Have you developed training that wasn't really needed?

Training is usually requested when management senses a problem that they think training will fix. But a shocking amount of training is developed without conducting a training needs analysis first, to identify if the performance gap (a.k.a the problem) is caused by a lack of knowledge and skills. It's important to know the cause of the problem, because if it's caused by lack of motivation or faulty equipment, training won't help. I think we're often asked to create training that won't change the bottom line or truly impact the business. 

Have you ever experienced this? Have you ever been asked to develop training without conducting a needs analysis? Or developed training that you thought wasn't actually "needed" ?

If yes, what are other causes of performance gaps or problems (other than lack of knowledge and skills) that you've experienced or witnessed? Lack of motivation? Unclear guidelines? 

I'd love to hear your input on this! 

12 Replies
Brian Miller

Unfortunately, I have seen this A LOT in the past. And a lot of times when I've tried to discuss whether or not the training course is going to help fill in any actual performance gaps with clients, they just don't want to hear it. Their response is generally, "listen, we just need people to know this." Often I get the feeling that someone "higher up" has decided that the training is necessary. It is hard to argue with them at that point, I mean... they're the client, right? Anyone else have similar issues? How would you suggest responding in these cases? 

Cary Glenn

I've had this happen a few times. The most frustrating incident was when I had to create a training course for a regulatory compliance requirement. In the past the requirement had been fulfilled by managers meeting with their teams discussing the regulations and having everybody sign off that they had read and would comply with it. Somebody decided I had to create a course, originally they just wanted the document up and somebody read it at them line-by-line.  I suggested maybe keeping the old way or just sending out an email with a read-receipt would be just as effective. That didn't fly. I was able to convince them to at least have characters in realistic situations and then have them deal with the scenario and comply with the regulations. The training worked but it could have been done more easily.

Kristin Anthony

I love Cathy Moore's Is Training Really the Answer flowchart and I keep it near me as a reminder to always ask questions that clarify the actual problem. However, in my current position, those decisions are definitely above my pay grade. So training to be developed gets handed down.

At that point, I consider it my job to just ask the right questions during the kickoff (and before if possible) so that whatever I have to create is the most relevant and effective set of materials I can create. I like to focus very specifically on getting down to what the user needs to be able to do at the end of the course and move on from there. Though it may not result in a reevaluation of whether or not the training needs to be created at all, especially if you're in a position like me, the right questions can definitely head off other issues. Case-in-point, I recently had a kickoff meeting for a forensics course that a high-level person assumed should be a certification-prep course. Through questions asked at the kickoff, we found out that this was to be a very basic introductory course and that the gold standard in the industry was something like 400 hours of training before attempting this important certification. So we dodged that bullet!

Nicole Legault

@Brian - Hi Brian! Great points - thanks for sharing your comments here in this discussion! I absolutely agree that usually some higher-up requests training, thinking its the answer to a business problem, but often without concrete evidence supporting the need. It IS indeed very difficult and touchy to tell your boss or client that training they requested and want isn't actually needed or going to solve their problem. 

One thing that might help you is if you can present your client with a bulletproof, step-by-step Training Needs Analysis process that will definitely identify the performance gap ... but more importantly... that will reveal what the real CAUSE of the performance gap, which is what lets you know if training is really the answer. Training can only solve a problem if the problem is caused by a lack of knowledge and skills. You can find that process outlines in the handouts/templates I've attached to this comment. I actually did a presentation on Training Needs Analysis at DevLearn 2012 and these were my handouts. Hope this helps!

Of course you have to be diplomatic when letting people know the training they want might not really be the proper solution, but in the end you're looking to help them solve the problem with the correct solution ... so if they don't want what's best for them, there's not much you can do! Sometimes you just gotta build the training you know isn't really going to solve the issue :)

Nicole Legault

@Cary - Thanks for sharing your input Cary! At least you know the compliance training is needed and you don't need to do a training needs analysis in those cases!(obviously if it's compliance or mandatory it's needed) ... You bring up a great point which is that when people request "training" it doesn't necessarily have to be a huge e-learning course. A simple job-aid is also considered "training" but can be a lost more cost-effective. If it does the job it does the job! But hey at least you get to practice and develop your e-learning chops :)

Nicole Legault

@Kristin - Very good points you brought up there, Kristin! Thanks! You're so right that not everyone has the luxury of doing a proper training needs analysis, in fact, most people don't, they just get handed a project and they have to run with it. And I totally agree that asking the proper questions during your initial scoping and planning can in some cases help weed out those problem projects or help avoid other headaches! Thanks so much for your input :)

Bruce Graham

It is an interesting question when it comes to the freelance community.

If you are hired/contacted to build some training, do you build it and get paid, or not build it an not get paid. Very often, you WILL build, but also need to ensure that you do the "consultancy" piece around the "non-training" elements too.

Jacob  Selin

Well, i dont know if my example falling under "not needed" but this is what happened. 

My boss enter my room saying "We need a course for our employers in how to rent our internal cars". 
I answer: Sure, thats not a problem. Provide me with some material and i will fix it. 

The boss gives me a brief sample of how he use to do it and how he wanted the course to look. 
I created it as he wanted and about 400 users took the course. 

Then we found out that the internal rent of our cars (The emploey was allowed to rent our company cars on there sparetime) was significant decreasing. The employe did not know how to do it anymore. Something was seriously wrong!!! Was the course hard to understand? 

No, as a matter of fact it was a perfect course. However, all 400 already knew how to rent cars. But they did not do it the way my boss proposed. And now when the course told them how they should do it they became confused. 



Bruce Graham
Jacob Selin

No, as a matter of fact it was a perfect course. However, all 400 already knew how to rent cars. But they did not do it the way my boss proposed. And now when the course told them how they should do it they became confused.

Brilliant :)

Reminds me of the old phrase which always puts fear into the hearts of managers...

"Hi! I'm from Head Office and I've been sent here to help you..."

EJ LeBlanc

Fortunately, I have not seen this happen. I imagine that it would be very difficult to make learning meaningful if you already knew that the learning was not in any way meaningful. Even most required training has a sordid tale or two that we learned a lesson from - and spawned the requirement - making it our job as instructional designers to make sure our learners remember those hard-earned lessons.

I really enjoyed working for the US Coast Guard because it was some of the most meaningful training, and most meaningful work, I ever had the pleasure of making. Students who went through the Aviation Training Center went out and saved lives. The students were highly motivated, highly intelligent, humble heroes. The SMEs wanted the training to be right. The subject matter was challenging and inherently interesting. As far as doing meaningful work is concerned, that kind of work is heaven.

Bola Owoade

Recently got myself into sticky situationn. A mid-level manager had told me to go to one of the teams she manages to do some training in mental health awareness. On getting there I had a diagnostic meeting with the team to find out what the issue was. It turned out that one of the persons they cared for in the service wasn't supposed to be there. As far as I was concerend it was not a training problem, rather someone needed to be moved out of the location. When  I put this in a report to the manager, I was told I had overstepped my mark, and even reported to my manager, who thankfully understood the situation and handled it in a very mature way. I was just supposed to go there and do training and not really talk to the staff.

I have since been vindicated because over the last couple of weeks the person who needs to be moved has caused a lot of trouble and they have now put in an emergency request to move the person to another location fit for their needs.