We all recognise that soft skills are essential for a modern, productive workforce, but why is it so difficult to teach them? The answer is simple, the traditional soft skills training approaches don’t work!
The value of soft skills training?
Employers want employees trained in ‘Making Things Happen’ skills but they can’t seem to find them. According to a LinkedIn workplace learning report, 92% of 4,000 executives say that soft skills are equally or more important than technical skills, 89% of the same executives say that it is difficult to find people with soft skills.
Companies are spending up to $1,273 on training per employee per annum. If even a fraction of this is being spent on soft skills training the evidence linked above shows that it is not working and there is little to no ROI. Pre-pandemic the most popular method for delivering soft skills training was ‘in-house’ with no metric to determine that learning has occurred.
Why isn’t Soft skills training effective?
Traditionally, soft skills training was delivered face to face. The HR, L&D or OD manager would find a supplier they liked and trusted and who understood the issue they wanted to solve. The trainer would show up on the day in question with handouts, powerpoint slides, a sunny disposition and interesting stories. The participants would file into the room with an understandable hesitation, born from the undeniable fact that no matter how engaging the trainer, no matter how fantastic their stories, analogies, facts and figures, the training was highly unlikely to stick.
The participants were going to forget everything the trainer said, every role play they attempted and they would put the handouts in a drawer promising themselves to look at them when they ‘had time’. The trainer knows this, the person who booked them knows this and the participants know this. Training delivered in this way is what we might call a ‘Hail Mary’. It is a hit and hope some of it sticks ‘for a while’.
No one can remember what happened in the session
For anyone in the professional learning space the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is probably not a new concept. This curve represents the rate at which you forget new information. On average you will forget 75% of new information within a week. Even if you have never heard of the forgetting curve you could probably take a good guess at how quickly we forget. Think about the last training session you attended either online or in person. What can you recall from it? A vague recollection of one or two things? Is that a good ROI on your time, effort and money?
Remote working has changed the model
The challenge COVID presented was that the trainers who had created their content for the face to face audience were now, through no fault of their own, forced to pivot to an online audience. We, however, are different people in the online environment. We have the attention span of a goldfish and need to be kept constantly engaged. Taking face to face content and simply ‘doing it online’ is a recipe for disaster.
The nature of the pandemic has accelerated the move towards digital learning solutions but also revealed some fundamental flaws in how trainers were approaching the new needs of the market. 94% of L&D professionals reported having to change their L&D strategy in response to the pandemic.
How to train soft skills effectively.
There is a solution to the problem of the Forgetting Curve. It is repetition, or to be more precise, spaced repetition. Studies have shown that if you are reminded of something just at the point you are likely to forget it, it will reinforce the knowledge. The more you are reminded the less steep the curve gets, that’s the repetition part.
Now for the spaced part – think of your memory like a muscle. You have to make it work by putting it under pressure. So rather than reminding yourself of the new knowledge every 48 hours the repetition should happen at ever increasing intervals. In this way you can ensure a real and true transfer of learning.
The ideal scenario is one where a person gets the training they need and want just at the moment they require it. It should not take them from their core daily tasks and it should be relevant, personalised and immediately actionable.
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