What’s the most important ingredient in a successful training programme? And by successful, I mean training that actually results in learning that embeds new skills and behaviours.
Obviously, the right trainer is critical, as is an appropriate learning environment and relevant and engaging course content.
But I’d say that the most important element is the one that’s in shortest supply in this day and age. It’s time. Marketing training requires most of the very thing marketers have least of.
In this always-on fast-changing world, marketers are constantly time-poor, rushed, and therefore need to learn on the job and ‘on the hoof’. So where there is any kind of marketing training, it is often condensed into ever-shorter formats. Hence the fast growth of online learning programmes, including Econsultancy’s own very successful Online Classrooms. Indeed, we recently launched a programme of ‘Microlearning’ modules that aim to give you the bare bones of a topic in just 90 seconds. We often refer to them as ‘learning hacks’. They’re very popular.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a place for this, and this is how many marketers choose to learn today. Picking up necessary skills ‘just in time’ as knowledge gaps are identified. Don’t understand what your media agency just told you? Here’s 90 seconds on programmatic that may help you to at least ask the right questions.
Access to learning and content at the right time and in the right way can accelerate the desire to learn and be very supportive, as we identified in our report How Marketers Learn.
But here’s the thing. I believe that whilst training can happen in multiple formats, learning (real learning) takes time.
Real learning means more than just watching a short module and listening to some great content. It means taking the time to truly understand and successfully embed new skills and behaviours in the longer-term. It’s the difference between short-term cramming (which pretty much sums up my own learning journey), and learning new knowledge and skills that will become second nature and so fundamentally improve performance.
At Econsultancy, we run hundreds of training workshops and academies for marketing professionals each year, covering a wide range of in-demand topics. From brilliant brief writing, to mastering data and analytics, to creating engaging content. We collect trainee feedback religiously, analyse the findings and endeavour to learn from what we’re being told.
The most common feedback, by far, is that participants wish they’d had more time in the session. Whether it was a two-hour or three-day workshop, we are consistently told that they would benefit from having more time to get under the skin of the theory with practical application using real examples and live projects. They want more practice:
- “Great workshop, but we could have used more time”
- “We’d have benefitted from more time for questions, discussion and practicing the tools”
- “Shame it had to end just when we were getting started. Hope we can have another session soon”
A critical part of embedding new skills is through what we call Participatory Learning. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”. What this means is that the most effective training approach – the training that truly does lead to real and measurable improvement in performance – builds in sufficient time for active engagement and participation.
It means ‘participants’ get to practice the skills they’re being taught right there, in the workshop. With the time to try, to fail, to ask questions, to try again, and to learn. Using real case studies, and ideally, live projects sourced from their own organisations, so that the learning is ‘real’, and the lessons are being tried out in a supported environment.
We also know that repetition is important when it comes to effective learning. Whether through the training day, or over a series of training sessions, it’s proven that when people are exposed to new information a number of times, they’re more likely to recall and adopt it. So, rather than rushing through a broad range of topics, training should focus on fewer things and really strive to achieve a true understanding through a deeper dive and hands-on exercises.
This is supported by years of research. For instance, a report in 2012 (Principles of Instruction, Barak Rosenshine) concluded that ”The best way to become an expert is through practice – thousands of hours of practice. The more the practice, the better the performance”.
Put bluntly, training can actually be a waste of time and money, especially if you want to achieve a noticeable improvement in performance and not simply gain additional knowledge.
It all comes down to the difference between passive learning and active practice. In Thomas Sterner’s book, The Practicing Mind, he explains:
“When we practice something, we are involved in the deliberate repetition of a process with the intention of reaching a specific goal. The words deliberate and intention are key here because they define the difference between actively practicing something and passively learning it.”
Of course, this seems obvious, yet is easily forgotten or ignored in the rush to train as much as possible as quickly as possible. The best marketers are brilliant practitioners of their profession and this simply cannot be achieved overnight. This is not a Formula 1 pit stop; sometimes you just have to slow down and allow the time needed to absorb and practice the skills that will speed up your career in the longer-term.