remove training facilitation limitations

The corporate education industry is ever transforming, and clients are looking for training that is bigger, stronger, faster and delivered in less time. As a result, two things occur: a higher burnout rate for facilitators, and a lower overall quality of training.

Instructors quickly get worn out repeating the same scripted training, at breath-taking speeds, without any time for adaption or flexibility. When employees fail to process the necessary information, the company will not meet its desired goals for workforce development and increased revenue.

Financial advisory services firm Charles Schwab tackled this challenge by embarking on an unconventional road with Bryan Taylor, prosecuting attorney for Canyon County, Idaho, and adult learning theory researcher. Taylor’s research focuses on the principle of andragogy, the art and science of teaching and leading adults. It provides a set of guidelines for designing instruction with learners who are more self-directed than teacher-directed. An instructor using andragogical principles focuses more on being a facilitator of learning instead of being a transmitter of knowledge.

There are six key assumptions about adult learners that all instruction should recognize and incorporate to be effective:

  1. Self-concept: Adults self-conceptualize as a self-directed personality rather than a dependent one.
  2. Experience: An adult accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes a resource for learning.
  3. Readiness to learn: An adult’s readiness to learn becomes oriented to the development task of their social role.
  4. Orientation to learn: An adult’s time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. Accordingly, his or her orientation toward learning shifts from subject-centeredness to problem-centeredness.
  5. Motivation to learn: Internal motivation is critical as a person matures.
  6. The need to know: Adults need to know the reason for learning something.

These six assumptions become an interactive agreement between the learner and the learning experience. Thus, andragogy is an organized and sustained effort to help adults learn in a way that enhances their capacity to function as self-directed learners who rely heavily on their experiences.

We called Taylor after reading a few of his works to discuss whether or not his research could translate from academic settings to Schwab’s training programs. Many programs focus more on pedagogical techniques and methods than andragogical principles. Taylor used a variety of prosecution-related analogies to help convey his points. He said one of the biggest problems with pedagogically mandated instructional curriculum is the instructor is “handcuffed” in what and how they can deliver information to the learner.

His research and insight inspired our primary objective to move from a pedagogical “teacher-focused” education model to more of an andragogical “learner-focused” education model. We piloted this new philosophy with our Foundations of Trading course, FOT, an introductory course designed to teach new brokers how to trade various types of investments requested by our clients. We focused on two key elements that we thought would allow this andragogical environment to thrive: knowledgeable facilitators and removing the traditional facilitator guide.

First, to effectively engage the participants in an accurate andragogical manner, we chose Financial Industry Regulatory Authority licensed facilitators with approximately two years of facilitation experience. This combination struck the perfect balance between experience and competency.

Second, we incorporated streamlined facilitation guides, and this is where the proverbial curriculum handcuffs were removed. Through a partnership with our analytics team, we identified “need-to-have” and “nice-to-have” course objectives. They were no longer bound to a script of questions, PowerPoint flow, timing, etc., and this approach provided the flexibility to ensure classes could adapt to the various learning styles and learners who attended each session.

We used the new approach in 14 different FOT course sessions in 2016, and we discovered a three-fold success. First, learners walked away with increased knowledge penetration and higher confidence in complex topics. Based on a 45-day post-training evaluation window through interviews and surveys we found four immediate benefits. Charles Schwab:

  • Saved more than $74,000 in overtime costs.
  • Increased new employee conversion rate by 5 percent.
  • Reduced the average handle time in customer support by 27 seconds.
  • Improved client satisfaction survey scores by 2 percent.

Second, our facilitators were liberated to adjust the course to meet learners’ needs. Having more freedom, they were more engaged and energized to present the materials.

Finally, training time was reduced by a full eight-hour day, giving production time back to the business organization. As a result, our business received a bigger, stronger, faster training program with more productive employees in less time. The content remained the same; the learning delivery mechanism changed.

By going outside the box and working with a nontypical partner we changed our approach to training. Our next stage is twofold: We will start to expand this new philosophy to other courses in the Charles Schwab organization, and we will continue to incorporate innovative learning strategies to enhance our broader impact.

Dean Griess is managing director for Charles Schwab.

Bryan Taylor, prosecuting attorney for Canyon County, Idaho, and Samantha Schwartz, senior team manager and Joey Mentz, learning manager, both for Charles Schwab, contributed to this article. Comment below or email



  1. To echo your experience, when you separate “Need” vs “Nice” to know, you do more than free up training time…you also provide facilitators a means of repeating the key takeaways so that our participants are much more likely to retain what they indeed “Need to know.” Congrats!

  2. Not impressed. A huge part of me asks, “What took them so long to figure this out?”

    Sadly, I know the answer. I worked for a competitor in the financial services industry, and this entire segment is woefully lacking in effective facilitation skills or even the most basic understanding of how people learn, and why people should be learning, in an organizational environment.

    A lot of old school, didactic crap passing for valuable development. Pathetic. I am sure the Schwabbies were no different.

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