The Six Deadly Sins of Training

While there are dozens of ways to lessen the positive impact of training, these six failures are often the worst offenders.

1. Failing to align Training Goals with the Business Goals

When Training Magazine (2004) surveyed senior executives about the most important training initiatives,

  • 77% cited, “aligning learning strategies with business goals”
  • 75% cited, “ensuring learning content meets workforce requirements”
  • 72% cited, “boosting productivity and agility”

However, as the chart below shows (Trolley, 2006), most training activities spend very little of their time investigating and showing their customers how their efforts add value to their clients (see Performance Analysis):

Percent of time spent on training

Percentage of time spent on designing training

The failure of Instructional Designers to meet the business unit's expectations is normally not a lack of time, but rather a mentality of, “build it and they will come” rather than, “identify the opportunities to improve the business.”

2. Failing to Identify the Type of Performance Problem

Customer often perceive that all performance problems are training problems, and it turn, Instructional Designers fail to question if the problem is really a lack of training. Thus, there is a real need to fully analyze the problem in order to determine its root cause. When facing a performance problem, two questions need to be asked:

  • “Do the employees have adequate job knowledge and skills?”
  • “Do the employees have the proper attitude (desire) to perform the job?”

Their answers will place the employees in one of four performance quadrants in the chart below:

Performance Analysis Chart

The quadrant that they land in informs you of the performance initiative required:

  • Quadrant A (Motivation): If the employee has sufficient job knowledge, but has an improper attitude, this may be classed as a motivational problem. The consequences (rewards) of the person's behavior will have to be adjusted. This is not always bad as the employee just might not realize the consequence of his or her actions.
  • Quadrant B (Resource/Process/Environment): If the employee has both job knowledge and a favorable attitude, but performance is unsatisfactory, then the problem is out of control of the employee. Some examples are, a process or procedure needs to be improved, lack of resources or time, or the work station is not ergonomically designed.
  • Quadrant C (Selection): If the employee lacks both job knowledge and a favorable attitude, that person may be improperly placed in the position. This may imply a problem with employee selection or promotion, and suggests that a transfer or discharge be considered.
  • Quadrant D (Training): If the employee desires to perform, but lacks the requisite job knowledge or skills, then learning needs to occur, such as performance aids, training, coaching, etc.

3. Failing to get Support from the Leadership Team

Customers often view outside activities as meddlers who interrupt their daily flow of work. These clients are often on the defensive and hide their true feelings and facts. During the planning and analysis phase you must bring the leaders in on the learning design activities and make them part of the solution (this collaboration is often called a matrix team or cross-functional team). The customers of a proposed learning/training initiative must be extensively involved in the construction of any new project. Besides introducing the customers and the training activity to each other, the other major benefit is that the customers will accept and benefit from a system that they themselves helped to define and solve. Often, nobody knows the system's learning requirements better than the people who own and work in it... and it often it takes the help of your guidance to draw this information out. This collaborative process does not mean agreeing with everything others say as this leads to group-think or the Abilene Paradox. You want the team members to not only disagree, but also share information and compromise.

In addition, it is important that the learners see the real worth of the learning program. If their managers cannot convince them that they need to learn and perform correctly, then they will probably never learn to perform or once they complete the learning program, they will probably not put their newly learned skills and knowledge to full use. People will most often perform what their managers expect them to do, while forgetting what the managers least emphasize.

Thus, you must have the leaders in on not only the initial planning and analysis stage, but also have them discuss the proposed solution with their followers in order to get their buy-in.

4. Failing to Identify the Correct Setting for the Learning Process

One of the major misconceptions of ADDIE or ISD is that it was created to only build classroom training environments, yet the reality is that it emphasizes other solutions first — you should too. A few of the guidelines for choosing instructional settings are:

  • Use a Performance Aid (mLearning, job aid, electronic performance support system) if:
    • close supervision is not required
    • the task follows a set procedure, has a flow to it, or contains information that does not need to be memorized
    • the performance aid can be followed while performing the task

    • do not use if:
      • bad consequence may occur if inadequate performance is high
      • employees lack prerequisite skill
      • the task requires high psychomotor skills

  • Use elearning or social learning if:
    • close supervision is not required
    • the task can be self-learned by an individual or group
    • the material required for training can be adequate designed as a stand-alone package

    • do not use if:
      • task failure would result in injury or damage
      • special facilities or equipment is required
  • Use On-the-Job-Training (OJT) if:
    • close supervision is required
    • task can be learned by individual or groups in the workplace
    • task decay rate is very high

