How much time and energy are your subject matter experts (SMEs) spending on long presentations in an attempt to train employees on new policies, products, and standard operating procedures but without having a significant impact on skills and behaviors? How often is there only minimal change in application, resulting in the need for retraining? What is lost by not delivering effective learning the first time?
SMEs deliver great presentations, but they are not trainers. To be successful, they need to acquire some fundamental learning and development (L&D) principles and practices. There is a big difference between presentations and training, yet after delivering workshops for more than 20 years, in 40 countries, across six continents, we are still surprised at how often organizations’ “training” programs end up being nothing more than long PowerPoint presentations.
Three key challenges exist in effectively transferring skills versus knowledge in organizations:
- While training theories and methodologies have been around for a long time, our experience indicates that in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, individuals in L&D roles are still struggling to gain access to these powerful processes and often don’t know tools exist to support their work.
- Promotions bring high-potential employees into the L&D function despite that they don’t have a background in L&D.
- While not as common in North America, in other parts of the world there are still challenges to transferring knowledge online because the technology is not being leveraged effectively to engage learners, and virtual training is still predominantly a one-way dialogue.
When we work with SMEs and inquire about how they build their training sessions, what models of instructional design they use, and how they construct learning objectives, they often stare at us in confusion. They show us their PowerPoint presentation as proof of their expertise. It’s usually a long presentation packed with small-sized text on each slide but no activities. They inform us they present their training over Zoom or Skype for Business in 90 minutes and are surprised when they don’t achieve the results they were hoping for.
Does this example sound familiar? Have you ever attended a “training” session like this?
While those of us in L&D cringe at the thought of this experience, most SMEs don’t realize how far off the mark they are when it comes to engaging learners and transferring skills. This leads us to believe that we still struggle with helping SMEs understand the difference between knowledge transfer and learning.
Knowing something and being able to demonstrate a new skill are different things, which SMEs haven’t been coached to distinguish. When SMEs “tell” they transfer knowledge, but when they “engage” they create learning. Our role in L&D is to help SMEs be more effective in delivering training and shift away from knowledge transfer presentation toward experiential learning. While there are cultural considerations in how materials are presented and what types of activities are appropriate, how we learn is not culturally specific.
We can agree that learning is important and that spending our time, energy, and money wisely is paramount. Following those tenets allows those of us in L&D to uphold our professional reputation. It is critical when training occurs that it be highly effective, otherwise it reflects poorly on us regardless of the country we work in. We need a global understanding of how to transfer learning and how to support SMEs.
The future will require an increased focus on talent development, which ensures more of a need for L&D—and qualified, trained, successful SMEs—than ever. The challenge is finding time for employees to participate in learning. Everyone is time-crunched, and we end up putting the “training” into a presentation (whether delivered in person or virtually). We assume people will know how to apply what we have told them. When they don’t, senior leaders are confused about why employees aren’t compliant. But the employees didn’t learn anything at the presentation; they simply gained some new information. Left to figure out how to implement or apply the new knowledge on their own, it’s either not done, not properly understood, or not remembered.
So how do we create transformational learning events? How can we provide learning that truly helps team members improve what they do?
We can start by creating learning events that engage not just people’s minds but also their hearts. This requires both the science of adult learning and the art of creativity in the design process. When done correctly, the results are a powerful experience that sets employees up for success to be able to know and do more. This means having SMEs attend training sessions that mirror the way we want them to train others. It means teaching them the basics of instructional design and foundational delivery techniques.
Evaluate your SME’s success as a facilitator of learning versus a presenter of knowledge. Consider, do they:
- Understand the difference between a presentation and training?
- Create a training event that encourages participation and the opportunity to discuss and experience the learning?
- Include engaging activities, examples, and stories that apply the concepts to real-world examples and situations?
- Choose the right method, time, and content to appeal to a virtual and multi-cultural audience?
To learn more, attend our webinar Knowledge Transfer vs. Training: How to Transfer Skills, Not Just Knowledge, in Today’s Digital Age on September 9 at 10 a.m. ET.