Insufficiently Trained, Can’t Learn or Won’t Learn?

Rightly or wrongly, training often bears the brunt of responsibility for rollouts of new products, services or processes, and often shoulders the blame if rollouts are unsuccessful.  While acknowledging that inadequate training may occasionally be the root cause of such issues, those making the post-launch assessments must also be able to recognize the differences between learners who: (a) can’t learn, (b) won’t learn, or (c) were insufficiently trained.

Here are a few examples. For each example, we will rule out product flaws as a root cause. That is another discussion entirely.

Example 1 - A fleet launches a new handheld device for its drivers, along with the required process training for affected areas of the business. Several months after the launch, the company is not seeing the results it wants from the use of the handhelds. Data shows that many functions of the handheld are not being used as much as the company deems necessary to see ROI.

Very often in a case like this example, the finger is pointed at training. Functions aren’t being used correctly, if at all, so it seems logical the users weren’t taught. But, further investigation reveals that there have been a number of upgrades and updates to the software since its launch. 

Yes, the root cause is insufficient training, but what the users were taught and what they are now using in the field are two different things. This has made the training invalid, and there is a huge difference between “invalid” training and “poor” training. 

The solution in this case would be supplemental or follow-up training.

Example 2 - Let’s assume the same scenario as in Example 1, but now the follow up analysis reveals that the users can’t demonstrate proper use of the pull-down menus, input/output commands, data entry and other such tasks. In this case, it is very probable that some users are not computer-savvy enough to use the handheld device.

Most of the tasks that get used incorrectly or not at all are because the learner’s can’t learn due to a lack of basic computer skills. The solution is remedial training, or pre-study for any new learners. 

While “can’t learn” is the root cause, however, training may not be completely exonerated here. Lack of pre-training assessments or training that did not evaluate the students at the close of the session could be to blame.

Example 3 - The company launches new diagnostic laptops and software for its diesel engine technicians. Post-launch research reveals that the technicians used the tool frequently for a few weeks, but usage gradually tailed off until the technicians were again spending most of their time doing “seat-of-the-pants” diagnosis. 

It very well may be that while the software and training were sound, the tool requires a considerable amount of hands-on practice to master after training. Users were enthusiastic at first, but struggled to gain the benefits that the tool should provide.

Thus, usage became a hindrance and too time consuming. Many simply set the tool aside and quit using it altogether.

This has become a situation where the users won’t learn. The solution could be change management, or follow-up coaching and mentoring.

As you can see, there are often root causes outside of training, although training could also be a root cause in combination with others. Very often, there is more than one factor that hinders successful rollouts. 

Be diligent in your post-launch assessments and you’ll find the answers.


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Conducting post assessments will pinpoint why training may seem ineffective.


[ author's bio ]

Stephen Howe is employed as a field trainer by United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company, with approximately 600 locations in North America and an a rental fleet worth more than $3.5 billion. He is a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council - a global non-profit organization dedicated to sharing best practices and recognizing outstanding training in the automotive and heavy vehicle industries.