Training a Specific Population – An Interview with Kelly Prince

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Take Note! Employee Training is no longer a mindless circle of shadowing and repetition. Companies are taking a deep dive into employee training, knowing all too well this step of the on boarding process is the platform for success. I’ve recently reached out to Kelly Prince to ask her some questions on the challenges, trends and buzzwords currently surrounding the HR and employee training community. She responded with thoughtful and incredibly detailed answers referring to her experience with the training world and even how Relias Learning can help with these challenges. Kelly Prince is a Senior Instructional Designer with Relias Learning. She has worked in the educational field for over 20 years – including 13 years with Home Depot as well as working as a consultant for Xerox Learning and Management Concepts. She is a PMP, and has a BA in Philosophy from Humboldt State University and M.Ed. in Learning and Technology from Western Governors University.

1. It’s no secret that the employee training field is saturated, as new companies are having very hard time acquiring and training proper employees. In your view – what are the top 3 mistakes companies make when training employees? What are some key differences you recognize in a successful training program?

When you look at a company or organization’s training programs, you’re going to find that in general, they rarely consider a goal beyond “get these people trained,” much less look at how they’re going to measure their program’s success. So when you embark upon a training program and you really don’t even know what the goal is or how you know when you’ve reached it, it’s really hard to determine if anyone has learned anything or if they are putting it to use. Another mistake that companies make is that they don’t take the employees’ motivation into account. They simply see either a skills or knowledge gap and think if they fill that void, performance will follow. I’ve been in that situation so many times; a sales or compliance leader approaches learning and says “our people aren’t doing X, we need training!” But really you need to look at all the barriers to performance, whether they be a lack of knowledge, lack of skill, lack of confidence, or simply a lack of buy in. I think the third thing that is missing in many training programs is the fact you’re not really looking at changing performance or behavior. Maybe you hope that behavior will change, but you’re not creating the kinds of learning experiences which include practice and safe failure so that the learner gains experience and confidence which does lead to a change in behavior. A lot of training programs still look to present information and then hope that the learner, having been exposed to that information, can better perform their job. Or in the case of compliance training, refrain from doing things that may get the company in trouble. I think in order to create a successful training program, you need to start at the beginning–at planning and analysis. I’ve taken Cathy Moore’s Scenario-based workshop and the information she provides is so relevant to the problem we tackle as learning professionals. She is such a champion of performance based learning and solving business problems. So, I think a successful training program begins with the business goal and then looks at how to measure if the endeavor was successful. Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping is a great way to start that analysis. I’ve adapted many of her tools and templates for our organization’s needs and in previous roles as well. It’s really powerful to show your client how the learning you’ve designed for them positively impacted their turnover rate or increased their employee survey participation. I think another key difference is incorporating effective learning–that is looking at the learner’s motivation and really, their emotional journey as they are exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. Many programs don’t address that. They think that because the training is required or learners need to earn continuing education, for example, that they don’t really need to address any intrinsic motivation on the learner’s part. In every successful course there is a “wow” factor and it doesn’t need to be a high-fidelity media approach; it just needs to effectively address the business problem and the learning needs in an engaging manner. You want your learner to have the experience of “I get it.” This can be as simple as a well-written scenario that draws the learner in and accurately reflects the on the job duties and problems they face every day.

