8 key elements of an effective training program

Design, measurement, continuous improvement important

Glyn Jones

When an incident occurs, the corrective action is often training, more training and still more training. We spend a fortune on training every year and in every industry. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that more than $12 billion was spent on employee training in 2012. The question remains: If training is the answer, what does an effective training program look like?
The CSA Group has developed the Occupational Health and Safety Training standard (Z1001–13) for managing occupational health and safety training. It provides organizations with a practical guide to managing effective OHS training programs and it has three major parts.

The first part covers training, administration and management of the training. The second part defines roles and responsibilities and outlines the training needs analysis processes. Further, it outlines methods for establishing the program, such as design, development and implementation, and how to measure the success of a program and ensure it achieves expected outcomes. The third part of the standard covers the requirement for the ongoing development and maintenance of training courses.
So where to start? Creating an effective training program involves an eight-step process.

Step 1: Make a business case
A mistake safety people often make when trying to launch any new initiative is failing to build the business case. Companies are in business to make money. Any new program or expenditure needs to be considered in the context of the overall value of the initiative to the business. Conducting a cost-benefit analysis or developing a formal business case to determine the financial benefit of conducting training is a must.

Step 2: Develop objectives and learning outcomes
Objectives and learning outcomes describe what learners will be able to know and do post-training. The learning outcomes should also establish the described criteria by which the training will be judged a success. The training objectives and learning outcomes should be aligned with an employee’s position competency profile and, at the high level, with the organization’s business goals and mission.

Step 3: Develop content and instructional design
The most effective education and training methods for a particular situation need to be used. In today’s work world, a combination of asynchronous online education coupled with hands-on training in the workplace may provide a better, more cost-effective and accessible solution than traditional classroom learning. Add to this some on-the-job training that employs an element of tutoring and coaching and optimal instructional delivery may be achieved. Many other delivery methods are available and should be considered, such as video, video-conferencing, webinars and other computer-based training tools.

Step 4: Access internal and external resources
Delivery of the training can be provided using in-house resources or an external consultant. In-house trainers cost less because their salary has already been accounted for in the company budget. An in-house trainer may also provide more flexibility and will bring greater understanding of the issues driving the need for training, but it is possible to find external consultants who are more skilled and polished speakers. Using an external resource may create “just enough” separation between the issue at hand and the trainer to keep the conversation in the classroom at an objective level.

Step 5: Develop education and training materials
The education and training materials developed for the course must be carefully aligned with the objectives and learning outcomes. The learning activities need to allow learners the opportunity to apply the principles learned in the classroom. To be effective the instructor must understand the audience, the company culture and the history behind the need for the training. It is well established that adults learn differently than younger students and understanding the challenges of adult education and training will improve training effectiveness.

Step 6: Transfer knowledge, skills and abilities
The learner must have the opportunity to promptly apply the knowledge and skills gained in the workplace and demonstrate new abilities. Barriers that may prevent prompt and effective application must be identified and removed if the program is to be successful. A supportive program that includes tutoring and coaching by managers and supervisors is important. The overall effectiveness will be increased if the new skills are supported by a job and task observation process with reinforcement.

Step 7: Evaluate effectiveness
That which gets measured gets done. Evaluating the effectiveness of the education and training is critical. Measurement supports, and hopefully validates, the business case that was made in support of the training. The total cost of the training is easy to measure, but it is important to also measure uptake and participant satisfaction. Uptake can be measured by having learners take post-training tests and demonstrate learned skills and abilities. Job observation can also be used to assess skills development. Learners can offer their feedback using course evaluation forms. More complex methods of evaluation may include using lagging indicators, such as reduced incident and damage data, as measures of performance improvement.

Step 8: Undertake continuous improvement
The final step in any such process is to undertake continuous improvement. The improvements may include adjusting and updating the education and training materials, adjusting the time allocated to classroom theory and work site practical training, and even tweaking the instructor delivery and messaging. Oftentimes how learning is measured needs to be adjusted over time to increase the value of the measurement results. The findings from the evaluation process need to be used to make meaningful changes to the objectives and learning outcomes, content and instructional design.