    • do not use if:
      • sufficient equipment is not available for learners to practice on
      • workplace cannot absorb the learners adequately
      • training would be disruptive to normal operations
  • Use Mentoring or Job Experience if:
    • basically the same as OJT, except close supervision is not required
    • do not use if
      • coaching and some supervision cannot be provided on an as-needed basis
  • Use Classroom if:
    • a large group must be taught the same thing
    • task difficulty requires a high state of training (task is difficult and requires time to acquire skills through practice)
    • learner interaction is required (such as team training)
    • material required for training cannot economically be placed in the field
    • essential the employee be able to perform upon job entry (high consequence if employees are inadequate performers)

    • do not use if:
      • task may be adequately trained elsewhere

5. Failing to Include Enough Activities and Practice Time to Reinforce Skills

Instructional designers often spend an enormous amount of time on creating a learning process or program, but fail to realize how much time and energy it actually took them to learn the task, so they end up building beautiful programs... except for one minor detail — the learning process lacks enough activities and practice to adequately build skills.

Too much practice builds over-learning, which is a good thing (it's what the U.S. military does to ensure warriors can perform in highly complex situations). Too little practice causes major gaps in performance. Which one do you prefer?

6. Failing of the Learning and Development Team to Learn from Their Successes and Failures

Instructional designers often attend several conferences or workshops a year and learn from others through reading or social networks, yet fail to evaluate their projects to determine the level of success or failure. Thus, while they may be learning, they have no idea if they are learning the right things. One of the best tools for this is the After Action Review. At the very least, evaluate your training and learning processes by waking-around the workplace and see how the learners (who should be performers by now) are actually performing and if their supervisors are satisfied with the results. And use Chris Argyris' Double Loop Learning to maximize your learning opportunities.

What are your deadly sin for training?


Show Your Work

Jane Bozarth's Show Your Work beautifully describes how we need to rethink teaching and learning. It's perhaps one of the best designed Learning & Development books published—it is well written and artfully filled with numerous examples and illustrations. When I first heard about the book I thought it would be only about showing your work to others so they can learn from you. While it does do that, it goes beyond—such as showing your work to others to receive critical feedback, or laying out your work so that you can talk about it to yourself and reflect upon it in order to gain a deeper understanding on what else needs to be done.

While the learning and development craft has become very good at instructing explicit knowledge and skills, training tacit knowledge and skills often fall short of delivering expert performance because it fails to place the learning in the context of workflow. Thus, Show Your Work is the bridge that crosses over from the explicit to the tacit by using great examples, such as showing the steps, lessons learned, and managing exceptions that help people learn the more difficult task through a series of photos, video, posting on a blog, etc. that people can easily find and relate to.

What is interesting is how Jane's book fits into Nonaka and Takeuchi's Four Modes of Knowledge Creation (from the The Knowledge Creating Company):

  • Socialization: from tacit to tacit - Sharing experiences to create tacit knowledge, such as making a video of how you learned something.
  • Internalization: from explicit to tacit - “Learning by doing.” By following the examples in Show Your Work you can learn to create short learning experiences that can be easily followed by others.
  • Externalization: from tacit to explicit - Using explicit concepts such as metaphors, analogies, concepts, hypothesis, or models to provide the big picture.
  • Combination: from explicit to explicit - People exchange and combine knowledge through various media, such as documents and conversations.

For more on the Four Modes of Knowledge Creation, see Knowledge and The Knowledge Spiral.

I highly recommend putting Jane Bozarth's Show Your Work on your reading list.


Bloom's Revised Taxonomy: Cognitive processes and levels of knowledge matrix

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy (Remember - Understand - Apply - Analyze - Evaluate - Create) not only improved the usability of it (using action words), but perhaps also made it more accurate. However, probably the best feature — the matrix — is often left unnoticed. While Bloom's original cognitive taxonomy did mention three levels of knowledge or products that could be processed (shown below), they were not discussed very much and remained one-dimensional. The three levels are:

  • Factual - The basic elements students must know to be acquainted with a discipline or solve problems.
  • Conceptual – The interrelationships among the basic elements within a larger structure that enable them to function together.
  • Procedural - How to do something, methods of inquiry, and criteria for using skills, algorithms, techniques, and methods.

In Krathwohl and Anderson's revised version, the authors combine the cognitive processes with the above three levels of knowledge to form a matrix. In addition they added another level of knowledge - metacognition:

  • Metacognitive – Knowledge of cognition in general, as well as awareness and knowledge of one’s own cognition. 

When the cognitive and knowledge dimensions are arranged in a matrix, as shown below, it makes a nice performance aid for creating performance objectives:

The Cognitive Dimension

The Knowledge Dimension Remember Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create

However, others have identified five contents or artifacts (Clark, Chopeta, 2004; Clark, Mayer, 2007):

  • Facts - Specific and unique data or instance.

