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“We’re too busy” – why people don’t attend training and what to do about it

“We’re too busy” – why people don’t attend training and what to do about it!


We know that people are primed to learn. We are learning machines from the day we are born to the day we die! Humans have an innate curiosity and desire to explore their environment. Sometimes at work, we seem to lose that curiosity. Despite doing our best to design development that we think is interesting, relevant, and wanted by our employees – people don’t attend training.  


Yet weeks later, you hear people saying how much they want development opportunities to enhance their skills and stay current with changes.  If your organisation struggles to get people to take advantage of development opportunities, it’s time to understand why. 


Here are my top five reasons why people don’t attend training and what to do about it!


  1. Start with the end in mind.  Are you clear on what you’re trying to achieve through your learning and development offerings?  If your purpose or goal is to deliver outstanding training courses -these days, that’s not enough.  Be clear on what you want your training and development interventions to deliver.  For me, it’s “to change people’s behaviour and build new habits”.  This focuses me to think about ways I can do this.  No longer am I designing and delivering training.  Now I’m thinking about how I influence behaviour and create a safe environment for people to try new things.  


So what are your goals for your learning and development function?  Have you clearly articulated what you want your team or function, or simply your services – to deliver?


  1. Think about the learning model you use.  Traditionally learning and development departments designed and delivered training courses.  These were often events, based on quality training needs analysis, designed to fill a skills gap or need.  Dominated by workshops, pre-pandemic often face-to-face; and post-pandemic online or hybrid.  But fundamentally the same.  Events where we delivered training.


These days, people (and our employees) are consumers with high expectations of products and services brought about by the “Google or YouTube” effect.  They don’t want to wait for planned events, and sit through lots of content they’re not interested in.  As a response, update your learning model to include things like social learning, coaching, mentoring, communities of practice or job aids.  Accessible when people want them.  In bite-sized chunks.  Responding to their specific needs.  Think about “learning in the flow of work”  Coined by Josh Bersin, to describe accessing, quickly and easily, an answer or a short piece of learning content while you’re working.  


  1. Think like a human.  Ask yourself, what REALLY motivates people to learn?  Learning that’s relevant to personal interests will spark people’s attention.  They’ll be more likely to listen, take part and be interested.  And when people feel safe – psychologically safe – they’ll be more open to hearing different perspectives.  Different perspectives could be another word for learning something new.  Being in a safe environment also increases the speed of learning and helps transfer it to the workplace.  We shouldn’t underestimate how important the environment is in the learning process.  It’s more than just being nice or friendly.  It’s creating a psychologically safe environment.


Then here’s the last challenge- self-initiated learning is most lasting and pervasive.  Traditionally we’ve focused our effort on creating great workshops.  But what if we focused more time on helping people understand what they want to learn?  Helping them comfortably pinpoint what success looks like for them, what could change, and so, what they want to learn.  How could this affect their motivation to learn?


  1. Move on from 70 20 10 and embrace 40 20 40!  Building on the idea of flipped learning where workshop-based learning is inverted so people are introduced to learning materials before a workshop (the first 40% of learning).  Leaving workshop time to deepen understanding through facilitated discussion with peers, problem-solving activities and skills practice time – (20% of learning).  Then the final, and most important piece, (40%) of learning on the job through application.  We can support this final 40% with coaching, action learning sets or simple review and check-in learning cafes.  


One of the core objectives of this approach is to move delegates away from passive learning and towards active learning where individuals engage in collaborative activity, peer learning and problem-based learning.


  1. Shift our mindsets from being a Trainer – to being a Facilitator.  A facilitator coaches and empowers delegates to take control of their learning; exploring and understanding the applicability of theories, not simply learning them.  Facilitators build far more experiential learning into their programmes by “learning through reflection on doing”.


A typical workshop that’s being facilitated has minimum input pieces and maximum pair or group discussions about key concepts; helping the individual make sense of the learning in the context of their real world. Facilitating includes opportunities for reflection and capturing thoughts – all shown to deliver greater retention of the learning and a higher likelihood that the learning will be implemented.


So will this guarantee to solve the problem of “why people don’t attend training?”  I’m afraid I can’t guarantee that!  But these steps will take you a significant way towards creating Brain Friendly learning; a psychologically safe learning environment and learning and development that’s more relevant and timely.  And that takes you closer to competing with the Google and YouTube effect – and more likely to boost attendance at your next learning event.  


Rhiannon Stafford is a Talent & Organisational Development Consultant and Associate at Hoxby. 

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HR Project Manager
HR Project ManagerFinancial Services
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I had the great fortune of working with Rhiannon on the delivery of a global systems integration project.

Rhiannon was instrumental in ensuring the platforms success spear heading our Group wide upskilling programme. Her personal commitment and willingness to confront the challenge of change was exceptional.

Without her personal drive, consultative mindset and unfailing customer centric approach in both responding to our ever-changing requirements and the broad development needs of our workforce we would not have effected the change we have.
Head of People Development & Training
Head of People Development & TrainingFinancial Services
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Rhiannon very quickly gets to grip with the culture of an organisation and demonstrates the perfect style to build rapport with participants.

Her creativity in the design of workshops is exceptional and the way in which she combines blending learning elements worked incredibly well with the learners at my last organisation.

I recently had the pleasure of supporting Rhiannon with over 20 workshops embedding a new online performance review system and she maintained motivation and energy at all times.
Head of Procurement
Head of ProcurementGovernment Function
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One of the biggest challenges you can undertake in your job is to arrange a team away day. My advice for you is to ensure you know what you want to achieve, pick a suitable venue but most importantly pick a facilitator who can support you to achieve what you want.

Rhiannon managed to understand our problem, the best way to approach this and how to deliver on the day. After three phone calls her understanding of who we were and what we needed to do was amazing. The only negative feedback I have had from the team is why we didn’t get her in sooner.

My thanks for a great day and keeping us focused on some big and difficult topics. Would thoroughly recommend and will certainly ask Rhiannon for more support going forward.
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