How to make sure you don’t waste valuable time

Now, where could I find a bit more time to waste?

At my company the classic learning approach has been to have learners travel the globe to take 3-5 days courses in “how to repair this machine”. In some cases we’ve shipped the equipment and our instructor instead but the fact is that every bit of learning (or teaching) has been instructor lead and on-location.

Two things have happened the last 6 months that has gotten us to rethink this whole approach. The first eye-opener was that, after some analyzing of the numbers, we realized that the only reason we’ve gotten by as long as we have is that our customer stock – other companies within the group – haven’t asked for, or ordered, as much courses as they’re paying for beforehand. If that would happen, we saw with dread, we’d have to conduct five times as many courses as today. Since we’re barely making things work as is, that just wouldn’t work. Not to mention the fact that we don’t have five times as many classrooms or available training equipment.

The second thing we got into our face was the launch of a new product 9 months from now. This isn’t really a big deal for us ordinarily. We’re in an industry where most new machines are a slight adjustment from the model before it. This has in fact been the same in our line of business for almost 100 years, albeit with the addition of CPUs and circuitry the last 30 years.

Suddenly, this is not the case. Well, the end-result is still the same when using our new machine, but its construction is radically different from what we’ve produced before. This leads us to the fact that we now have 1500 service representatives that haven’t seen this design before.

New cool ways?

These two realizations combined meant that we have to do something radical – and quick. As an instigator or provocateur regarding New Cool Ways To Conduct Education I’ve always been saying things like “We’re doing it wrong”, “We’re wasting valuable time” and “The only thing that we can measure of what we do is how much we cost”. Very popular I assure you. All of a sudden, my boss and my boss’ boss were interested in my thoughts. What could we do?

Well, we could start by not wasting any more valuable time.

We were stuck in the mentality that only instructor-led classroom courses where the way to do it and these were all one-time events after which you “passed” and didn’t have to worry about it anymore. Things couldn’t have been more wrong, could they? There are countless of ways to deliver learning opportunity and learning itself is all but a one-time deal. Learning is an ongoing, and endless, process of seeing, thinking, analyzing, testing, reflecting, understanding, reanalyzing, testing etc. It goes on and on and the only time you stop learning is when you develop severe Alzheimer’s or die.

War stories

Let’s see. Who’s got the most horrible story?

When we started to discuss these things more openly we unearthed a treasure trove of “war stories” that had happened to us in the academy team over the years.

  • Multiple times course participants have stated, after hearing the course name in the classroom, “Oh, is the course about THAT machine?” and even worse “We don’t sell that one in our market”.
  • Participants sit quiet through 5 days of training and on the last day the instructor realizes they don’t understand the spoken language at all. (We use interpreters quite often but only when we know it’s needed…)
  • Old course participants come back a year later to the same exact course once again saying “I haven’t had the opportunity to see this machine in real life so I’ve forgotten everything”.

I don’t know which of these is worse but you got to agree they’re quite worrying. A quick analysis:

  • People don’t get prepared at all before being sent to a course
  • Their bosses are unaware of the course’s content
  • Their bosses are unknowing of what they need in terms of knowledge
  • Their bosses don’t know what they are paying for yearly
  • Their bosses think that sending someone to a course is the final solution to any problem related to the course content

An idea starts forming

What if we actually created a real learning path where the participant is prepared by their own boss, assuring both of them knows what the course is about? How about some support AFTER the course? Some coaching exercises for the bosses making sure their employees actually have changed the specific behavior or, even better; have a chance to apply their new-found knowledge in real life? How about we make sure the course participants study, read, thinks about the subject before even entering the classroom? Maybe we could even have them take a test to assure they’ve at least skimmed the material being covered in the course so that the time in the classroom is actually spent ON THE MACHINE and not on booooooring theory?

How about we stop wasting valuable time?

Next time: From single-layer to multi-layer learning