  • Concepts - A class of items, words, or ideas that are known by a common name, includes multiple specific examples, shares common features. There are two types of concepts: concrete and abstract.

  • Processes - A flow of events or activities that describe how things work rather than how to do things. There are normally two types: business processes that describe work flows and technical processes that describe how things work in equipment or nature. They can be thought of as the big picture, of how something works.

  • Procedures - A series of step-by-step actions and decisions that result in the achievement of a task. There are two types of actions: linear and branched.

  • Principles - Guidelines, rules, and parameters that govern. It includes not only what should be done, but also what should not be done. Principles allow one to make predictions and draw implications. Given an effect, one can infer the cause of a phenomena. Principles are the basic building blocks of causal models or theoretical models (theories).

Thus the matrix might look similar to this:

The Cognitive Dimension

The Knowledge Dimension Remember Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create

An example matrix that has been filled in might look something like this:

The Knowledge Dimension Remember Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create
Facts list paraphrase classify outline rank categorize
Concepts recall explains demonstrate contrast criticize modify
Processes outline estimate produce diagram defend design
Procedures reproduce give an example relate identify critique plan
Principles state converts solve differentiates conclude revise
Metacognitive proper use interpret discover infer predict actualize

For more on Bloom's Taxonomy, see:


A to Z of Learning

aLearning (Alpha Learning) - To begin to understand, but not fully comprehend (has not groked or gLearned)

bLearning - (Blended Learning) - A mixture of media, such as cLearning and eLearning (brick and click)

cLearning - (Classroom Learning) - Learning in a classroom or formal setting

dLearning - (distance Learning) - Learning from an electronic device, such as eLearning, mLearning, or pLearning. May also include other media that is sent to the learner, such as mail

eLearning - (Electronic Learning) - Learning from the Internet (part of dLearning)

fLearning - (Formal Learning) - The learning goals are determined by instructional designers (learners may provide input)

gLearning - (Grok Learning) - To understand profoundly and intuitively (also see aLearning)

hLearning - (Horizontal Learning) - Learning something based on a horizontal continuum (there is no one right answer). It can best be learned in an collaborative learning environment (also see zLearning)

iLearning - (Informal Learning) - The learning goals are determined by the learner (organization may provide input)

jLearning - (Just in Time Learning) - Learning something at the moment of need and it sticks (not easily forgotten, also see qLearning)

kLearning - (Kindergarten Learning) -The basic skills Learned in Kindergarten that carry you throughout life

lLearning - (Laptop Learning) - Learning from a laptop computer

mLearning - (Mobile Learning) - Learning while away from home or office with a smart phone (may include pLearning or lLearning)

nLearning - (nonformal Learning) - The learning goals are determined by the business unit, such as manager or supervisor, normally used with oLearning (OJT)

oLearning - (OJT Learning) - Learning on the job through the direction of others (also see vLearning)

pLearning - (Pad Learning) - Learning from an electronic pad, such as an iPad or Galaxy

qLearning - (Quick Learning) - Learning something at the moment of need and it does not stick or is never used again (also see jLearning)

rLearning - (Redundant Learning) - Learning until one has thoroughly mastered a skill (trying to learn more will be useless). Sometimes call over-learning. Security and medical teams often use this method so it becomes second-nature

sLearning - (Social Learning) - Learning with or through other people (see uLearning for opposite)

tLearning - (Team Learning) - Used when two or more members of a team must learn different tasks that must be coordinated so that it increases the effectiveness of the team

uLearning - (Unilateral Learning) - Learning without the help of others (see sLearning for opposite)

vLearning - (Various Learning) - Learning various perspectives by gaining experience (normally on the job). Differs from oLearning in that vLearning is directed by the learner rather than a manager

wLearning - (Walking Around Learning) - Learning while walking around, normally through observation (adapted from Tom Peters' managing by walking around)

xLearning - (Xenodochial Learning) - Learning from others, especially in a diverse group of people who know little about each other, and they expect nothing in return

yLearning - (Yeoperson Learning) - Learning something that will promote the good of the common people or people in need

zLearning - (Zebra Learning) - Learning that is monochrome in nature (has only one correct answer or shade). May be easily learned through a cooperative learning environment (see hLearning for opposite)


Simplicity Combats Complexity

James Murphy, a former F-15 fighter jet pilot and now CEO of a team building company, notes in a recent article that “complexity is the mortal enemy of good execution, and our world is nothing if not increasingly complex.” Thus, in order to execute in an ever increasing complex word, we need to break it down in simple steps:

  • Planning: If your planning process tries to run the whole gauntlet of complexity then you will simply get beat up by it, so use short-tem timelines.
  • Briefing; Get everyone on the same page.
  • Executing: Just do it.
  • Debriefing. The purpose of the debrief is to make adjustments ... to discover lessons learned. This can best be accomplished by performing an After Action Review:
    • What were our intended results?
    • What were our actual results?
    • What caused our results?
    • What will we sustain or improve?
  • Repeat process so that you are refining and continually improving.


