Why Traditional Training Doesn’t Work

Why Traditional Training with SMEs Doesn’t Work - Dr. Jim Guilkey

When I was assistant director of flight education at Ohio State, I remember an FAA training manual with an image that depicted a student’s head being cracked open and the instructor pouring knowledge into the learner’s brain. Unfortunately, many corporate training organizations still believe that effective learning is as simple as filling the learner’s head with knowledge.

 Enter the subject matter expert (SME). These are the folks you’re probably using right now to do your training. They might know a lot about your business and its operations—they’ve got some good stuff to pour in if they could just crack those skulls open—but they don’t know anything about how people learn. At Ohio State, I taught in the ground school for flight instructors. At the beginning of the semester, I would ask the class, “Who thinks they are the best at landings?” I would then select one of the students who had raised a hand and ask the student to come to the front of the room and teach the class how to do perfect landings. The heartfelt attempt was always a disaster. These “experts” were superior at landing an aircraft but had no idea how to structure a lesson on landings. They would normally begin with detailed specifics (e.g., “when turning on the final approach …”) rather than a general introduction (i.e., “There are three main phases to landing an aircraft …”). Great pilots, even though they are experts on the subject matter of flying, do not inherently know how to teach or understand methods for structuring effective learning.

Most SMEs are like those great pilots. The pattern of a traditional training program features an SME lecturing at the front of a room and from there the students read, read, read and then try to demonstrate knowledge by completing a multiple-choice test that only assesses an ability to memorize. The learner’s focus is on passing the test and moving on as quickly as possible. We need to develop businesses filled with problem solvers, not memorizers. We need learners who can apply what they learn, not regurgitate information poured into them by an SME. Traditional training fails because it doesn’t account for HOW people learn or what they need to accomplish on the job. Moreover, traditional training doesn’t offer any meaningful way to measure results (those multiple-choice tests actually tell you nothing), so you don’t have a way to tell if your training program is working.

M-Pact learning, by contrast, works with SMEs to develop the content employees need to acquire and then carefully designs a structured learning experience built on a knowledge of how people learn. As a result, with an M-Pact learning approach, you develop employees who digest what they learn, can apply it at work, and are capable of problem solving when the real world intervenes in ways that pouring facts into their heads could never anticipate. Traditional training simply doesn’t work. So why do you keep investing in it?