The Future of Training is Still Up to Managers

Last Updated May 26, 2010 7:15 AM EDT

I have just returned from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) show trying to take a peek at what the future holds for managers of remote teams. It's the world's largest gathering of people dedicated to helping organizations train and develop their employees, and it's a very smart group of people.

The first thing I learned is that if your job is "trainer", as in "I stand in front of a classroom of people and teach them stuff", your job is going the way of the diplodochus. The other thing is that for anything companies claim they want, there's a tool to help them do it. The problem isn't a lack of tools, but I didn't hear much about the people who are expected to use them. Let me give you a couple of examples:

  • Follow up is great, stalking is creepy. One complaint of the training industry (and the people who grudgingly fund them) has always been that once training is over, there's no way to reinforce the learning. People go back to their work and keep working the way they always did, ignoring the pretty binder on the shelf. Now there are tools like Cameo and Trainbycell that will send them pithy reminders about the skills they learned by text message, email and at the team's shared sites. This is great in theory, although the tone of some of these emails is a bit nagging and it's like having your grandmother Twitter you incessantly. I also suspect that somewhere someone's working on an implant that can be put in employees by dart gun and you can just beam messages straight to the cerebral cortex. None of these messages will have any impact, though, if managers don't reinforce the learning personally as part of their coaching duties.
  • "Training is now learning". This is maybe the biggest catch-phrase of the whole event. It's absolutely true, that most of us learn more in small bites and informally than we ever did in the classroom, so the ability to gain access to knowledge 24/7 just as we need it is a terrific leap forward. However it will still be up to the manager to create an environment where teams share that learning with each other effectively. The risk is that people will learn as individuals, meaning that one person might know a whole lot about something but it will be very difficult to create a true team knowledge base. Tools like Bloomfire will help, but only if the manager intentionally encourages the sharing and trust necessary to have the whole team buy in and use it.
  • You can convert all your internal training and PowerPoint to elearning very simply. There were plenty of companies aimed at helping you convert your existing PowerPoint slides and training materials to recorded, easily accessible and design-correct elearning. The bad news is that it starts with your existing PowerPoint slides and training materials. Irrelevant, boring content that everyone just ignores becomes flash-based, SCORM compliant content that everyone just ignores.
Sure, every one of these tools and companies is aimed at the reality of the modern workplace. We don't have budget or time to travel and get our teams together, so we'll just beam content to them and track them electronically like caribou on Animal Planet to make sure they got it. Access to content isn't the problem (and seldom really was). We have a world of information at our disposal, much of it free. The manager's job is to encourage, coach and guide their employees to use and share this wisdom to get the job done. There's no app for that. Until there is we have to suck it up and do our jobs.

Photo by Flickr user NeoGaboX CC 2.0