Col. John Boyd, USAF (Ret) has a similar process called the OODA Loop:

  • Observe: Scan the environment and gather information from it.
  • Orient: Use the information to form a mental image of the circumstances and place it into context.
  • Decide: Consider options and select a subsequent course of action.
  • Act: Just do it.
  • Repeat process so that you are refining and continually improving.

Both Murphy and Boyd say that no matter how complex the environment is, when you do this, you stay at the same rate of competitive change in the complex environment or slightly ahead of it ... thus you win. Murphy also notes that confidence leads to courage, and courage leads to a bias towards action. This planning process gives people that courage regardless of the situation.

Probe, Sense, Respond

David Snowden of Cognitive Edge also has a similar tool for dealing with complexity in his Cynefin model:

  • Probe: Make a change (prototype) in the environment in order to test it.
  • Sense: Review it by determining the impact of the probe.
  • Respond: Depending upon the result you achieve you either amplify the probe or suppress it, and then repeat.

Agile Design

And the last one for dealing with complex environments — Agile Design:

  • Select the project and develop the vision.
  • Initiate the project by obtaining stakeholder participation, funding, and build team.
  • Deliver small working iterations that meet the changing needs of the stakeholders. Continue this step until:
    • Release (End Game) by deliver the final package.
    • Production: operate, maintain and support the system.

There are four other design models beside Agile that you can use depending on the complexity of the environment.

These tools, Murphy's Process, AAR, OODA, Cynefin, and Agile Design are designed for working in complex environments. What other processes or models do you use for dealing with complexity?


Full Spectrum Learning

The U.S. Army has developed its answer to the 70-20-10 Learning model and Dan Pontefract's 3-33 Pervasive Learning model. However, they did a couple of twists by:
  • dumping the percentages
  • combining Experience with Social Learning
  • adding Education
  • adding two continuums - Responsibility and Ambiguity
Full Spectum Learning


70-20-10 has been problematic in at least two ways. As Dan Pontefract notes in his book, Flat Army, it is based on leaders who were in charge of hierarchical, command and control cultures that were prevalent in the 1980s. While the U.S. Army does have a hierarchical command and control culture due to its nature, it is also composed of flat or horizontal teams (large and small) that operate alone and with each other in complicated environments that often border on the edge of chaos. Thus, it is both a hierarchical and flat organization that not only approximates how most successful organizations operate today, but is also based on all people, rather than just senior leaders.

Secondly, the use of percentages or ratios, such as 70-20-10 and 3-33, imply that they are predictive models, rather than reference models. In fact, the creators of 70-20-10 wrote that it is a predictive model. This can be noted in dozens of blog posts in which some very smart authors note 70-20-10 is a predictive model model and then are told in the comment sections that it is a reference model. If you do a image search on Google for the term "reference model" (may NSFW as it shows a couple of nude models) you will notice that none of the images are based on percentages or ratios.

Experience has Social Learning in a Learning Environment

The Full Spectrum Learning model realizes that if you are gaining experience to learn, then it is implied that you will be using plenty of informal and social learning, along with smaller amounts of training and education. In order to build skills and knowledge via experiences, the environment must contribute to peer-based learning through blogs, wikis, micro-blogs, and other social based media. It leverage these social tools to build dynamic vertical and horizontal social networks for formal and informal information sharing in order to foster critical thinking and problem solving skills needed for operational adaptability.

The Addition of Education

In Human Resource Development, training is normally associated with learning to perform a present job or task, while education is normally associated with learning to perform a future job or task. Thus, in a rapidly changing world, education through formal and/or nonformal environments is a required component if an organization wants to remain competitive. For example, during our last recession, companies dumped thousands of people in mass layoffs. Now they are whining that they cannot find people who have the education and training that they require. Good organizations should always be building a path towards the future by educating people to walk that path.

The Responsibility and Ambiguity Continuums

Rather than build a learning model that focuses on one fixed point, the U.S. Army created the Full Spectrum Learning model on two continuums based on the degree of responsibility of the learner and the degree of ambiguity of the learning environment to give it depth.
What are your thoughts on the three models?