Performance Support

Contextual Help



Why Training As Close To The Time Of Need Is A Must

Most of the training we work on is technical and in many projects, the desire is to have employees taking training weeks before a system goes live.

We’re regularly asked to have training available two weeks before launch. I understand the reason for the ask, there are logistics behind getting people assigned to training, schedules are busy, and a buffer is always nice too.

But, here’s the big issue. It’s often asked that training be assigned two weeks before launch. There are several good reasons why this is the case but there are more reasons why this is harmful to the overall quality of training and learning the application.

That means when employees are assigned training two weeks before launch, a good portion of employees could get training well before they even have access to the tool.

The biggest risk in training is forgetfulness sometimes known as the forgetting curve. Employees have a lot of work and a lot to learn. If we don’t use what we learn then we forget it rapidly. Forgetting starts immediately unless what skills learned are used immediately.

It only takes a day or two to start forgetting large amounts of something we learn. That’s a guaranteed risk that is sometimes accepted to deal with the potential risk of employees not taking training in time. Not a good decision.

Leaving it up to chance that people will access training closer to when they need it isn’t good enough for training. There’s too much of a chance that people will take training when assigned and forget everything they learned by the time the tool launches.

You know the old saying, if you don’t use it, you lose it. That applies 100% to training too. There’s no exact percentage of how much people will forget or how fast (contrary to lots of fake statistics you’ll find online) but people do forget, especially if what they learn isn’t used.

Use it (skills learned) or lose it (skills learning).

I understand, there are many reasons why training is asked to be delivered before employees will need it. Some of them are better than others. We came up with a few reasons (some from what we’ve been given as reasons) why we’re asked for training to be available well in advance of a system launch, usually two weeks before but sometimes more.

  • Employees are busy and we need to give them time to take training.
  • Give people time to ask questions if they don’t understand the training.
  • Allow time for extra guidance from leaders.
  • Schedule office hours during training time for employees to ask the experts.

In some cases, these are good reasons but in most cases, they’re not good enough to counter the big risk of guaranteed forgetting. There’s one really important situation when training should be available in advance, though. Let’s get to that before we jump into why it shouldn’t.

When Training Must Be Available In Advance

One of the best reasons that training cannot wait to be available on or closer (a week before) to training is that sometimes the application is essential to everyday job functions.

If a new tool is being rolled out and the old tools are going away, employees must know how to use the new tool on day one. That means all training must be done before launch if employees must have uninterrupted access to an application.

This only applies if training cannot be done in a short amount of time. Think of medical professionals who take care of patients. They have a busy schedule that’s filled with patient care which means they can’t always take time for training on short notice.

We’ve done technical training in the medical community where care cannot be delayed. That means it’s often not reasonable to give them a week’s notice that they must take training and be ready to use a new application on day one.

In that case, a bit more of a ramp-up may be needed at least for communicating when they must take training. Or perhaps a healthy amount of communication about the upcoming change. Luckily we have things like custom eLearning that make it easier to rapidly deploy training to hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of employees in a very short amount of time.

Even though there are sometimes good reasons for doing training in advance, there are a lot more reasons why training should be done closer. They’re pretty compelling which means unless there’s no potential alternative, training should wait until the time of need when employees can apply it and cement those skills.

Reasons Why Training Should Be Done Close To The Time Of Need

I mentioned briefly why training should be done as close to the time of need as possible. But, there are several other reasons and more to say about them. While we provide many digital training solutions, these facts apply to all types of training.

Whether employees are getting virtual instructor-led training, live training, or any other type, these reasons for offering training as close to the time of need as possible always apply. Here we go.

Memory Is Limited

No, a specific percentage of information isn’t lost within one second, 10 minutes, 2 hours, etc. of training. If you ever see a specific number and a specific time, it’s a lie. But yes, it’s a known fact from scientific research that people forget.

You don’t need a study to know people forget. if you don’t use it, you will lose it.

How much you lose and how fast will vary from person to person and even vary by topic, interest level, how information is presented, and more. There’s no way to measure forgetting precisely.

Nobody can remember everything. Our capacity for retaining the information we learn is limited. In the short term, we can’t remember much at all. Think about phone numbers, they’re only seven digits (in the US) for a reason. That’s because our capacity to remember much else doesn’t exist without some pretty creative methods to remember.

There’s no way to tell specifically how much is forgotten in a given time but what is given is that people do forget.

I’d argue that our memory is even smaller now, though, because I can’t even remember a seven-digit phone number! That very well could just be me, though.

As soon as you learn something unless you use it right away, it begins to fade immediately. The small details go first and then pretty soon you have a difficult time connecting how to do a skill entirely.

Think about the process of requesting time off in a timekeeping application. There is typically a specific process you have to follow. You think it looks easy when watching a video on how to do it. But, when you go to do it do you remember all those details?

For me, the answer is no because I start forgetting unless I’m able to do the process myself. Even then it takes a bit to become embedded in our long-term memory. That’s one reason a high-quality realistic software simulation with a scenario is good. So that people can practice.

That will reinforce memory and help people learn. But that can only do so much. If someone takes a really good course that has them practice the actual skill, they still must do it again soon, or else even that will be forgotten.

