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A Bigger Bang for Your Training Buck

Dan Bobinski
January 10, 2005 -- By Dan Bobinski 

When it’s time for training, we always want the biggest bang for the buck.  But be careful: The law of diminishing returns can bite you.
 
Too often companies pack as many people into a training class as possible.  The problem?  Class size makes a difference.  In many instances, the more people in the class, the less learning occurs.
 
Example:  A company decides to put its managers through a training program.  The instructor, who charges by the day, says the optimal class size is 14 – 16 people.  But the company wants to get a bigger bang for their buck, so they ignore the recommendation and squeeze 20 people into the class.  Bigger bang for the buck, right?
 
Wrong.
 
In such training, participation is vital to gaining understanding.  With more people in class, the instructor is limited in how much attention that can be given to each person in class.  Also, many participants are active in smaller groups, but tend to clam up in larger ones.  Minds also wander more in larger groups. The result? Each participant learns less. The initial cost per person may have been less, but the take away for each participant is also less.  Usually much less. 
 
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Limit classes for better retention and application of the material. 
 
Beyond class size, how training is conducted makes a huge difference, as well.
 
Gone (hopefully) are the days of “data dump.”  You know, the instructor gets up and lectures.  Yadda, yadda, yadda—that’s what people remember from lecture only.  Research indicates that people retain only 10% of what they hear, at best.   It that a good return on investment?
 
If a company is going to invest—and I do mean invest—money into any kind of training, it would be good for those who attend training to remember what they were taught. 
 
Further maximize your training dollar by delivering training in a variety of ways so that all learning styles get their needs met.  The key to remember here is that people perceive and process information in different ways. 
    Perceiving: Some like taking in new material actively, with personal involvement.  Others like listening passively, taking notes.

    Processing: Some like reflecting on what they’ve heard. Others like experimenting with the new information.
It’s certainly not black or white.  Each is a spectrum, or continuum. Some people prefer one side or the other, but most fall in between the two extremes somewhere. Also, while each person has one or two preferred styles, each can still gain some learning from any method of delivery. 
 
Still, it’s not effective if all we do is lecture, because lecturing ignores the learning styles of three quarters of the class.
 
To really cement the learning, I strongly recommend breaking it up over time.  Just as dieticians advocate more frequent but smaller meals instead of one or two larger ones, learners digest new information better if it’s delivered in smaller, bite-sized portions. 
 
Someone attending five one-day sessions spread out over a month will retain much more than someone attending a five-day training session on the same subject matter.  By the end of day two, their brain is full, and by the end of day four, they’ve forgotten what was delivered on days one and two.
 
Another factor in successful training is repetition.  Ignorant is the manager or trainer who shows an employee how to do something one time and then expects that person to have it down.  Also, make sure your trainers are educated in the best training methods.  Just because someone is good at doing something doesn’t mean they are good at teaching it. 
 
Essentially, keep classes small, keep delivery varied, and work with your learners over time.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s how to get the biggest bang for your buck. 


 
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© 2005 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information on condition that you send the text as an integral whole along with complete information about its author, date, and source.
 
Dan Bobinski is President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc., and the co-author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com
               
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