Are your learners ready?

Are your learners ready? For 20 plus years learning readiness has been a maddening question lingering on my mind. Are staff (of all sorts and seniority) ready to embark on a learning programme? Published in ‘Learning Transfer at Work’ by Paul Matthews.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of undertaking a learner readiness assessment? How do you go about reviewing individuals’ readiness for a learning event or programme? Note, I’m still looking for a suitable term for this, readiness assessment has smells like school somehow. Whatever you call it, assessing if your learners are ready entails more than the standard pre-training questionnaire.

Recently, following a communications course with delegates from an internationally renowned NGO, I knew that two thirds of the people leaving the room were going to initiate changes in their behaviours at work. Then subsequently client feedback would improve, providing strong evidence for future project funding. For these participants, learning transfer is going to happen. Others were simply not ready.  So from day one it was clear they were not ready for the learning programme.  As a consequence,  for them, and their organisations, that training was a waste of three days and precious resources. This is one example yet learner readiness applies to all topics. It also applies to all staffing levels from new receptionists through to Director Generals.

What is behind ‘readiness’?

Perhaps these types of participants have too many elephant-sized problems on their plate to deal with. Or it could be a question of courage. By this I mean the person is not yet psychologically ready to rise up to the behavioural challenges that they need to meet for the good of the organisation. Or, on a practical note, perhaps there is simply not time enough in the day. People need time to consider how and when to implement and reflect on the learning. These tangible issues can be resolved by re-allocating or reprioritising work. Indeed the intangible issues can be resolved by further personal development; coaching; and ensuring a learning culture – all easier said than done albeit vital to the development and success of the company.

If a delegate is not ready to learn and go through all phases of the learning programme, then Finance have every reason to see the learning programme as a cost and not an investment.

Whilst on the subject of costs versus investment, assessing Organisational readiness is an essential undertaking and equally crucial to the success of the learning intervention.*

Certainly what a phase 1 learning readiness assessment looks like will depend on the culture of your organisation and specific challenges you face. I advocate reviewing readiness through self-assessment rather than a top down pass or fail approach.

The disadvantage of staff assessing their own learning readiness is that it may uncover further issues such as cultural barriers or lack of leadership that the initial performance review did not reveal. In the long run that is of course an advantage, in the short term it can feel overwhelming. Also, people may not have the level of self-awareness necessary to undertake the review at that stage. People who back away from training/learning at work may use the assessment as an excuse, and managers may need courageous conversations support to be able to deal with this kind of attitude.

The advantages of doing a readiness review

The advantages of doing a readiness review as a self-assessment are that:
a. You are treating the people about to embark on a learning programme, as equal adults, able to determine their own learning readiness.
b. You are focussing people’s minds on to the fact that this is a learning programme consisting of several phases, rather than a fun training day out!
c. You avoid the risks inherent in management decisions standing alone. These risks include labelling theory where by one individual has been deemed ‘untrainable’. Another risk may be unconscious bias that leads to one individual being deemed ‘ready’ and another ‘unready’.
d. Where people are psychologically unready you can further investigate this. Then you can deliver learning that brings people up to the levels of readiness you need to make the programme a success.

What would a readiness review look like?

Shorter is sweeter, covering a range of questions:
1. What do you personally want to be able to do back in the work place following this course?
2. How will you manage your diary to find time to reflect on how you have used the learning, following the course?
3. When, and how, following the course will you be able to start using the learning?
4. What may inhibit your ability to implement the learning you expect to get from this programme? Think about organisational and team factors, and your own personal circumstances
5. How does this training fit with the organisations’ and your teams’ strategic aims?
6. How would you assess your own reactions to instigating change within your team? Are you filled with fear or feeling charged up and ready to go?
7. What would best support you in implementing the learning you’ll achieve on this programme [insert a range of options such as post learning cohorts; online scheduled peer discussions; external coaches; allocated learning time; according to what is possible in your organisation].

You may have less bums on seats following a readiness review but at least they’ll be the right bums.