The memory of what was learned starts to fade because our memory is inherently limited. It doesn’t become part of what we know until we’re able to cement it into long-term memory. Plus you may have to make room for more important things like how to play the new game you just downloaded (I know I do!).

When training is taken closer to when that task will be used, what’s forgotten will be decreased.

Learning Is Reinforced

If you learn something in training and then use it right away, what was learned will be much stronger. That means you can naturally take advantage of spaced learning. That means employees can learn in training and then make that learning even stronger by using what they learned again.

The best part? They could learn something new when they use what they learned. So, it’s not always necessary to make spaced learning completely formal, sometimes people just need the opportunity to use what they learned in the initial training for spaced learning to work.

When training is done closer to when employees use it, they are less likely to forget all those important subtleties that help them use what they learned more effectively.

Maybe that means less performance support is needed since the process of doing will take over for learning. That only works if a task is needed regularly, though. Spaced repetition won’t work if not and in that case performance support is a better form of training.

More Relevance

Relevance is everything for training. In fact, relevance is king in training more than content or anything else. If a course or other training isn’t relevant to an employee then they won’t be fully engaged and it’ll be boring and forgettable.

Then there’s also the chance that without proper communication they won’t be invested in the training at all. What if they’re assigned training two weeks in advance and aren’t told much about what’s coming?

Or worse, the training is the first introduction to the tool without even hearing the why first. To get assigned training and the launch is two weeks off is offputting and makes the training and more seem irrelevant.

If the training is assigned and the tool launches in two weeks, what’s being trained doesn’t even seem that relevant yet. If you are assigned training on Monday and the tool is coming on Thursday, that’s pretty relevant and I’d be a lot more inclined to pay attention.

Lack of relevance means lack of motivation.

Would you want to take a course that you don’t think you need? If training is offered too early then you risk people thinking they don’t need it. You risk them putting it off or not taking it seriously because it’s future them’s problem.

I’d hate to see what happens if training is available more than two weeks in advance of a system being launched. That would be a huge waste of effort in multiple ways. A huge waste of training creation time, time taking training, lack of preparation from employees, and many other negative repercussions.

So how do you solve this problem and not train too early?

Solutions To Not Training Too Early

This seems like an easy answer, just make the training available closer to the time they’ll need it!

Simple, right?

Not so fast. You have to strike the right balance between making it available too early and stressing out employees with limited time to take it. On either side of the spectrum, there will be negative impacts on the project and employees.

One of the best solutions is to overlap when training becomes available and when it’s required to be completed (if required). That means at most one week before the launch of the application training should be available and one week into the launch it should be completed.

But what about when training is an absolute must before employees get access to the tool?

In this case, you have two decent options.

  • Make training available one week before launch.
  • Schedule one or two days when employees must take training which gives time for some to take training while others cover shifts.

But here’s the catch, don’t spring it on them the same week or with only a day’s notice. Make sure to give employees ample communication when training will be available and when they’re expected to complete it. So, with communications about the launch of a new tool, also communicate about training expectations.

That way there are no surprises for employees. No surprises are one of the best ways to make people comfortable and accepting of changes. If employees feel that they were communicated with and provided opportunities to learn then training and the entire project will be more successful.

Another great option if possible is to make training available alongside the tool. This won’t always be possible, but it’s the best option when it is.

An example would be a timekeeping system where employees need to punch in and out. They need to punch in and out on day one but that’s about all they need to know to get started. So, provide them a simple job aid on how to do that in the project communications. From there, more in-depth training can be taken with required tasks so they’ll be successful.

Here are some of the options available for making training available not too early but not too late.

  • Offer training closer to launch but make it required before they have access (but get them access quickly!)
  • Give them a shorter window to take training.
  • Provide employees performance support for the bare minimum on day one but make more training resources available at launch.
  • Offer training not too early (but still early) and then send a communication with performance support resources that can remind them of training (great for spaced learning too).

Wrap Up

Hopefully, you’re sold on why training should be made available and taken as close to the time of need as possible. This is the next best thing to learn in the flow of work with something like contextual help for software. Alas, learning in the flow of work isn’t always practical or realistic. That’s why learning as close to when it will be applied is a wonderful option.

Sometimes it’s necessary for training to be available in advance, especially when people’s lives and care rely on it. If that’s not the case and there’s even a remote opportunity to train closer to the time it will be used, then make it the goal to train closer to when employees will use the skills and cement that knowledge.

If training close to the time of need means overlapping with the launch of a tool, so be it unless the job cannot be completed without the tool. Sometimes a good alternative might be to just have a short training window but communicate the timeline and requirements early and often.

Every tool that launches will be unique and requirements will be unique too. That’s why every project will be different and we can only give you some ideas. However, it’s still important to think about how you can best serve employees. Help them do their job better with better tools and training to help them use those tools effectively.

Part of working with us on technical training involves coming up with a good plan to launch the training that aligns with the launch. We aim to help your employees make a smooth transition and ensure they’re successful at their job. Without that success, the entire process of launching software and training risks being a failure.

We’d love to discuss working with you to make your next technical project a huge success. Schedule a free consultation so we can discuss your specific project and help you hit a home run with training.

Learn more about our digital training solutions and how they will make your next corporate technical project a big success. That means training employees at the right time.

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