The problems with the training model of workplace learning

The results of the Learning in the Workplace survey show that classroom training and e-learning are the least valued ways of learning at work. So why is this the case?  Here are some of the reasons why the traditional training model of workplace learning is no longer appropriate:

Training is often a one-size-fits-all experience

Since training is usually designed to meet the needs of a diverse group of people,  both content and approach often don’t match the personal needs or preferences of individuals. The “sheep dip” approach, that ensures everyone has the same learning experience, is no longer appropriate.  Andy Molinsky believes that one of the problems with corporate training is that it is too generic.

“When encountering – and ultimately learning to perform – new skills in a corporate training context, everyone’s challenges will be different. But in a one-size-fits all training system, it’s hard to provide this sort of differentiation. And here too the sports analogy is apropos. In professional sports, you typically see a range of different coaches working with small groups and individuals on honing their personal technique and addressing the specific, individual challenges they face.”

Training takes too long to develop or deliver

It takes time and effort to design, develop and deliver training content – and speed-to-competence is often compromised.  Additionally, once a course, programme or curriculum has been developed there is often so much invested effort and cost that it’s unlikely to be changed or discarded as fast as it needs to be in order to keep pace with changing circumstances. In fact, e-learning can quickly become outdated, which can lead to further frustration and confusion.

Training is often ineffective

There have been a number of reports in mainstream newspapers about costly and ineffective training. For example,   in Companies waste billions of dollars on ineffective corporate training, Roberta Holland writes.

“About $162 billion was spent in 2012 in the United States on corporate training—in what Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer calls the “the great training robbery”. It’s a huge amount, and some of it works, and a lot of it doesn’t,” Beer says, citing the example of an oil company that built a $20 million safety training facility but still suffered several fatal accidents nonetheless … Some studies have shown that only 10% of corporate training is effective, he says.”

Training is often an inappropriate solution for a performance problem

Training is not always the best answer to a problem, and yet is usually the first – sometimes the only – option to be considered, as Harold Jarche points out

“training is often a solution looking for a problem and is frequently used to cover up poor systems, unclear procedures or poor management practices”.

In When companies should invest in training their employees — and when they shouldn’t, Ron Carucci makes this key point

“Training is useful at times but often fails, especially  when it is used to address problems that it can’t actually solve … Many well-intended leaders view training as a panacea to obvious learning opportunities or behavioral problems … Learning is a consequence of thinking, not teaching. It happens when people reflect on and choose a new behavior. But if the work environment doesn’t support that behavior, a well-trained employee won’t make a difference.”

And Dan Pontefract remarks that

“far too many learning departments have become order takers. They wait on a leader to make a demand for learning, and they satisfy whatever has been requested”.

Trainees often don’t see the purpose of training

Furthermore, Elon Musk believes that if individuals don’t see the purpose of training, they are not motivated to learn.

“Adults learn new skills to make them more promotion worthy, to learn how to solve a specific problem (problems that you can clearly outline for them), to feed a desire for an increased sense of competency and self-esteem, or to nurture a love for continual learning in and of itself. The point of learning for adults has to be clear and linked to their self-interests and/or what really matters to them. In other words, learning should be linked to a purpose.”

Training is no longer enough

Charles Jennings makes this point very clearly.

“Corporate learning and capability-building needs to grow up. For any organization trying to stay competitive, conventional training is no longer enough, or even the answer in many cases … For new people in their organization, structured courses are usually important, to get them started – but formal learning alone won’t get them to high performance.”


The current workplace learning model – ie a training model – is out of date. The education model on which it is founded has remained largely the same for over 100 years, but is no longer fit for purpose, as. Roger Shank argues

“Corporate Training has to stop doing what school does, namely looking to provide numbers so that some other part of the business can say that someone learned something.”

It is time for a new model of workplace learning fit for the 21st century workplace.

A new model of workplace learning

Last updated: December 10, 2018 at 8:28 am

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