Why is training so boring?


Training is a common phenomenon in the work place. Most employees will have experienced some form of internal training throughout their careers. Sometimes this training is something that every employee needs to do (like fraud prevention training) or something more specific to your role (a software update or improving management skills).

Either way, most people have experienced training that they have found boring.

So why is some training so boring? And how can we design training that isn’t?

First, let’s look at why you might dread undertaking training and find it so dull.

Reason 1: You don’t care about the content.

This is probably the biggest reason why training is boring. Deep down, even if you want to do what your employer asks, you very likely don’t care that much about the content of the training. Health and safety is one of the usual suspects, but even something like an update on software you regularly use, or training on how to be a better manager can become boring. Even apparently relevant topics can be full of things you ultimately don’t really care about. If you find yourself day dreaming about other things during the training, the content isn’t engaging you.

Reason 2: The training is too long.

Perhaps the topic is of interest to you, but after 3 hours of talking about it or listening to someone else talk about it, you really feel like you’ve had enough. Sometimes particular topics are of interest for a short time, but with many training courses lasting several hours or all day, the amount of content, or the level of interest in the content, doesn’t match the duration. You find yourself longing for lunch time, and then longing for 5 o’clock. You’re barely listening any more and doodling in your notebook. Someone won’t stop giving their long-winded opinion. You’re officially bored.

Reason 3: You’ve been sat in the same place for hours.

It’s amazing how many training courses require a person to sit in a seat, perhaps in a circle or behind a table, for several hours listening to a trainer speak and having group discussions. We all know that sitting on a long-haul flight is dull. So why do we design training that is effectively the same thing? And long haul flights have on-board entertainment! The sedentary nature of being on a training course in a classroom or meeting room where you sit in the same spot for hours can almost guarantee boredom.

Reason 4: You’ve got more important things to do.

One of the biggest complaints about training is that employees are busy and being in training takes them away from their work. Their work doesn’t go away and is just piling up behind them, ready for when they return. This can lead to significant lack of engagement with training and a resentment of it happening at all. Resentment leads to significant discontent and a trainee who’s mind is elsewhere.

How do we resolve this?

Sometimes I think employers know all of the above, but they’ve almost come to accept the fact that training is boring and you just ‘have to do it’ and get it over with. Then they can go back to their normal jobs having ticked the correct box.

The problem with this approach is that an acceptance that training is boring actually renders it a huge waste of time and money. If employees are completely disengaged and bored, they are unlikely to change their behaviour or have gained any significant new skills from the training. They may as well have stayed at home.

Here are some ideas for how to resolve each of the reasons given above.

Reason 1: You don’t care about the content.
Resolution: Give them a reason to care.

It’s important, before training is delivered, for the organisation to accept that employees don’t care about certain types of training. Health and safety, as mentioned before, is a typical culprit. Employees genuinely don’t care about it. So how do we make them care?

We can increase their caring-meter by making the topic relevant to them. Employees don’t need to be ‘trained’ on the entire company health and safety policy. Many health and safety policies are created from templated documents based on UK legislation. This means that most employees will have seen a very similar policy before, at another organisation. In addition to this, most employees will never come into contact with most of what is in it. The important thing here is to make it relevant. Ask them about the places where they work in the office. Ask them to figure out what the health and safety issues might be. Most people have some idea to begin with and don’t necessarily need to be told. Then fill in any gaps they’ve missed.

Turn it into a game. Ask them to go to their own working space and point out the safety issues. Again, if they miss something, fill in the gaps.

Reason 2: The training is too long.
Resolution: Go for a minimalist approach.

Don’t make the training longer than it needs to be. Some employers have this idea that the longer the training, the better it must be. For example ‘All staff need 3 hours of equality and diversity training’. Why? Has anyone actually assessed what the content of that training is? Why does it need to be exactly 3 hours?

If you give employees the relevant information within a timeframe that takes into account their attention span (on average about 20 minutes), you’ll get much more engagement than forcing a 3 hour session. The more ‘dull’ the topic, the less time you should spend on it. If your health and safety training revolves around your policy, don’t forget that most adults can read. Why not ask them to read the policy and answer a few questions about it? This could take 1 hour maximum. Don’t add work that doesn’t need to be there.

If there is a lot of content, try breaking it up. Ask them to complete 15 minutes each day on a topic broken down into small chunks. Make the training feel like less of a chore and more of an additional thing to do at the end or beginning of each day.

Reason 3: You’ve been sat in the same place for hours.
Resolution: Why was this happening, ever?

I struggle to understand this situation, but it is very common in training. It’s one of those things which is historical and comes from our days in the school classroom with the teacher stood at the front. Some traditional practices were never questioned but when they are there is very little reasoning behind it.

If you make someone sit in the same spot for more than an hour you’re likely to lose their attention. Design activities and work that allows them to move around, leave the room, do activities on mobile devices, get into the workplace or go outside. You will engage them far more if they don’t feel like they’re in training-prison.

Reason 4: You’ve got more important things to do.
Resolution: Think about why employees should give up time to take this training. Is it important?

If employees feel like training is a waste of time you’ve lost them before they’ve even walked in the door. You need to make the training interesting enough to feel like a priority. Start with answering the question ‘Why are we doing this?’ If they understand the reasoning, and the reasoning is justified, you can engage people. If the reasoning isn’t justified, go away and rethink your training. If the training is of minimal importance, think about how and why it is being delivered. Could they complete something online that only takes 15 minutes? Could you assess their knowledge in another way? Don’t force something to happen which isn’t adding value.

In the right environment, training can be immersive and life-changing. Sadly, a lot of training is just badly designed with little thought. Often people are following traditional practises rather than really thinking about why and how employees need to be trained. Try to be more conscious about training delivery and you can make a real difference.

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