Debunking training myths

There are so many issues vying for your attention right now that ‘IT Training’ is probably escaping your radar; “we’ve got the skills we need right now, thank you” is not an unusual response when I talk to your peers. But here’s my key point – that’s a very narrow way to think of the impact that you could make if you really thought about it. So to help you think this through I’ll challenge you with the twelve myths of IT Training – how many of the myths apply to you (or, to create more of a test, to the organisation)?The twelve myths of IT Training
Myth 1 – IT Training is about content – not delivery
Myth 2 – We need skills – we need a course
Myth 3 – Formal learning interventions are the only ones that count
Myth 4 – Learning technologies equals e-Learning
Myth 5 – You can only develop soft skills in the classroom
Myth 6 – Development costs are higher than deployment costs
Myth 7 – People won’t use it
Myth 8 – It’s an HR problem – not an IT problem
Myth 9 – It’ll eat my bandwidth
Myth 10 – It’s not a priority right now
Myth 11 – You can’t assess its impact
Myth 12 – It’s high riskMyth 1 – Content, not Delivery
Here’s a simple question – is ‘IT Training’ about ‘IT skills’ or about ‘delivering skills through IT’? The answer, of course, is that it’s both; but most people only think of the first one and, as a result, think of IT training in extremely narrow terms. But with budgets so constrained right now the only way your learning and development (L&D) people can work­ is to deliver ‘more for less’ and the only way they can do that is by using IT to deliver skills.

Myth 2 – Skills = Course

Suppose you’ve identified an urgent skills need – for example you’ve recognised some security exposures; is your pavlovian reaction one of ‘we need skills – we need a course’? See Myth 3!

Myth 3 – Formal vs Informal
Studies show that typically over 70 per cent of the skills gain in an organisation within any given period come from informal learning interventions – asking a colleague, watching what a peer does, a Google search and so on – and only 10 per cent of the skills gain is from formal learning interventions (e.g. a course)! And yet, from Myth 2, our immediate reaction is to think of a formal intervention. Without a shadow of doubt this is a time to look at how you can be more proactive with informal learning interventions. The important point is the skills gain – not how they achieved that skills gain.

Myth 4 – Just e-Learning
If I mention the words ‘learning technologies’ I’ll bet a pound to a penny that (before reading this myth) you’d have thought ‘e-Learning’. But there are so many other technologies that provide an excellent learning experience. Just think Google, Wikis, Enterprise Content Management, Performance Support, Collaboration, Social Networks – and there are many more. The crucial point here is that, in your IT role, these are all in your bailiwick; so ignore them at your peril.

Myth 5 – Soft Skills
There’s a common misconception that you can only develop soft skills in the classroom – that’s largely because it’s assumed that the opposite of the classroom is e-Learning. You can, however, develop soft skills through informal learning – for example by identifying role models. And that’s a great example of how, in these difficult times, it’s perfectly possible to develop skills without it costing you anything.
 
Myth 6 – Development vs deployment
Just think of this for a second; the problem with classroom training is high deployment cost whilst the problem with e-Learning is high development cost. Now, compare that with creating a content domain in, for example, SharePoint. There you’ll have a low development cost and a low deployment cost. Right now, the important concept is the cost-to-benefit profile; and one that has a low cost and a short period to benefit is manna from heaven!
 
Myth 7 – People won’t use it
Try this simple test – if you were given a book for Christmas, read it, and disliked it, you’d say that it was a poor author; but if you saw a poor piece of e-Learning you’d blame the media. If people won’t use it it’s because the content’s poor; and that’s the problem that needs to be solved.

Myth 8 – HR problem
If you accept that a significant element of IT training is using IT to deliver skills then you may accept the myth that that makes IT training an HR/L&D problem rather than an IT problem; and to a significant extent that’s true. I recently chaired a major conference of L&D managers and we were discussing the greatest inhibitors to them being able to do their job. And can you guess what came out on top? You did – well not you specifically, but the IT function. That was because, when they came to your people for help to try out a new learning technology they had too many other priorities. Remember, HR/L&D need help. The next big hit for the Internet is on them; and, just like marketing before them, they won’t get it.

Myth 9 – Bandwidth
You wouldn’t believe how many times in my career I’ve been told, “we can’t do that; it’ll eat our bandwidth”. And this is true if it’s designed with rich media in a thin client environment. But learning technologies won’t ‘eat the bandwidth’ unless they’re designed to do just that.

Myth 10 – Not a priority

“Cut budgets – therefore cut training” is a typical reaction; and it may well be the correct thing to do. The first step, however, is to identify skills and performance issues that really make a difference – and focus on those. If you’re rolling out a new application or a new technology the core issue is to achieve user acceptance in the shortest possible time. Training will always reduce the time to competence – and it’s only in those situations in which that competence is not critical for the organisation (e.g. skills on Vista if the rollout isn’t due for another twelve months) that it can be allowed to be cut.
 
Myth 11 – Impact
Many people feel that, since developing a Return on Investment (ROI) analysis of training is so difficult then proving the impact of training can’t be done; and if you can’t measure the impact then it’s not worth doing. But the solution is simple – training always creates either public or citizen value; the issue is scoping that value. And there are a number of techniques to do exactly that.

Myth 12 – High risk
There is a fear that developing a training programme is high risk – and no one wants to take on risk at the moment. The issue is really one of scoping the learning intervention to minimise the risk profile. Any project that takes a ‘big-bang’ approach will have risk. The converse is also true; scoring quick hits on skills issues will have a significant impact on productivity and performance and a minimal risk profile.
    
So – how did you do; did you recognise those myths at all? At the end of a learning intervention we’ll typically ask “what will you do differently now that you’ve acquired new skills”. And now that you’ve reached the end of this article, I trust that there may be just a few ways that you’ll think differently about IT Training.
    
For more information
Alan Bellinger is an Adviser to the Institute of IT Training and can be contacted at abellinger@iitt.org.uk

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