even 19th century. Yet, our training methods haven’t changed. Regardless of learning modality – be it classroom, webinar, or virtual – the core design hasn’t changed since the industrial age. We plunk people down and conduct a class. Just because the classroom is virtual, doesn’t mean we get to pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves on our ingenuity. It’s still crappy training, and people still dread it. Garbage in, garbage out. The traditional classroom model is broken. Not to be confused with “Instructor Led Training” which has its place. I’m talking about the classroom model itself. It is time to CHANGE IT UP. Most classrooms are not set-up to promote reflective thinking. Virtual or live. That is not how the brain is geared to work. It’s time to think about flipping the classroom set-up. Action learning sets. Micro-courses. Mobile apps. Problem solving workshops aka “hack-a-thons” (not about problem solving, but about solving a problem). The way people require and consume training is changing, with ease of video and mobile accessibility this change was inevitable. Time to shake off the fear, because in this case – change is a good thing.

2. Get out of the silo. 

Some of you may not be afraid to change it up, but have no support, don’t know how, or don’t know where to start. When this occurs, people fall back to what they know – regardless as to whether or it is the best way to solve the problem. You may work in a one-person training department, reporting to Attila the HR Hun but this should not stop you from developing a better mousetrap. Reach out, build a network, READ, get a national or local ATD membership and become well versed in the research. Join Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, build your twitter list with L&D people whose thoughts and ideas you admire. Secondarily, create learning steering committees with involvement from leadership. Benchmark what is critical to the organization. You may have entered your silo back in 1996, time to put on some sunglasses and come out and face the light. The sun is bright here in 2016 with exciting ways to change up the training perception. The change may start with one person but takes a village to make it happen. In short, ask for help. [ctt title=”All ideas sound like good ideas when you’re talking to yourself. Time to stop and reach out. ” tweet=”All ideas sound like good ideas when you’re talking to yourself. Time to stop and reach out. (Why training has a bad name) via @stipton” coverup=”olakh”].

3. Bring relevance. 

Training that doesn’t give people a purpose or a sense of mastery is a waste of time, money and brain space. At the end of the day, what really matters is – am I going to be better at what I do? Will people have a sense of increased mastery? I have made the comparison that old school training makes people feel as if they are in bad puppy training. Do well, here’s your prize, do badly and you get a smack on the nose. People are smarter than this, and for some reason L&D is slow to realize the shift. Even when it comes to training a hard skill, “Making the Perfect French Fry 101”, treating people as adults, not puppies is essential. I’m talking about giving people tools and resources that make them better at what they do. Not lecture, not PowerPoint decks, not petty/silly exercises but real HARD CORE resources and tools people can use NOW! Most importantly, not waiting for a classroom to dole the information out. People need help now, not when we decide to host a workshop. Show your value, show you know what’s important to the business and the people. If we don’t focus on bringing learning that is relevant, we in turn become obsolete.

4. Promote Empowerment.

Back to creating a purpose. When people are empowered to learn they can then connect to others and perhaps fulfill a purpose larger than themselves. Creating deeper intrinsic motivation. A huge amount of training in the workplace is punitive. Not yours, you say? Here’s a test: Do you have a professional development or training requirement in the annual performance review process? If yes, then your training is punitive. This means there is a negative result for not “learning”. What if I can do my job just fine, thank you very much. Why force training upon me? Training shouldn’t be a control mechanism. The organization (or training) shouldn’t control what people decide to learn or not learn. (Before I get angry emails: Regulatory or compliance training aside – but why does it still have.to.be.so.bad?).  Put the learning in the people’s hands. Let them control the rudder and they will thank you for it. When people have a purpose, engagement is not far behind. When you have engagement, you are on the cusp of encouraging a culture of learning. (See HBR article on building a learning organization). You don’t build a culture, you nurture it – to nurture it, one must let seeds grow. This takes empowerment.  First, we have to shake off the fear of letting people be empowered to build their own development path. Let go of control.

Now what Now what? 

First, understand that perception is 100%. If people feel the training in your organization is not relevant, poorly designed, or is a waste of time – it is. It really is that simple. If we want to change the perception, then go out and change the perception. Do your part!

As an industry we do a lot of hand wringing, woe-is-me’ing, the sky is falling, and shouting from roof tops regarding the demise of L&D and the structured training department. It doesn’t have to be this way. If you want to be a business partner, then find a way. If you want to make a difference then do so. Plan for it. Do you know what your legacy will be? Forget the changing the world – just focus on your little corner. Do the work. You don’t have to be a cog in the machine. (Unless that’s what you want and then who am I to judge?)

After some time, baby steps, an eye to the four points above, and a bit of positive deviance – the tide will turn. People will begin to have positive thoughts when thinking about training in your organization. John Medina of Brain Rules stated, “If you are in education you are in the business of developing minds.” That is the kick ass job we have.

Now, let’s be kick ass at it. Evolve or die.


What changes have you brought to your organization to revitalize the perception of training? Please share!


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Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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