I have seen the same phenomenon occur when business owners and educators get in the same room. Educators argue that business-minded individuals are too bottom-line focused, unable to see the value of an instructionally sound training program. Business accuses education of being too distanced in its objectives and not understanding the real-world outcomes it is supposed to be supporting. If we are going to support our organizations with effective instructional programs, both parties are going to have to do a better job of hearing and understanding each other.
This section of Chief Learning Officer magazine is appropriately named “Selling Up, Selling Down.” There is a lot we educators can learn from the art of selling. I must admit that I avoided this label for quite a while. After all, I wasn’t in sales—I was in education! I held a stereotypical and, in many ways, unfair view of what sales meant. I quickly came to realize that education and sales have a lot in common. As an educator, I was always “selling” my concepts and ideas to my learners. I used many of the same strategies of evaluation, engagement and persuasion that an effective sales person would use. We need to adopt more of these strategies when selling the validity of our programs.
There are a few business issues we need to better address. First, it starts with a value statement. What measurable values do our programs bring to the “buyer” or learner?
Many training offerings are viewed as add-ons to the programs they are meant to enhance and support. We have not always done an effective job of integrating our training programs with the initial outcomes and ongoing success of these initiatives. We have created a siloed model of instruction that is viewed as separate from real-world application. The traditional classroom has had a lot to do with creating this perception, simply due to the fact that it is not in the real world by definition. It’s a separate building or place that takes learners away from the reality they face when trying to apply the skills we teach. E-learning, and other alternative modalities, can help us bridge this gap and support the entire process of learning. As educators, we need to become learning consultants, helping with the integration of these tools at a more strategic and relevant level.
A second issue to consider is how we help organizations justify their investment of resources when purchasing or committing to training. We should start by realizing that these resources involve more than just a financial investment. They also involve the use of one of the most critical resources available today—time.
In today’s economic climate of “doing more with less,” most employees don’t have an abundance of time to spare for tasks that are viewed as falling outside their immediate job responsibilities. We need to develop programs that take advantage of, and integrate with, the time our learners have. Again, it gets back to understanding the modalities available to deliver our training effectively. A blended solution, where tools, schedules and content are selected based on the amount of time and resources available to an organization, will have a much higher chance of being accepted than a solution that is viewed as an additional burden.
It’s all about business and training getting on the same page. If we can do a better job of bridging the gap between our two worlds, we all have a better chance of success. After all, both business and training are in the business of creating a useful and measurable outcome.
Bob Mosher is the executive director of education for Element K. He has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.