How long is a piece of string?


And how many beans make five, come to that?*

But back to my question. How long is a piece of string? Or, how long should training last?

Well, how long do you need the string to be? How tough is the string? How…

Okay, so, it depends. But how long should training be?

Many years ago, when we booked a training course it invariably was for 3 to 5 days. Yes, I can’t believe this now as clients want training done “as quickly as possible” and the question “do you need a whole day?” is asked.

Again, many years ago we were asked to get an induction training programme for new advisers “shorter”. I asked how short, the reply was “less than the 12 weeks we have now” (a request from the business who still wanted raw recruits to learn everything and pass four exams in that time) so I suggested half the time. People were happy and happier when I suggested three weeks then realised that sarcasm had kicked in when I suggested a week or maybe a long weekend.

Training is a continuous process which isn’t just e-learning, reading or seminars… it’s every day, supported by managers, mentors, colleagues and it should be refreshed and on-going.

The point is you need to be driven by the ability to achieve training objectives, not just how much time is required. It is decided by the content, the difficulty of the content, the ability of the trainees and the trainer, learning styles, training methods available… etc. So, how long is a piece of string. And that isn’t a question.

A few things that experience has taught us.

One. The shorter the better. I honestly can’t believe that, may moons ago, all courses seemed to be 3-5 days and, if they weren’t, they weren’t deemed “serious”. For a start, it’s a long time to have people out of the business. And people’s brains get full very quickly. Looking at this now, if we had 5 days of content I would split it over a 2-3 week period.

And then there’s attention span. Most people have, the research suggests, 20-30 minutes at their peak. Well, if you make the content interesting and varied enough this can easily go to 60-90 minutes but you have to be aware of your delegates, the content and the delivery/delivery style.

Added into this is start and end times. We start at 9.30 and, typically, end by 16.00 as, by stretching training out to 17.00 or later you are just inducing tiredness in delegates and trainer. Yes, we also have breaks and 30 minutes for lunch. Most people have 3-4 hours of “peak performance” in them so, if you want to make the training as effective as possible (i.e. making the learning stick), once you get to 6 hours you may just be wasting time. (I bet that, in the past when we delivered 3-5 day course less than 20% was actually retained and used by most delegates.)

Obviously, blended learning helps as using a variety of methods you can appeal to different learning styles and cope with different attention spans and speed of delivery.

Ideally, break this up into chunks of 3 hours for delegates if the content lends it to this. And by doing so over a period of weeks, say, you can ensure that learning has been transferred to the workplace which is, surely, the point of training? And don’t call me Shirley…

Time of day can impact, too. Some people learn best in the morning, others in the afternoon, others at night. And avoid Mondays and Fridays? As well as weekends, despite what the business thinks.

See, there’s so much to take into account it really is the string question.

And different ways of delivering training now helps.

In summary, well, our summary… short, 4-6 hours maximum, regular, blended and delivered in an interesting way. Simple, or it should be, depends of what type of string you’d like and/or need.

Oh, and “training” shouldn’t be a one off thing; training is a continuous process which isn’t just e-learning, reading or seminars… it’s every day, supported by managers, mentors, colleagues and it should be refreshed and on-going. Research suggests that about 50% of training delivery is lost within a month. Short refreshers will help alleviate, but not eliminate, this…

So, how long? There is, as you see above, no best answer to this question. There are certainly best practices, but these need to be tailored to fit the company, culture and content. We think that shorter is usually better but some topics require more, just maybe not in one big chunk.

There’s no “one size fits all solution”… go and ask for some string and you will find that one out for yourself.

*Two beans, a bean and a half, half a bean and a bean, btw.


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Training Design & Delivery of topics such as Customer Service, Note Taking, Business Writing, Presentation Skills, All Management/Team Leader areas, Sales, Sales Management, all tailored and run in-house for your personal requirements. Also, coaching and mentoring.

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