The evolution of training

Features - Education

Blow up your training program to get better results - and better employees.

March 5, 2013
Mark Lenahan

In his book on how the brain works, “Brain Rules,” John Medina says that the least productive environment for learning is the traditional classroom. But many companies, including those in the landscape industry, are still training our employees using outdated, traditional methods that are not producing an impressive return on investment for the training dollars spent. The good news is that by trying a few new things you can grow your training program into something that will ensure an effective transfer of knowledge, produce measurable results and provide your employees with the tools needed to pursue their career path within your organization.

If you build it, they will come. “Our employees won’t do online learning. Our employees like learning in a classroom.” There are probably dozens of things you’ve heard in your company that might be keeping you from exploring options regarding your training program. The truth is you’ll never know for sure if something will work until you try. With an abundance of existing eLearning content and rapid development software on the market, implementation costs are minimal if you’d like to consider expanding the way you design and deliver training content. You might also find that your employees embrace these changes as they offer new and exciting ways to learn and give them the flexibility to learn on their schedule and their pace.

Offer blended learning.
Henry Ford once said, “People can have the Model T in any color - so long as it’s black.” This one size fits all mentality no longer works in the training world. Companies have to offer a blended learning approach which delivers content using a variety of methodologies, from traditional classroom-based training to computer-based offerings. For example, an employee may complete a self-paced eLearning module two weeks prior to a classroom session where they are exposed to a concept or procedure.

Evaluate your training

One sure way to improve your training program is to follow Lord Kelvin’s quote, “If you can not measure it, you cannot improve it.” Consider implementing the Kirkpatrick Model of training evaluation to determine what your employees think of your training and to discover what your employees are actually learning.

  • Level One (Reaction) will tell you what participants thought of the training. The feedback they supply can be used to tweak the content and eliminate elements that the participants disliked.
  • Level Two (Learning) lets you know to what degree participants acquired the intended knowledge, skills, and attitude from the course. Your employees will be asked to take a test at the end of the training, sometimes paired with a pre-test for comparison, to measure learning.
  • Level Three (Behavior) helps determine if employees are applying what they learned in class back on the job. Supervisors are required to observe employees and measure performance against individual metrics or standards that were taught during class and coach the employee as necessary.
  • The final level (Level Four – Results) determines if the training and subsequent reinforcement have a lasting impact on the business. This level will tell you if the targeted outcomes (e.g., decreased costs, increased sales, reduced turnover, etc.) are occurring as a result of the training.

Once completed, they attend a webinar or conference call with the other participants led by the instructor where they can further discuss the concept and get their questions answered. Then, when they arrive for the classroom session, there is a level playing field of the knowledge of the topic among participants and the time spent together can be used for experiential learning through role-plays and assessments. The benefits of blended learning include financial savings through reduced travel costs and less time away from the job for the participant.

Social learning is here to stay.
Social learning, or informal learning, is the hottest trend in the training world these days and it’s going to be a game changer. In the past, learning generally took place in a classroom between a teacher and several students. If you had a question, you had to contact the teacher after hours or wait until the next class. Through social learning, students learn from not only the instructor, but classmates as well as other employees in the organization using an electronic platform similar to Facebook or LinkedIn.

Imagine an employee is trying to install a new brand of sprinkler head and can’t seem to figure it out. With social learning, the employee reaches out and asks other irrigation techs (and possibly every employee in the company) for help. An employee on the other side of the country sees this posting, grabs their smart phone and shoots a 30-second video showing how to install the sprinkler head and posts it on the social learning site. This scenario is a perfect example of immediate, just-in-time training for the employee and an ongoing resource for future needs.

Empower your people. For too long, training records have been kept in a manila folder in a desk in the office. It’s time to empower our employees so they have more control over their career. An effective way to do this is to introduce a Learning Management System (LMS) to your organization. An LMS is not only a tool for hosting and launching eLearning content, but it’s a repository of transcripts, available training, and shared knowledge. With an LMS, employees, as well as managers, can monitor their training progress, explore training opportunities in a different career path within the company, and complete non-mandatory training courses that might indicate a desire to advance their skills and position within the organization.

Learning styles. There are three basic learning styles for all employees: Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic (hands-on). Since we are an industry of people who like to work with their hands, it would be safe to assume that our employees are primarily kinesthetic learners; however this is not necessarily the case.

The majority of the population are visual learners followed by auditory and then kinesthetic, and there are no studies that show that our industry breakdown is any different. With this in mind, be cautious to not build your training curriculum based on one learning style over another. Using a combination of styles will help ensure that all learners remain engaged and focused on the content being presented.

Don’t stuff the turkey.
There is an old adage in the training world that says “the mind can only absorb what the butt can endure.” We tend to think of participants in a training class as captives; we only have them for a limited time so we better make sure we throw everything we can at them. This “drinking from the fire hose” approach is often ineffective and participants often walk away frustrated that they didn’t get the opportunity to explore a concept or skill in enough detail to master it.

When building a training course or curriculum, remember to focus on the vital few, the two or three skills that you want them to walk away with that they can apply immediately back on the job. This approach will require more training sessions to cover all the skills a particular position might need, but the transfer of knowledge and application on the job for each individual skill will be much higher.

Train where they will use it. Trainers are very comfortable in the classroom; however, studies show that participants will remember more about the content if the environmental conditions when they need to recall the information mimic the environmental conditions when they were exposed to the content. In other words, a participant will remember more about how to change a filter on a mower if they were exposed to that skill in a training session held in the shop than if they learned it in a classroom.

Studies also show that an employee’s mood can affect the learning experience so it would appear our employees would learn more and recall more if our classes were held outside on a job site where they are happy than in a classroom where they may feel like a prisoner.

In the end, it’s all about listening to your customer, which in this case are the participants in your training programs. What do they need? What do they like? How do they like it delivered? Listen and be open to changing your training program in order to meet the needs of today’s learners and it will be an exciting journey for both of you.


The author is Director of Training & Development of ValleyCrest Cos.

Go to to listen to Lenahan expand on how to improve your training program in an exclusive podcast with Lawn & Landscape.