Worst training ever

That was the worst training experience I’ve ever had.

I don’t usually rant but I’ve just finished an elearning course on health and safety in the workplace and, in order to avoid further psychological damage, need to communicate my deep feelings of frustration and anger.

This was elearning only in the sense that it was on a computer, and thus electronic, not in the sense that any actual learning took place.

I was so bored that I tweeted my frustration throughout the later modules as a coping mechanism:

The danger that someone might actually learn something was avoided by some margin. The seven lengthy modules of unnecessarily detailed information put the mockers on any chance of any useful information finding its way into my head.

Picking any useful stuff from the superfluous fluff would take the work of a forensic specialist. This detail on the fire extinguisher maintenance schedule for example:

From the date of last revision of the fire extinguisher (3 times), revise the equipment according to ITC-MIE-AP.5 rules of maintenance of Pressurized Fire Extinguishers (BOE No149 of 23 June 1982)

Am I likely to remember this? Do I need to remember this? Do I even need to know it? Do I even understand it?

No to all of those.

So why include it?

I don’t much care that they chose elearning as a delivery tool, that’s a rational decision for an off-the-shelf course that needs to be delivered time and again.

What irks me is the lazy tick-boxy approach taken.

Look at this simple graphic for organising the response to an emergency situation:

The moment I look at that, I glaze over.

It fails to provide structure to the learning, it fails to help me understand the plan, it fails to help me know what I’m supposed to do in an emergency situation. The only level on which it succeeds is as an image within a ranty blog post about how rubbish it is*.

This course was a lazy all-inclusive box-ticking exercise that manages to dodge its true objective (learning) by blithely meeting the proxy objective of having forced us to sit through hours of irrelevant training.

This is what happens when you measure inputs not outputs (or better: outcomes). You don’t measure training, you measure learning (the output) or better: the impact of the learning (the outcome).

Making it shorter and better would have taken time, as many people are quoted as saying:

If I’d had more time, I’d have written you a shorter letter

No way to run a railroad

Every profession has its challenges.

If you run a railroad, you have the challenge of keeping the trains on time despite the weather conditions. If this challenge doesn’t excite you, don’t run a railroad.

If you’re into learning and development, the challenge isn’t the wrong types of leaves on the line, it’s trying to deliver a change in performance via the medium of learning, and, to make it more complicated, learning is something that happens in someone else’s brain, something you can only influence and encourage, not directly manipulate.

It’s a challenge.

In the case of health and safety training, the challenge is to make people learn something which is important but not interesting.

My MBA training demands I draw this into an unhelpful 2×2 matrix that states the obvious:


If we make the assumption that effective learning only really happens when it’s interesting for people, then box 2 (important but not interesting) becomes a real challenge. Here we have something important we need people to know, but it doesn’t interest them, and thus the breakthrough insight our new matrix has blown our minds with: when the learning is important, but not interesting, you have to start by making it interesting! This means creating urgency, creating excitement, creating need … make me want to learn goddammit!

If this challenge doesn’t excite you, then get out the learning business.



* This graphic turned out to be the final test at the end of the ridiculous course. I had to complete the entire flowchart by dragging the boxes into the right place. Fortunately I’d taken a snapshot of it to include in this post so was able to copy it and avoid learning anything.


13 thoughts on “Worst training ever

  1. Hilarious John, I’ve posted this on TrainingZone so it should get more deserved hits.

  2. Never mind the fact that it is hilarious……is it of any value?
    Well, it might be to any sensible human being……..
    I just hope that JT has managed to get the commissioner of the eBoring and the designer who wrote it, to read his “rant”.
    Rus Slater

  3. Thanks for your comment Rus.

    It was of value to me at least, the writing of the post was theraputic.

    I suspect the course “designer” isn’t particularly interested in feedback, it certainly wasn’t requested.

    1. I so sympathise, having just compleated an elearning course connected to training and assessing, I was so fed up I considered calling the awarding body. When will people realise that e learning is not simply dumping a set of powerpoint slides onto the web. Good e learning delivery is a skill

  4. It sounds as though the developer was more interested in showing off their own knowledge than in anyone actually learning anything. Another example of someone thinking “anyone can train” and “prep time is overrated”?

  5. Many thanks for your comment Gillian, and of course I completely agree with you.

    The fact that I managed to pass with a score over 70% (and get a nice certificate) despite not actually learning anything tells you a lot about its effectiveness.

  6. Thanks John (sorry your comment ended up in the spam bin). I agree, e-learning can be excellent, but not when it’s just a dump of every single slide remotely related to a topic.

    It’s a wonder I managed to complete it at all, never mind obtain the pretigious certificate at the end.

    I hope you’re impressed.

  7. I am pleased someone is finally writing about this. I design elearning and I am ashamed at the types of elearning avaiable!

  8. Thanks Michelle.

    Absolutely, this sort of rubbish gives e-learning a bad name. I began this post criticising e-learning in general, arguing that it was a cheap way to avoid training but pretend you hadn’t. As I developed the argument I realised I was wrong, e-learning is like anything else: it can be great, it can be terrible. This was an example of the latter.

    1. I agree, there is a big difference between instructional design and a PowerPoint presentation dumps 🙂

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