Are your employees great pilots?

Your training program can give you a competitive advantage.

You probably spend more time than you might find productive seated on an airplane. Maybe you’re on one right now. Can you imagine getting on a plane with an untrained pilot at the controls and wondering if he or she will safely transport you to your destination? 

Of course not. Yet, as a company leader, you may be unclear on the actual skills and knowledge of your workforce and whether or not they are providing a competitive advantage. Well, join the crowd. Many executives struggle to identify how training can be used to provide the same benefits as sales and marketing. 

As Assistant Director of Flight Education at Ohio State University, I spent almost nine years training aviators. I also personally trained on the Boeing 767 at United Airlines. Both Ohio State and United provided state-of-the-art training programs, which they viewed as absolutely critical to ultimate success. When I founded S4 NetQuest in 2000 to provide innovative, highly effective corporate training, I was surprised to find how ineffective and inefficient training was in the corporate world. In many cases it was viewed as a “necessary evil” rather than a competitive advantage. Training, when properly designed, developed, and implemented, can achieve measurable business results and, thus, a competitive advantage.

Why your training is not a competitive advantage

So why do most corporate training programs not provide a competitive advantage? There are three main reasons:

1) Most training is designed and developed by subject matter experts (SMEs). Although these SMEs have a deep, thorough knowledge of a particular subject, they have little or no knowledge related to how people learn. Now let me be clear: SMEs serve a critical role, it’s just not as designers or developers. Most do not understand the psychological aspects of learning, laws of learning or innovative instructional design methodologies. 

In a classroom setting, this normally leads to a lecture format supported by PowerPoint slides (containing text of everything the trainer is saying). This problem is exacerbated when you ask these same SMEs to develop a self-paced online course. This normally results in the SME posting their slides online with an audio overdub of their lecture. We call these “page-turners” because they normally result in modules where you read, and read, then take a multiple-choice test. This approach results in low levels of learning (that is, rote memorization).

2) Corporations don’t tie the training program directly to the business strategy. Training stakeholders are not part of the strategy development process. Instead, trainers are asked to “support” the business strategy after it has been created. This results in a reactive rather than a proactive training solution. Training stakeholders should be included at the outset of the strategy development process. This provides a more thorough understanding and allows the training group to fully support the strategy. 

Example: A global insurance company asked S4 NetQuest to transform the training programs for their six largest contact centers across the US as part of a larger business strategy to provide improved customer service. We were included at the outset of the strategy development process. This provided us with an in-depth knowledge and understanding of how training needed to support the overall business strategy.

3) Corporations have an inability to actually measure learning effectiveness. “Smile sheets”, in which participants rank items like the room lighting, if they liked the facilitator, etc., don’t tell you anything about learning effectiveness or business results. Even when actual knowledge testing is attempted, it’s normally a multiple-choice exam that assesses rote memorization of facts. 

Learning must be designed to both teach and assess at the “application” and “correlation” levels of knowledge. This is not a simple proposition. Measurement must be considered at the outset of the project, rather than after design and development are completed. Most companies will not take the time and effort needed to utilize the “scientific” method for measurement in which one group is trained and another group (control group) is not trained. This method helps reduce the non-training related variables that could affect measurement, but takes time and results in a segment of the workforce remaining untrained on the particular set of skills. But, if the desired outcomes and associated metrics are identified at the outset, measurable business results can be achieved. 

Learning as a competitive advantage

M-Pact Learning is an instructional design methodology I developed during my doctoral work at Ohio State while training pilots and have continued to improve at S4 NetQuest. The use of this methodology to design and develop learning solutions leads to measurable business results. A comparison between traditional learning and M-Pact Learning is shown below:

Traditional learning: 

  • Content-based;
  • Singular event;
  • Trainer-focused;
  • Non-collaborative;
  • Focused on individual topics; and
  • Testing for memorization of facts.

M-Pact Learning: 

  • Problem-based; 
  • Continuous learning;
  • Learner-focused;
  • Collaborative;
  • Multidisciplinary learning; and
  • Testing for application of knowledge.

Problem-based learning is the foundation. When coupled with collaboration (either simulated or actual), it results in much higher levels of learning. It’s important to focus on the learner rather than the facilitator (the impetus for learning is on the participant). It also assesses for application of skills rather than memorization of facts.

If you aren’t using learning as a competitive advantage, you’re losing ground, because one of your competitors just might be. 

Go to to calculate your current Learning Quotient (LQ). The LQ will assess your ability to utilize learning as a competitive advantage. 

Dr Jim, is the President of S4 NetQuest and the author of M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage – What All Executives Need To Know. He is a nationally recognized expert in instructional design and learning strategy, and a frequent speaker at national conferences and corporate training meetings in the US. Before co-founding S4 NetQuest, Guilkey served as the Assistant Director of Flight Education at The Ohio State University. He received a BS in aviation and an MA and PhD in instructional design and technology from Ohio State.

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Are your employees great pilots?