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Professional Development Training Programs — What Works and What Doesn't

By Dianne Miller - July 11, 2018

When was the last time you were a learner? I mean, REALLY a learner, not just someone looking up an obscure fact on Google to settle a dinner-time conversation. If you haven’t had the opportunity to participate in some kind of formal learning in a while, especially if you have responsibility for helping others in your organization learn, I strongly recommend seeking out a learning opportunity and evaluating what you liked and didn’t like about it--I guarantee it will inject fresh life into your mission to create compelling learning experiences and professional development training programs for people in your organization!

I recently had the opportunity to complete a (45 hour!) online refresher course to update a certification I hold. While I was working through the materials, I spent a lot of time considering what was working for me and what wasn’t. Here’s a short summary for your consideration:

What worked:

  • Learning through assessment: the course was chock-full of opportunities to assess my own knowledge and progress. I had many, many chances to see if I “got it” and if not, to get specific direction about how to get it in the future.
  • Self-direction: coupled with assessment, the fact that the course materials were open meant I could focus my learning and study time on the subjects that were least familiar or most challenging to me--what learner doesn’t appreciate being able to make good use of their time by honing in on the items that are most valuable, while skipping items they already know?
  • Relevance and motivation: this course was clearly relevant to the task I was trying to achieve--so yes, it hit the mark in terms of keeping me coming back to complete the work.

What didn’t work:

  • Lack of connection: as I was going through the course materials, I had many moments thinking, “hey, that’s just like the time….” but I had nowhere to share those inklings. The learning would have been more valuable had I had the opportunity to explore concepts with my peers.
  • Content overload: Did I mention that this was a 45-hour course? While keeping my certification current was certainly a motivating factor, don’t underestimate how daunting 45 hours of content seem to the average learner in professional development training programs.
  • Lack of variety: while the assessment-based format was GREAT to help me focus my learning, I found myself about halfway through each of my study sessions thinking, “there is no way I can take another quiz without throwing up or tearing my hair out”: I mean, this course was boring.

Reflecting on this experience helped me consider some of the key learning principles we try to embed in our solutions at The Regis Company:

  • The power of self-direction; learners should be able to target their learning in a way that is tailored to specific needs and gaps.
  • People learn best in combination with others; even if it’s not practical for people to experience a learning event together, we use a combination of reflection and storytelling to help people draw connections to their personal and organizational practice.
  • Pacing learning makes it more accessible. Learning is hard work and brains get tired; we create consumable chunks of learning so that participants are challenged but never overwhelmed.
  • Learning really does need to be fun; it’s one thing to impart content, but in order to drive true learning we leverage the power of variety and novelty to enhance attention and retention.

Reflecting back on my recent experience, would I say it was effective? Well, I completed my recertification and was reminded of some better practice, so on that level, yes.

Am I confident that it will be a memorable enough learning experience to make sure I continue to be the best practitioner I can be? Time will tell.

For your organization, is that enough of a guarantee to justify your investment in your own professional development training programs, or is it time to try another approach?

As Client Services Director at The Regis Company, Dianne Miller is responsible for the design integrity of all Regis-produced custom offerings. She leads the professional services team and has pioneered a framework that applies leading-edge Design Thinking methodologies to the creation of leadership and critical thinking solutions.

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