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Can Training see the Forest for the Trees?

By Linda Hainlen September 3, 2015
Adoption Curriculum Design eLearning Evaluation Physician

Sometimes life is just busy. We have the demands of career and family.  We have bills to pay, places to go and people to see.   We get so focused on carrying on that we can’t see the forest for the trees. 

In the training industry, it is easy to be sidetracked by the trees and miss the forest. We get requests for training, we fill them—those are the trees.  What about the forest? 

Have you noticed that the word “training” is not used much anymore? There is a reason for that—it represents just one step in the learning and outcomes process.  Today we talk about learning – eLearning, learning portals, learning centers, Chief Learning Officers, etc.  There is a big difference between training and learning just like there is a big difference between short term, individual results and long term, organizational results. 



Knowledge acquisition

Knowledge + application



Individual results

Organizational results



I started in the education field when providing training was a wonderful thing.  At the beginning of the year we published a catalogue of training offerings.  We provided classes and reported how many people attended our classes.  That was enough.  Everyone was happy.  Unfortunately, when the training session was over, the learning typically stopped.  Even more tragically, statistics prove that without further reinforcement, most learners forget most of what they learned within days.  If that is the case, very little of what was taught was actually transferred to organizational results.

Today, our leaders want measurable outcomes that impact the organization—the sustainability of the forest.  Long term sustainable results does involve training but should always be tied to a long term goal.

  • Training is one event that occurs to facilitate the learning process
  • Learning is a process, not an event.  It occurs over time and with experience
  • Learning occurs when individual behavior has changed
  • Results occur when the collective change in behavior impacts the organization

So although training is an important element in organizational impact it is only one piece.  If we want to stay relevant, we have to look beyond just the learning event or trees and focus on the long-term organizational change or forest. 

Here is a group of best practices that must be employed to obtain sustainable organizational impact:

Rethink your purpose – Do you exist to train people or to help the organization reach goals?  Sustainable organizational impact requires prolonged performance improvement outcomes verses “training” alone.  As stated above, training or knowledge acquisition is a step in performance outcomes but it is not the entire answer. If we truly think of ourselves as a partner to the organization to reach goals, we will shift our focus to a longer range focus of performance outcomes or learning solutions that will impact organizational goals.  This expands our efforts to include not only the training event but communication, coaching, providing informal learning tools and support, partnering with leaders to hold participants accountable, etc.

Move from volume to value.  Align skill development with organizational needs – Since most of us will not get more personnel to help us implement our expanded focus, we have to be truly focused on only doing the things that will obtain performance outcomes.  This may mean cutting back on some services or classes.  Should you be offering all the classes that you now offer?  To answer this you must first know what the goals are of your organization.  Once you understand the goals, look at each course offering and ask yourself if this course, no matter how great it is, contributes to corporate outcomes.  If you can’t answer yes, perhaps you should stop offering that class.  Think value, not volume.  After you have reduced course offerings, ask what you can do to support the organization in meeting goals.  Be specific in how you can contribute and be sure you can measure those results

For those of you in regulatory fields, there are classes that you must offer because you are required to do so.  However, unless you have a specific need, you can usually meet mandatory requirements with a much reduced offering. 

In either case, whether a course is mandatory or supportive of reaching corporate goals, you need to serve the right amount of information. 

Goldilocks Principle – We tend to train for more than we need to.  Reducing content can be an art.  It has been said that the brain can only remember what the seat can endure.  To whittle down classroom or eLearning time, here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • What information is truly necessary for the learner to start applying concepts?  When you complete a gap analysis, weight the tasks.  Is this a need to know topic to get started?  Is this a nice to know, or something that will only be used sporadically?  If it is a sporadic or nice to know topic, consider providing the information in another format. (We will talk about this more with informal tools).
  • Do you really need to show a learner how to do something more than one way?  This is particular relevant with training software or technical topics.  Resist the temptation to show participants how to do things in multiple ways.
  • Can you require the participant to complete a prerequisite before coming to class?  This could be done with eLearning, reading, etc.  Learning done in smaller chunks is more memorable.

Remember we don’t want to provide too much information at a time, or too little to have confident learners.  We want to serve the amount of information that is “just right”. 

Extend accessibility – As we rethink our purpose, we must also rethink what constitutes a training event. If we think of training as any event in which knowledge is acquired, it broadens our array of training tools.  

  • Classroom/eLearning:  although classroom events will never be completely eliminated, they are very costly.  Consider reducing classroom time by requiring a pre-requisite in the form of reading or eLearning and only present need-to-know information.  Save the classroom for hands-on application wherein a facilitator adds value.  Use eLearning for small amounts of information.
  • Informal learning tools – Applying what is learned while on the job is a critical step in performance outcomes.  Since we know that learners will not remember everything from a classroom or eLearning event, we must serve the information in a just-in-time format.  Today’s learner wants information when they need it, where they need it.  We live in an instant society where information can be found on the internet or from an app.  Are you supplying information when and where learners need it?  Do you have an on-line portal for learning?  Do you have an app for just-in-time information assessable from phones or tablets?  If not, start thinking that way. 
  • When you go high-tech, you must go high touch – With all the accessibility options, we must remember that human element cannot completely be replaced.  True performance outcomes take coaching, accountability, reinforcement.  When you reduce classes and content offerings and add just-in-time learning tools, backfill your newfound time with personal support to the learning and/or their manager.  Coaching is a catalyst to performance improvement. 

Measure – If our goal is to impact the organization with measurable performance outcomes, we must measure to truly know if we are making a difference.  When you negotiate how you can contribute to the organizational goals, be sure to ask what success will look like.  Then, measure your success.  If you do not measure you will not know if you are contributing to success.  If you measure you will know if you reached your goal or conversely if you need to keep up the reinforcement and coaching until you do.  Be sure to socialize the result to leadership so they know you are making a difference, that you are partnering with them to increase their success. 

So the million dollar question:  Are you focusing on the trees or the forest?