Three Training Techniques Your L&D Department Should Rethink

Young woman working from home

Learning & Development is at the forefront of company-wide communication in the aftermath of COVID-19. Actalent shares advice on what to do differently.

With COVID-19 changing operational structures throughout the engineering and sciences industries, the Learning and Development department has taken on an outsized role in maintaining company-wide effectiveness.

There’s been a sudden surge in need for workplace initiatives such as software tutorials, upskilling and resource sharing — and they’re all putting L&D in the limelight.

Even in industries with entire workstreams on hold, much of the normal activity will return eventually. Preparation now will prevent lag later on, as STEM employees get back up to speed and re-onboarded. And in industries that are moving ahead with completely new workflows, there’s no time to waste on ineffective training.

So no matter where your business is currently positioned, now’s a great time to re-evaluate your training approach.

Based on what I’ve seen as the Manager of Learning & Performance Solutions for Actalent — as well as from my years of experience as an L&D practitioner — three proven STEM training strategies are more important than ever.

Focus on Performance Support Over Training

Your company may have had some difficulties transitioning into a post-coronavirus operational model.

That’s understandable in any case. There’s been major upheaval.

But the traditional L&D training cadence may also be a contributing factor to your woes, because the usual training model often fails during times of immediate need.

When we think of “training,” the most readily available structure is a seminar or material offered in advance of an issue, rather than concurrently. When we use this fallback method, trainees can struggle to recall a symposium from several months ago whenever it’s actually time to perform a task. This can result in understandable breakdowns and lag.

Instead of following this “training in advance” model, I recommend engaging your L&D department to build performance support materials, such as work instructions or job aids, that can be used when and where employees are doing the work.

Since COVID-19 has caused major changes to that work, now’s a good time to bring your L&D department into conversations about how your operations are evolving. They, in turn, can take more up-to-the-minute notes to build more accurate learning materials.

This may be more time and cost intensive than usual, but will result in more effective support materials and greater operational efficiency down the line.

Develop Behavior Before Knowledge

Knowledge capture has always been a key conversation in STEM-related fields. But perhaps counterintuitively, training that focuses on knowledge over behavioral development can be inefficient.

Employees need to be clear on behavioral expectations first, before knowledge can have value or take root. That’s why I advocate for an L&D approach that provides only the necessary amount of knowledge to perform tasks.

This can be especially tricky to negotiate in a post-COVID-19 environment.

With a massive amount of experienced people exiting the workforce — due to both retirements and COVID-19 — and carrying knowledge out the door with them, there’s an understandable impulse to correct the issue by building that knowledge base back up.

Resist it.

It’s unreasonable to expect less experienced employees to master the vast amount of knowledge that experienced employees have left behind. Even if they could learn it all, without the ability to immediately use it, much of it will be forgotten.

More than ever, we need to use knowledge as a catalyst for best practice behavior, then support the development of knowledge through applied experience, rather than starting with imparting knowledge as a primary goal.

Train Within Workflow Rather Than Separately

Retention increases when the conditions of learning match the conditions of application as closely as possible. That’s why it should be your goal to deliver behavior-focused performance support using methods that echo required tasks.

Before COVID-19, this meant avoiding training formats that pulled people off of the floor and put them in a classroom to learn about tasks they’ll be expected to perform back on the floor. I routinely recommend over-the-shoulder as a preferred method.

Now, with a remote-majority workforce, workflow training requires screen sharing and online ride-alongs.

It may be good news that training and working from home can now occur on the same at-home communications equipment. But since you want trainees to encode the way they recall, it’s also crucial to alter your learning materials to reflect the new workflow.

If you have employees, for example, suddenly troubleshooting machine processes remotely, you’d want to retrain for this key alteration in their workflow. This requires building new support materials that reflect the change, rather than continuing with old resources and expecting your trainees to translate.

Of course, this can also be a difficult time to devote extra resources to Learning & Development.

With so much changing in a post-coronavirus world, L&D has a lot more slack to pick up. And unless you’re in a position to bring on additional staff, that means your L&D department has more work with fewer people.

The resultant resource crunch makes training best practice more important than ever. As an expertise, we simply can’t afford to build training that people don’t need or can’t use.

Regardless of where you are in the L&D evaluation process, the one tool every L&D Department needs most right now is a clear priority structure that supports applying the above-listed approaches to the highest-value tasks.

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