Employee Discussions: Learning Tool Or Distraction?

Team seated in a circle conversingWhen it comes to training a multi-generational workforce, a great debate exists regarding the use of discussions in the training classroom. Traditionally, it was considered the responsibility of the instructor to successfully reproduce criterion-based behaviours in the trainee, and training design remained focused on a one-way flow of information from the instructor to the learner.

For older trainers, frequent trainee questions are often seen as disruptive, and discussion between trainees as a flat-out waste of time.

Over the past quarter century, the paradigm of training has shifted from this top-down training strategy to include interactional educational approaches, though the objective was still to direct knowledge from the instructor to the student.

However, the current generation now focuses on a student-driven, interactive learning model that is beautifully facilitated by the web-based training platforms many organisations are turning to.

Trainees in these programmes seem to thrive on discussions that actively relate the material to past experiences and future applications, which is a well-known phenomenon in adult learners.

There is an ever-growing body of research supporting these discussion-based training sessions, and the use of social learning on the job.

By nature, humans learn best by observing and copying the actions of others, and for training programmes that truly require the use of lecture-based materials, adding discussion to the mix appears to bridge the gap between observation and active participation.

In fact, discussion-based training programmes have been shown to facilitate knowledge acquisition and skill transfer in a way that cannot be achieved using traditional teaching methods. Many training programmes have shown great success in abandoning traditional training methods altogether and focusing entirely on discussion-based problem-solving.

These programmes require trainees to work together with their trainer to develop a strategic plan to improve the organisation, to develop a new product, or simply to improve the method of completing their specific job tasks.

The unique approach of these programmes not only improves performance on current job tasks, but also improves communication skills between employees when they return to their jobs.

These communication skills and opportunities to discuss ideas with training leaders ensures that employees feel valued and heard, which in turn improves their organisational commitment and the cost/benefits ratio of the training programme.

Despite the apparent benefits of these programmes, there is one very significant caveat to keep in mind; ultimately, the usefulness and benefits of learner-instructor and learner-learner discussions in training is entirely dependent upon the quality of the contributions.

That is, if students are not prepared to contribute in a meaningful way, the use of discussions rapidly shifts from a method of facilitating knowledge retention and transfer to a distraction and waste of training time.

Given the variable nature of discussions in training, trainers themselves must also respond with a flexible approach. If posing a discussion question leads to a silence so thick that one could hear a pin drop, trainers must decide whether it would be more beneficial to forgo discussion or to attempt to break the ice and get students talking.

If the group will interact as a part of a work team on the job, convincing to trainees to put aside their hesitations and join in the discussion, and to engage with the training material in a meaningful way, will go a long way to improving on-the-job success.

Many thanks

#Mark Williams

Head of Training

MTD Training   | Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo

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Originally published: 20 March, 2015

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