9 Ways Learning Events Can Flop

As a talent development professional, I’ve been privileged to lead, observe and participate in many types of learning and training events. I’m often invited by vendors to sit in on their training in the hopes I’ll make a purchase.

I can say firsthand there are some amazing learning events out there. Unfortunately, for every great one, there are several mediocre ones. If you’ve been tasked with building or sourcing training for your team, let me save you some grief by sharing nine factors that can kill your effectiveness.


1. It Doesn’t Meet a Real (or Felt) Business Need

One of the hallmarks of adult learning theory is that professionals are much more likely to want to participate in a learning event they recognize will help them solve a problem or pain-point they already have. This seems obvious, but trust me – I’ve seen enough cases otherwise. Always be clear about what problem the learning event will solve.

2. The Learning Objectives Aren’t Clear

You’ve probably sat through a training session that opened with a preview of the takeaways. This is even more important for the learning designers than it is for the learners. If the business need is the north star, the objectives are the road map. Pick the best route – then stick to it.

3. It’s Boring

This may be my biggest pet peeve with learning events. It’s expensive and hard work to develop them and get people to attend. If you want your learning event to be a hit, make it fun as well. Mediocre content that is very engaging will stick (and create much greater buzz) than perfect content that is boring. If your subject isn’t the most engaging to begin with, invest the time to interject fun aspects, like ice-breakers or energizers.

4. It’s Poorly Facilitated

The quality of your facilitator can usually make or break the learning experience. The more important the event, the more carefully you’ll need to select and prepare the facilitator. The best facilitators are flexible; they can teach, ask questions, spark debate and organize group discussions and activities.

5. The Content Complicates Rather than Simplifies

Just because you’re delivering a learning event doesn’t mean the learners need to know everything they possibly can about a topic. Less is generally more. The top three tips will stick a lot easier than the top twelve. You can always provide resources to dive deeper later on.

6. It’s Too Conceptual or Vague

If your topic involves “thinking differently,” make sure you provide concrete examples as well. Otherwise the participants will have trouble determining how to apply the concepts.

7. There’s No Opportunity to Interact or Practice

Here’s a secret: most participants say their favorite part of learning events is the time they spend interacting with each other. Don’t just include discussions of their experience with the topic. Give them a chance to apply it practically.

Imagine a military who sent its recruits to a boot camp that took place completely in a classroom (or online). They might become educated, but they’d be completely ineffective in battle. Practice makes a huge difference.

8. There’s No Reinforcement

I like to say, “Don’t let what happens in the training room stay in the training room.” For learning designers, this means taking the time to include quality reinforcement opportunities that extend beyond the actual learning event. Create meaningful homework assignments, follow-up activities, discussion guides, etc.

9. Supervisors of Participants Aren’t Asked or Able to Support

Supervisors should always be kept in the loop of their staff’s training activities and included as much as possible. Supervisors are a great source of reinforcement, provided they’re included.

Remember, as a designer or coordinator, your responsibility isn’t just to put on a good event, it’s to impart knowledge, skills and behavior to solve the organization’s problems. Even with all the learning providers that flood each industry, high quality learning experiences can, and will, stand out.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or   follow him on Twitter.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to download Nathan's free white paper: Nine Ways to Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For.