ELBONOMICS: The best way to learn is to teach.

We’re planning to organize a quality and productivity management webinar for our employees. Is it advisable to have a pre-test and post-test to determine the amount of learning accomplished from the resource speaker and facilitator?

A priest at a small rural community was having trouble with his collections. One Sunday, he announced from the pulpit: “Before we pass the collection plate, I would like to request that the person or persons who stole the chickens from Brother Tony’s farmhouse, please refrain from giving any money to the Lord.

“The Lord doesn’t want any money from thieves.”

Does manipulating people cause them to do what we want them to? I’m exaggerating, of course, but you need to ask yourself what the objective is if you want to measure the learning people get out of a seminar? Testing might not tell you what you’re trying to measure, because if seminar participants fail to pass, is that the fault of the speaker or the learners?

It’s standard procedure for me to require prospective participants to take a pre-workshop online test. My objective is to determine how much time and effort I will be need to re-calibrate my presentation materials. If I can figure out the participants’ baseline levels of understanding, it could save a lot of time to focus on other things.

I doubt if we can achieve the same thing with a post-seminar evaluation, unless the objective is to determine the training effectiveness of the subject matter expert.


The best approach in ensuring that we get the best out of a training program is to treat every worker as a responsible learner. We shouldn’t treat them like schoolchildren whose performance must be measured through a test. I don’t work that way. If a post-seminar test is requested, I would advise my clients to reward the top three or five persons who performed best, rather than penalizing those who did less well.

This might seem extreme to some managers, but there’s no better way but to expect that people translate their learnings into desirable work performance, with or without a training program. What if participants fail the post-seminar test and yet exceed their production targets by taking a different approach that did not draw from the lessons of a training program?

First and foremost, what does the training needs analysis tell us? Do the workers believe a training program is imperative for them to improve their performance? Is this opinion shared by their line supervisors and managers? We don’t just organize a training program because management suspects it’s the best solution for improving performance.

If some workers don’t want to participate in such a program, how do you ensure that they still meet, if not exceed management expectations? My experience tells me to take a different approach. If workers are not meeting their targets, it might be better to ask them about their challenges and the assistance they need from management, outside of a training program.

If workers are too demotivated to attend a training program, or if they attend and fail to apply the lessons to improve their work performance, then what would be the next step?


A Japanese saying is attributed to the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), who said: “Let the teacher be as a needle and the student as a thread.” Students must naturally follow the teachings of their teacher, regard-less of circumstances.

Related to this principle is another thought-provoking lesson: “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” Harish Jose, a lean management practitioner, claims it came from Training within Industry program implemented in 1940 to 1945 by the United States Department of War. The objective was to provide consulting services to various organizations in war-related industries.

I would go beyond that by advising people to teach any subject that interests them. This is the best way to learn. It’s not about memorizing theories, but rather doing what’s practical, especially in this time and age when most attention spans are limited to eight seconds, even shorter than that of a goldfish, according to the findings of a Microsoft study in 2000.

Rather than tell people to attend training programs, it is best that management require them to do research, refine the lessons learned, and teach these lessons to their colleagues. Then let them judge them on the basis of the outcome. You’ll save a lot of money doing this compared to hiring external consultants like me.


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