Why—and how—we take training very seriously

trainingpagephotoLet’s be honest. People often sing the praises of training. But when times get tough, the training budget is usually the first to be slashed.

Why? Because although training may receive nice “smile sheet” feedback, it often provides little if any measurable return on investment. It doesn’t stick.

ASTD, the world’s leading group of workplace learning and performance professionals, says employers are spending record amounts on training. Yet Quality Magazine reports that less than 30% of all training is being used on the job a month later.

Wouldn’t you like for your people to receive training that’s more than just good edu-tainment? Wouldn’t you like a way to ensure that training makes a quantifiable contribution to the success of your enterprise?

4E-Learning-Model_TrainingPageYou can get great results by following a simple model called the 4E Learning Model.

Duncan Worldwide associates have conducted countless training events over the past four decades. We appreciate the high marks we get for presentation. But we’re mostly interested in impact. We want to make a difference, and we want to help our clients make a difference in their own organizations.

Many years ago we organized a five-day retreat for senior executives. The retreat focused on many contemporary leadership ideas. Much of the content was presented by the original thought leaders. To our horror, we discovered that only a week after the retreat most of the participants had retained very little of the training. They knew more about the wine list at the hotel where we stayed than they knew about the principles and practices that had been presented. Return on training investment was virtually zero.

The good news is that the experience spawned a better way. Our associate Dr. Brent D. Peterson, former head of research for a worldwide training organization, carefully studied the impact of more than 3,000 training courses. From that study has come what we now call the 4E Learning Model. We’ve since used it hundreds of times to ensure strong ROI for training.

The Basics

Our research shows that only about 25% of real learning transfer occurs in the classroom. In other words, no matter how entertaining and engaging the workshop or retreat may be, only about a quarter of the benefit comes from that part of the training/learning process.

Unfortunately, 100% of the focus of most instructional designers is on the  classroom experience. The same can be said for most trainers and training directors, as well as the senior executives who sponsor training.

We’ve discovered that the impact of a learning or change intervention is determined by all four stages of the 4E Learning Model:

  • The Excite Stage contributes 25% to the total learning impact
  • The Experience Stage contributes 25% to the total learning impact
  • The Execute Stage contributes 50% to the total learning impact
  • The Evaluation Stage contributes in all of the first three stages

In practical terms, here’s how we use the 4E Model.

In the Excite Stage, which is prior to anyone setting foot in a classroom, we have participants do some pre-work. This often includes taking a simple online self-assessment to provide some base data on their current behaviors and practices. This helps introduce some of the language patterns that will be used in the training. We also ask them to read a couple of chapters from a book, or read an article or white paper related to the workshop content. These are simple but all-important tasks. If participants fail to complete them, they’ve already squandered 25% of the learning impact.

The Experience Stage is the workshop or retreat itself. No matter how engaging this stage may be, it typically provides no more than about 25% of the measurable learning impact. It’s of course an absolutely necessary and very visible part of the process, but it’s by far not the only part.

The Execute Stage is what happens after the workshop or retreat. This is when people are asked to use the principles and skills they learned in the previous two stages. They’re asked to put their learning into real world practice. They’re asked to hold themselves and each other accountable for “new” behaviors that produce consistently better results.

The Evaluate Stage is less linear than constant. Evaluation should be done continuously. This can include before and after culture assessments to determine the impact of certain behaviors and practices, and it can include 360-degree feedback assessments to help hold individuals accountable for personal improvement.

Without strategic design and delivery, training programs can waste time, budget, and human energy. Even with positive feedback (the typical “smile sheets” that often address little more than the facilitator’s presentation style), training can be a silent killer of morale and productivity. To help ensure that our training makes a quantifiable contribution to your organization’s vitality, we always use the 4E Learning Model. You’ll love the result.


A good example of the 4E Learning Model’s impact is at South Texas Project (STP), a nuclear power plant on the Gulf of Mexico near Bay City, Texas.

Some of the plant’s performance metrics were so troublesome that they attracted the uncomfortable attention of federal regulators. STP was the poster child in the nuclear industry. The management team took action, and improvements were seen in most areas of the operation. But then performance seemed to plateau. It wasn’t going backwards, but it wasn’t getting better either. Many of the ongoing problems were related to open and honest communication, especially the ability to challenge a co-worker’s performance.

We introduced a training program emphasizing dialogue skills: how to identify conversations that are at the root of safety issues, how to stay focused on issues that really matter, how to identify the early warning signs of poor communication, how to make it safe to speak up without fear of retaliation. We certified more than two dozen internal trainers to deliver the content.

One of those trainers was Ed Haplin, STP’s president and CEO. Ed didn’t make only a brief cameo appearance in the training sessions. He understood the power of modeling leadership behaviors, and he personally facilitated several of the two-day dialogue workshops each year for several years.

The STP team carefully followed the 4E Model. Prior to each workshop, participants were given “homework” that included reading and self-assessments.

The workshops themselves were kept relatively small to accommodate lively participation. Principles and practices taught in the workshops were then mindfully applied to daily work situations like pre-job briefings and plan of the day meetings. Workers coached each other on application of the learned skills.

Intermittent culture assessments were used to measure progress and to identify opportunities for further improvement.

The result? Since rolling out the training with the 4E framework, STP has set numerous industry benchmarks for sustained excellence and performance, ranging from top safety records to the highest production reliability measure of any multi-unit nuclear plant in the United States.

Targeted training—and reinforcement with the 4E Learning Model—really can help smart people work smarter.