Less Training, more Learning! (SOS VideoClass N°1)

Last Friday I was at the VOV beurs – one of the big events on training and development  in Belgium. Starting from my experiences in SAP projects I shared my thoughts on bicycles, hunger, interaction and PowerPoint.

The video is in Dutch (with my own Flemish accent 😉 ) and you will find the English transcript below. So there you go: my thoughts on film and a free language course in one article!

Less Training, More Learning!

I have an SAP background and some experience in large scale SAP projects. SAP is software that typically impacts the complete organization and a lot of users at the same time, and there is a great need for training. Last year the plant manager of a big plant came to see me. The fact that the return for the people on the SAP training sessions was disappointingly low caused some frustration.
What happened here? The organization thought that sending people to the SAP training was enough in order for them to be prepared for the day-to-day work with SAP. Together with that plant manager I discovered that people remember maximum 10% of what was taught in the training sessions.

In my opinion that’s normal because 90% of the things you need to know in order to perform your work cannot be taught in the classroom; you learn it when you need to solve a problem, when you receive the right communication and whenever you are obliged to take some actions in practice. Training managers need to be aware of that. 90% of what is needed for my job is situated in the field, so as a training manager I need to be in the field.


Let’s suppose that we agree on me teaching you to ride your bicycle. I will prepare thoroughly and I will tell you all about the mechanical aspects of a bicycle. Next, I will tell you all about the laws of gravity. Then I will tell you about the organ of balance because it is the critical success factor for riding a bicycle without falling over. Finally, I will even make the training practical by showing you a real bicycle and I will even ride some laps so you can see what cycling is.

At the end of the day I expect you to be capable of riding a bicycle because you know all about cycling from A to Z.

This may sound absurd but is the current state of training and development: we teach people how to ride a bicycle by showing them PowerPoint slides. When they come out of the classroom we are surprised that “the thing isn’t working”.


What went wrong with the bicycle training? I made the mistake of looking at the training as a purpose in itself:

  • I prepared the best materials;
  • I showed the most beautiful bicycle;
  • I may even have invited Lance Armstrong as a guest speaker.

While doing so I focus too much on the satisfaction of the participants. And what happens when the participants are happy? All of a sudden the training was brilliant in achieving its goals! All of a sudden whether or not you are able to ride a bicycle has become irrelevant. That’s immensely frustrating.


How are we going to solve this bicycle problem? I will alter my starting point towards what is needed for you in order to cycle. As a consequence:

  • I will ask you to bring your own bicycle;
  • Instead of preparing manuals, I will prepare a safe trail for you to drive around;
  • Instead of standing in front the whole day animating and telling you how to ride a bicycle, I will be standing behind you to catch you if you fall.


Whenever I conduct a training I ask the participants to state their personal objectives in the beginning of the day: ‘what is it exactly that you want to be better at when the day is over?’. At the end of the day we turn back to these objectives on the whiteboard and we evaluate whether the participants reached their goals.

The message here is clear: as a participant it is your responsibility to use me as a trainer in order to reach your objectives. That’s the best way of going through the day. It’s important to sharpen the training hunger so the participants are fully aware of what they want to get out of that day.


I am aware that participants only remember about 10% of what I tell them or show them and therefore I trigger their own experiences as much as I possibly can.

My task is to ask the right questions and then to frame the answers that I receive. So I will not be standing in front too much of the time. Rather, I will be standing behind the participants to motivate them to come up with those answers.


I often come across project managers complaining that people are stupid. When I ask them why they think so, they show me their slides and then they say: ‘my slides are very clear, don’t you think? I couldn’t possibly be clearer that that?’

But it’s not about the slides! At best those slides contain 10% of what a participant needs in order to perform his job in practice. The last 90% is situated in the field: in the middle of conflicts and problems. That’s where we need to be heading. That is exactly the reason why we are standing next to this lifebuoy: for the project leaders and training managers who desperately need to leave their PowerPoint Island.

Related articles:

Knowledge = a Social Fabric – September 13th, 2009
Return-on-Training? Wrong Question! – January 18th, 2009
Do I need to paint a picture? SAP and Learning! – December 20th, 2008
The End of Teaching – November 2nd, 2008
Teaching versus Learning – May 13th, 2008
How do you learn? – September 23rd, 2007
It’s About Involvement, Stupid! – June 1st, 2007
Learning and Resistance – May 22nd, 2007