Many learning leaders struggle to help learners feel accountable for their own growth and development. They devote time and budget to create more and more training, yet see little change. This common expression partially sums up the problem:

“When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

I fall into this trap from time to time… and I know that trainers do, too. When a need arises, they design another course, another workshop, or another PDF. They create the types of training their organizations are used to and wonder why nothing changes.

Without proper design and alignment, training is a solution in search of a problem. It might have all of the right content and still fail to help learners change their behavior. Sometimes training is too general and not meaningful to learners in their specific role. Other times, it is not memorable and easy to recall at the point of need. Most often, it is simply not motivating. Most training fails to transition from “something the organization wants me to do” to “something I want to do.”

The result? Learners do not feel accountable for their own learning. Training is something they have to do… not something they get value from. They know they are supposed to take it, but they don’t see how it connects to the big picture.

Reasons for Low Learner Accountability

There are many interrelated causes to low learner accountability. When we asked 150 learning professionals what they would change about learning and development in their organizations in our 2017 Learning and Remembering Survey, answers fell into these categories:


The top two answer categories in particular have a clear impact on learner accountability. When training is learner-centric, relevant and available at the point of need, learners are engaged and knowledge transfer happens. When learning is emphasized and prioritized in company culture, employees become more interested in taking advantage of training opportunities. But when training designs are less than optimal or learning is not a priority in company culture, the opposite happens.

Let’s pretend you have the budget, buy-in and time you need to do training right. What would it look like? How do you translate business goals and learning objectives into motivating, meaningful and memorable training? And most importantly, how do you make people active participants in their own learning?

The answers will differ depending on the organization, but here are my general recommendations:

1. Identify difficulty, frequency and importance of tasks and plan accordingly

Do you know what a typical day on the job looks like for your learners? If you do not, you risk emphasizing the wrong things in your training and causing learners to tune out. Gather insights through job shadowing, focus groups and surveys to determine what tasks are the most difficult, important and frequently performed. This will help you determine which skills should be emphasized the most versus what should be put in a reference guide.

2. Show the Why: Connect processes and procedures to business acumen

Processes and procedures are often not fun to learn and sometimes tedious to follow. When learners think training is just a way for the company to “tell them what to do,” it is no surprise that they tune out. Yes, they heard about the process, but they do not feel motivated to follow it. They don’t see how it connects to a greater purpose.

The best training finds a way to connect everyday processes and procedures to who the organization is and what it stands for. For example, we partnered with one of our clients to redesign new hire compliance training to show how each policy or procedure helped the company achieve its mission of “Helping the world grow the food it needs.” This was a much more powerful message than simply trying to teach “Do this, this, and this.”

3. Space out the learning and blend multiple mediums

Research on how quickly we forget new information is well documented. How important is training really when it is delivered once with no follow-up? Well-designed training includes a variety of solution types, all carefully connected to learning objectives. Reinforcement is key.

For example, a new technician training program might include solutions like this:

  1. Foundational product knowledge and company facts delivered in short microlearning chunks.
  2. Instructor-led sessions where technicians practice the most important, difficult and frequently needed skills.
  3. Ongoing reinforcement on key behaviors delivered via mobile devices.
  4. For any knowledge that a learner does not need to be able to recall from memory, performance support resources should be readily available.

4. Make training easy to access and learner-friendly

What good is a performance support resource if learners can’t access it when they need it? With a few exceptions (call center workers or hourly employees, for example), you should design training with mobile devices in mind. Learner satisfaction will rise if they can complete training at the time and place that is most convenient for them.

Keep in mind that training is yet another form of media competing for learners’ attention. They will be comparing it against the fabulous user experiences provided by consumer-facing websites and mobile apps. How does your training stack up? It does not have to be as sleek as a Google app, but it should be good enough that the user interface and technology do not detract from the learning experience. Gamified courses and full blown learning games do not need to be as fun as a commercial game, but they do need to be “fun enough” to engage and motivate. Here’s an example.

5. Think like a marketer when it’s time to launch

Sometimes, trainers stick to the tried and true to avoid implementation headaches. When you add eLearning courses to an LMS and assign them for completion, there is very little risk of botching the rollout. Successfully integrating a new mobile app or portal into busy people’s workflow is another story.

To remedy this, we often challenge trainers to think like marketers. What is the implementation strategy? How will you promote the training to learners?  How will you show learners why the training matters and how it connects to them? Spending time on a rollout plan, and not just the design of the training itself, pays dividends. While thinking about how to implement and promote training can seem daunting (isn’t it hard enough just to design it?!), I have found that certain commonalities exist between the rollout plans of successful organizations.

View our recorded webinar, Reinforcement 101: How to Help Reps Say and Do the Right Thing, to identify the best training reinforcement strategy for your organization.