• Kyle Brooksher

What’s at Stake?


In the learning business, we often talk a lot about what knowledge that learners are meant to retain from their training. We usually begin planning an instructional project by asking questions such as:

  • What skills gaps are we trying to fill?

  • What tests are we helping people pass (or what certifications are we helping them achieve)?

  • What are the learning objectives?

  • What problems in our organization are we hoping to address through training?

  • What key performance indicators are we hoping to improve?

But besides looking at the tangible costs a training might require—such as travel, LMS user fees, registration, worker downtime, etc.—how often do we consider the intangible costs? In my experience, we often overlook or underappreciate the more intangible costs of training we create. As we ask questions about the goal-based benefits of the training, we should also consider:

  • Will my training cause inconvenience to the learners, significant enough to disrupt their workflow?

  • Have I described the benefits of my training well enough so that people are excited (rather than anxious) about attending it?

  • Does my training have failure points that will negatively impact the confidence of learners to the point that they'll be less product?

  • Are there in-person elements that will open the opportunity for misinformation to spread? Will such elements make learners reluctant to fully participate for fear of being negatively observed by peers?

  • What are the real-life consequences of failing (or not passing)?

These are just a few examples of the "rabbit trail" that planning to mitigate intangible training costs can be. You're never going to be able to completely remove any risk or cost associated with training. However, taking the time to scrutinize your training and trying to reduce any obvious issues you find is well worth the effort. Without this step, it’s too easy to produce training that takes the learners two steps forward and one step back, or worse.

On top of this, allowing learners to experiment with knowledge and skills in a risk-free environment will improve their overall engagement. The idea for this post came to me after watching the video of a TEDx Penn talk by Mark Rober, which looked into this very issue. If you’re interested in evaluating the benefit of risk-reduced or risk-free training, I highly recommend watching it by clicking this link.

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