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Is reading a manual really training - or just a futile CYA exercise?

Updated: Mar 11

By Bruce Rabe

I recently visited the offices of several prospective clients, where I walked past training rooms and observed new hires hard at work - reading manuals or PDFs. I have no doubt that these companies firmly believe they are "training" these people. Only they’re not. Though I believe this is better than no training effort, in many cases what they’re doing is "stuffing" knowledge into the heads of trainees and hoping for the best. They can then "check the box" to seemingly prove that these new hires are ready to work independently. If you think I'm being too critical, consider this: How much of what you read does your brain retain? Not that much, right? Imagine reading densely-worded documents of dos and don'ts for 6 or more hours a day, and then trying to remember all that. It’s next to impossible. So why do we expect new workers to do it? At a more fundamental level, reading information off of a page of a manual or a PDF isn’t really training because it doesn’t comply with the 3 M’s of training - which stand for meaningful, memorable and motivational, as cited by Michael Allen and Richard Sites in their book, Leaving Addie for Sam: An Agile Model for Developing the Best Learning Experiences.

Effective training is meaningful Meaningful means that training is focused on what the trainee needs to know in order to be effective in the job he or she will be performing. The knowledge must be relevant, or adult trainees will immediately dismiss it. To make the knowledge meaningful, the training we produce at VISTA Training often incorporates images, video, illustrations and animation. In each case, we select the medium that will do the best job of teaching trainees what they need to know in an engaging way. We also have incorporated relevant on-the-job training activities, which help trainees understand how to apply what they’ve learned. We actually won a Gold Award from the Canadian Society of Training & Development (CSTD) for our blended learning approach. When a trainee is reading a manual or off of a screen, there is no interactivity. It’s very passive. As a result, trainees get bored and knowledge retention plummets.

Effective training is memorable This means that the trainee retains a large percentage of the knowledge they’re received during training. Even more importantly, they should be able to recall that knowledge in the field, at the time of need. In addition, effective training supports and elevates performance in measurable ways - such as increased productivity and reduced on-the-job incidents.

Effective training is motivational Effective training elevates people to a higher skill level and gives them a bigger-picture view of the ways in which they contribute to the productivity, profitability and safety to the task at hand. It gives them an appreciation for how to work effectively with others and helps to cultivate a safety culture.

So how is your training? Is your training meaningful, memorable and motivational? If it isn’t, chances are you’re leaving money on the table. In other words, your operation isn’t as safe or productive as it ought to be. If you suspect your training could use some improvement, give us a call or send us a message. We’ll be glad to talk with you about how to improve the effectiveness of your training investment - turning it from an expense item into one with a handsome return on investment. Bruce Rabe is the CEO of VISTA Training Inc. Interested in our training products? See: Silver Series Training Program or Gold Series Training Curricula

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