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5 Ways to Stretch Your Training Budget

— by Trina Rimmer

TrainingWeb based training

Despite ample evidence supporting the bottom-line value of training and professional development, training budgets are almost always the first place business leaders target for cost-cutting. If you haven't had a chance to read Bill Cushard's recent post on smarter ways to demonstrate the value of training to the C-suite, I highly recommend it.  His ideas for demonstrating value speak directly to this topic and provide a great framework for strategic training evaluation.

But for those of us who are trainers or training designers faced with more pressing day-to-day challenges of operating on a limited budget, what can we do to stay budget-conscious and maintain our relevancy in the eyes of business leaders?  Here are a few ideas to consider:

1. Add More Online Training to the Mix

There are tons of myths and strong opinions about the efficacy of online training.  Some people think you can't teach soft-skills online.  Others believe that online training is only effective when it's delivered with a trainer in a classroom setting.  I don't think there are lots of hard & fast rules around online training. It's a tool, like any other, that can be over-used, under-used, used poorly, or used well.

When I encounter trainers or training leaders who are timid about embracing online training, I often recommend a blended learning approach with online training and virtual touch-points from an instructor or facilitator.  Online training as a blended learning component is more cost-effective and it helps make smarter use of your people resources so that trainers are only being deployed for critical training needs.

2. Embrace Informal Learning practices – especially mentoring and coaching

If you can only get management buy-in for one big change with your 2011 budget, steer them towards supporting informal learning that's led by mentors and coaches. Why? Because you're likely spending 80% of your training budget on formal training that only delivers 20% of the learning*.  In other words, you've already got mentors and coaches doing training and transferring knowledge; now you need to recognize them and support them.

*Source: Jay Cross, Informal Learning, Pfeiffer, 2006.

3. Follow the 3 R's – Re-use, Recycle, Renew

  • Don’t “Date Stamp” Your Material – Design training that's free of dates, specific names, or anything that might make it stale in the short-term.
  • Question the Need for New – Remember, the primary measure of the training team's success is not quantity, but quality.
  • Teach Trainees How to Fish – Don't create new tools when trainees just need to know how to use the existing tools better.

4. Don't Train

If your team keeps making easily-avoidable email etiquette mistakes with clients, doesn't that mean they need email etiquette training?  Not necessarily. Sometimes people just get sloppy.

One of the biggest problems training teams have is that we aren't very good at providing training responses that are proportional to the business risk and that are designed to address real problems.  Training is the costliest and least efficient method of fixing anything. Instead of making training the go-to remedy, how about suggesting cheaper, faster ideas first?  Try using low-cost communication tools like email, posters, or if the higher-ups are really stuck on a formal “training solution,” create a simple job-aid or a checklist to increase awareness and keep trainees on their toes.

5. Use Free Stuff

  • There are hundreds of free tutorials online via YouTubeVimeo, Screenr, and Microsoft to help you and your learners develop more proficiency around software like PowerPoint, Word, and Excel.  Other sources like Instructables and Howcast also offer free training videos on diverse topics such personal relationships and professional development.  In short, see what you can find for free before you create new.
  • Take advantage of “freemium” versions of paid web-based services or sign-up to be a beta tester for new software that supports greater training efficiency. Bonus: Many service providers have great blogs that offers tons of free tips, tools & ideas you can use.
  • Use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to follow industry thought leaders, authors, bloggers, and fellow trainers who share their (often brilliant) ideas, tips, and tools for free with their followers.
  • Leverage more learner-generated content in the form of how-to videos/screen captures, job aids, and best practices.

Need more budget-friendly ideas?  Check out some of these freebie-filled posts from the Mindflash archives:

Have some cost-saving tips you'd like to share?  Drop us a line!  We'd love to hear from you.

Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training. When her skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own training design muscles.

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