“The waste of organizational resources, and learner time, istragic,” writes Clark Quinn.  “Seldom has so much been done, for so many, for so little gain.”

Quinn is writing about e-learning, but I think his observation applies to nearly all learning interventions (e.g., training, coaching, mentoring, online instruction). The commonly used estimate is 80% to 90% of participants in these interventions fail to apply what they learn to achieving business goals. In the current economic environment, this is a travesty. Companies today cannot afford to waste resources. Maybe there was a time when learning events (especially off-site events) were considered perks and it didn’t matter how much participants learned. Those days are over.

At least three factors are contributing to this need for greater value from training and development: 1) the economy requires companies to do more with less which means that managers have to reduce costs and increase value; 2) employees need to learn how to be creative and innovative in order to compete globally – if not, they will be put out of business by cheaper, faster, high quality, and countless Asian workers (see Daniel Pink); and 3) many employees, especially younger generations, are motivated by learning and will not join a company nor stay in that company unless they have opportunities to learn and make a difference.

Quinn blames the problem on “bad design and mismanagement.” I would agree that so-called “e-learning” programs are, for the most part, badly designed. But classroom-based training and development programs that I have observed in recent years are very well designed. Instructional designers and facilitators have become very professional and do an excellent job of making these programs responsive to the learning styles of adults. The gurus of instructional design, such as Robert Mager, Elliott Masie, Bob Pike, and Thiagi, have had a profound impact on the field and the quality of instruction over the past twenty years has improved dramatically.  

The waste is more the result of “mismanagement”. That is, organizations do things that prevent the application of learning to achieve business goals. For example, employees are sent to business acumen simulations without knowing how this learning fits into their individual development plan, how they will be expected to apply learning from this program to improved work performance, and what difference it will make for the organization.  This lack of alignment and expectations is played out every day in almost every business in almost every department and for almost every employee.