October 26, 2012, 12:26 p.m. ET


So Much Training, So Little to Show for It

An expert on corporate programs reveals why they often are a waste of time and money

In this lopsided Wall Street Journal article, a professor slams training for all the wrong reasons.

For one thing, he disregards experiential learning on the job and seems to think that training always takes place away from the job.

He touts the need for a thorough needs analysis which defines who will take what topic and be tested on it. That might have worked before jobs became complex. It’s tough to pull off when the future is unpredictable and work involves dealing with novel situations.

He laughs off companies that believe technology will solve all training problems. I’ve been in the learning business for forty years and have yet to meet someone who thinks tech will solve all training problems.

I couldn’t resist leaving a snarky comment:

Dr Salas focuses on training that takes place away from the job. He’s looking in the wrong place. Most corporate learning takes place informally in the course of doing the job, not in training courses away from the job.

These days, many organizations support what’s known as the 70-20-10 model that says 70% of learning is experiential, 20% guided by others (often managers and supervisors) and a mere 10% via formal instruction. Salas offers common sense advice on making the 10% work better. There’s a lot bigger bang for the buck in making the learning ecosystem supportive of learner-directed “pull” learning.

The school system is one of the few institutions where lectures, courses conducted in artificial environments away from the context of what’s to be learned, and one-way “push” learning are the norm.

Corporate learning has its flaws, to be sure, but they are minuscule when compared to the practices that are commonplace in schools and colleges. Most corporate trainers know more about learning theory than the grad students who lecture in colleges.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.