How to break out of the “course is the solution to every problem” mindset: make courses the exception rather than the rule

office-195960_640Many people working in L&D do now recognize that workplace learning is more than courses delivered through a learning management system.

They certainly are beginning to realise that most training courses (either face-to-face or online) are endured rather than enjoyed by their people, and that there is a lot of evidence that shows that they are often ineffective.

Many in L&D do want to break out of the “course is the solution to every problem” mentality,  but don’t know how to get started. They don’t know how to get their own L&D team members thinking differently about how to support the business in more appropriate ways, nor how to stop line managers asking for a course whenever they encounter a performance problem.

I often advise L&D groups that one way to break out of old thinking is to have a policy where courses become the exception rather than the rule.

In other words, a strong case has to be made for a course to be created – one that documents all the other relevant options that have been explored and the reasons why they are not deemed appropriate. The case then needs to be scrutinized by others in the team to spot any flaws in the argument. The activity of building and defending the case should be tiresome enough to put off only those who are clearly convinced that a course is the only possible solution (or part of the possible solution).

Taking this step however requires (at least) two new skills of the workplace learning professional.

  1. the ability to conduct a proper Performance Analysis together with the manager in question to help to identifying the core problem(s) and a range of possible solutions. [Note: This is very different to carrying out a Training Needs Analysis – since a TNA already assumes training is the solution.]
  2. a good understanding of a wide range of potential approaches to addressing performance problems together with their costs and benefits, pros and cons. Much of this will only happen once team members personally experience these new approaches themselves, and are able to “walk the talk” and show how their own practices have changed.

Of course it does also require line managers to understand that the workplace learning landscape has changed too, but as more and more realise that courses are often far from an ideal solution, then they will probably be more than willing to consider other approaches.

But what about the diehards who think they can just “order a course” as they have always done? L&D will need to explain that it is now policy and practice to carry out a performance analysis, and if a manager refuses to participate and insists on a course, then they will need to take a firm stand, and require the manager to write his/her own case for approval.

Once courses are the exception rather than the rule, they are more likely to be valued a lot more in the business.


  1. Case Study 1
  2. Case Study 2
  3. Case Study 3


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  2. Thanks Jane – really useful article and case studies. There are quite a few training needs analysis templates available on the web – do you know of any performance analysis templates you would recommend?

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