Do we really need training courses anymore?


Knowledge has never been more democratic. We can, and do, access content at a frenetic pace so, unsurprisingly, we’re bringing those expectations to work. Traditional training has had to up its game, becoming increasingly on-demand, blended, digital and bite-sized.

By Mark Wheatley, Director of Client Solutions & Natalie Benjamin, Consultant Director

Personalisation and accessibility are being touted to trump a stale one-size-fits-all approach. We’re screen agnostic and more digitally savvy than ever but, we’re still distracted and impatient, with only 1% of a typical workweek available to ‘learn’ 1.

So, what does this context mean for how organisations go about developing people’s skills to thrive in a modern workforce? Have training courses finally passed their sell-by date or do they just need a serious revamp?

The bar has never been higher for immediate knowledge

People expect a lot because we can access knowledge so easily outside of work. We don’t need to wade through reams of plumbing instructions to find out how to change a tap, for example. There’s a short YouTube clip or Alexa can answer it!

That’s what people want when it comes to training content in work. They don’t want to be inundated with loads of things that aren’t relevant. They want what’s right for them at the click of a button - globally relevant content, delivered in a short time frame and with immediate impact. The standard has never been higher!

We know it’s important for us to have a wealth of content that’s ready to go but, at the same time, people still want and value customised experiences that don’t just share knowledge but help them learn too. That’s an exciting challenge for us - customisation and pace to really make a difference.

What hasn’t changed, though, is how humans learn. We all make sense of the world through experiencing things and reflecting on them. We also need to know why we should learn something and we desperately need it to apply to our day-to-day lives.

Content proliferation is breeding confusion

We’re noticing that people are confused about where to find what’s right for them with so many digital channels.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Google and LinkedIn are merely scratching the surface of sources. Finding ‘stuff’ is rarely the problem - it’s people finding the right stuff that should matter most to those of us involved in creating anything designed to help people learn.

Our Per4mance Learning Journey is designed precisely to support that so that learners know what to learn, when and how. We’re working more and more with organisations on how to create the best conditions for people to learn so that what they’re learning fits with what the organisation needs.

Uniquely human skills matter even more with the influx of technology AI, robotics and automation are calling for new skills at every level across an organisation BUT there will always be demand for uniquely human skills like creativity and social skills. Add this to a raft of critical personal leadership skills that will help us to manage the enormous change that technology brings like developing adaptability and managing ambiguity. Continually wanting to learn, and being willing to adapt to what we learn, is more important than knowledge itself.

Big data and big impact: still in search of the holy grail

Tangible correlations between learning experiences, behaviour and business metrics remain a positive quest rather than a fait accompli but I don’t think it’s far away. More advanced analytic tools will make this a reality for skills academies in the coming years. Again, it’s something we’re exploring at the moment, because understanding the links between learning, behaviours and performance is right at the crux of what we’re trying to achieve.

Something else that we’re focussed on is immediate feedback for people as they gain knowledge and learn. We know that in sport, immediate data or feedback is so important. It’s no good knowing, after you have run a race, that it would have been helpful to work on your start a few weeks ago. That’s the type of principle we want to apply more with development so that you learn a new skill, get immediate data or feedback, practise again, and so on. We’re also noticing the importance of creating a common language about leadership (and other topics) throughout an organisation to make any training stick.

Knowledge is everywhere but people still don’t know what they don’t know!

Learning to learn, or a learning mindset, is a crucial skill for the modern workforce. The problem we see, despite an abundance of learning content available, is that people are often blissfully unaware of their own development areas. Access to knowledge doesn’t necessarily breed self-awareness! There’s an opportunity in large scale training or skills academies to help people self-diagnose better so that the topics they choose are directly applicable. We’re working on solutions to that right now.

Face-to-face still has an important seat at the learning table

Unquestionably the blend of learning activities and interventions that we’re involved in has evolved significantly over the last 10 years. As true as that is, the value of face-to-face experiences is still incredibly high when the purpose is appropriate (developing complex knowledge or practising complex tasks) and the facilitation is strong.

As humans, I don’t think we’ve adapted as quickly as technology has. Face-to-face opportunities still provide the best forum for deliberate practice and developing more sophisticated skills. That said, our virtual classrooms are getting great feedback for time-poor audiences who are exploring a single concept. They also do a great job of bringing together a more global perspective on a particular topic. The key is finding the right learning blend for your audience and objectives.

Some skills will never go out of fashion

Our Research & Product Team is constantly scanning the marketplace, considering future trends and innovating our curriculum but some topics will never lose currency. Storytelling, resilience, leading and/or dealing with change are staples, as relevant now as they were a decade or more ago. What will never change is that to do something differently, people need to understand why it matters, care about doing it and have the tools or skills to actually do it differently.

Done well, skill development can drive transformation

I’ve no doubt that when they are done well and align with the change vision in an organisation, skills academies can help accelerate the success of big change programmes. Several forward-thinking clients are seeing this link explicitly and asking us to design learning journeys that help people to manage their specific set of changes better by covering skills like leading through ambiguity, change communication and resilience. By helping to change the way everybody behaves, we’re helping to change organisations.

1 Deloitte. (2015). Retrieved from


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