2. Which innovative trends do you recognize in employee training nowadays?

I think you have to be careful with trends. While certain learning approaches or ways of executing are ‘trending’ because they’ve been successful, you can’t let a trend drive your learning strategy. One trend I’ve found has a solid foundation in learning theory and neuroscience is training reinforcement. We see this rooted in Gange’s 9 Events: “stimulate recall of prior learning,” and also looking at what’s called ‘the forgetting curve,’ basically the decline in memory retention over time. Art Kohn has a great article on how this is applied to learning : If you have a chance to attend one of his neuroscience workshops, definitely do. It’s fun and fascinating. My company, Relias, has applied this trend with our BrainSparks feature within our Learning Management System. Many of our courses include this feature which provides a “spark,” or series of spaced questions that stimulate prior recall of the learning. A trend which I think is just coming into its own is Mobile Learning. About 2 years ago, mobile learning was everywhere–every lineup in the conference circuit included a session on mobile learning, and there were many books as well. But, the drawback was that, it reminded me of the early days of PowerPoint when everything was garish–or later eLearning when the resulting programs were ugly; full of terrible animations and clip art. In other words, you had the tool, but hadn’t quite figured out how it should be employed. I think we are finally starting to see some really interesting applications of mobile in eLearning. We’ve learned just because you can put something on a smartphone, that doesn’t mean you should. Rather, we’ve started to look at the times when learners are inclined to turn to a mobile solution and what kinds of learning experiences we should design for that device.  Relias has a few mobile solutions, both of which we’ve built in Storyline. I cannot give enough love to Articulate, because their tool is the best, hands down. One of the solutions we released last year was a series of micro-learning courses on Wellness topics: smoking session, weight control, stress management. We made these available to every subscriber and they can be viewed on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. We designed a template specifically for the smartphone, although I’m excited to say that true responsive design is expected from Storyline this year! These were designed with engaging graphics, audio driven (not a lot of text on screen) and immersive vignettes on health topics. And, they are short (5-8 minutes) and are perfect for taking ‘on the go.’ We also developed a series of short videos called “Pro on the Go” for mobile. These are intended to provide a refresher on specific clinical procedures such as performing intra-dermal, subcutaneous, and intramuscular injections, administering medication, or infection control. They are designed to be viewed on a mobile device as we expect our learners will reference these on the job.

3. How do you prepare for a new program launch and how do you make sure you stand out from your competition?

I think we stand out from our competition by creating learning solutions that serve our learners needs and provide real value. We serve a very specific population of learners: those that serve the most vulnerable in society; seniors, the developmentally disabled, those with behavioral health issues, or are struggling with substance use, for example. These organizations are very pressed for time and money, so our solutions need to provide value; do we deliver the content that helps them fulfill their mission? Do we make their compliance and audit processes painless? Each program we launch is very considered; we have product managers with a direct line to our customer base within each vertical. They listen and create new learning products based on that input. If you look at our courses, I truly think they are among the best, not only within our market segment, but can compare with what many learning solution providers are offering. We are an exciting solution in that we offer a Learning Management System with amazing usability (I was a customer before I worked here) and we offer world class content in our libraries. We recently launched an immersive simulation that blew me away! I was both amazingly proud of the people who worked on it and jealous I wasn’t on that project team. Not only does this course have the “wow” factor, but it addresses a very real problem: how do you reduce re-hospitalizations? The course allows the learner to experience patient care in real time. The branching reflects the complex decisions clinical staff have to make on the job and the consequences of these decisions. Our VP says that as a content team, our goal is to be embarrassed by our efforts from six months ago because we’ve improved the quality of our courses that much. While the courses we created six months or a year ago are still very good, we continue to raise the bar on our own performance and improve the learner experience.

4. We are flooded with buzzwords lately – IT / gamification / MOOC… Where do you think the training world is heading?

Hopefully the training world is headed in a direction which empowers learners and moves us closer toward performance improvement. I’m not a fan of buzzwords in learning, because you can’t know if a solution is right for your business problem or goal until you analyze it. Gamification was all the rage last year, but there are limits to how it can impact motivation. There’s a lot of talk around learning ecosystems and I think that’s a good goal–looking at learning as a continuum, not just a one-time event. With learning applications, reinforcements, and mobile solutions, we can help our learning access performance support when they need it. We need to realize our employees are always learning. If we build an infrastructure to support them at the time of need, we’ll have engaged employees and better learning outcomes.
Jason is the Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog. Jason established the Training Station blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to training, learning and development.