Business English Training is Failing!
One of the things I have realized during my 9 + years of working in the Business English Training / EFL industry, is that many businesses are wasting their money on Business English Training. The basis of my conclusion is simple – many Business English Training programs do not get good results and don’t deliver a fair return of investment to both the learner and the investor. Of course there are exceptions and of course some participants can argue that they make progress and feel more confident after their training (especially after some kind of intensive English Training program), but what I am referring to and talking about here today are real results that are tangible and long lasting.
Why are Businesses and Learners not getting positive results from their English Training?
This is a question I started asking myself at the start of my English Training career, because it did not take me long to realise that the conventional way of training was flawed and failing the customer and learners. I wanted to discover the reasons why it was (and still is) happening. I wanted to discover the principles and essential ingredients for effective learning and optimal learning performance. Moreover though, I wanted to find the solution and have a set of tools and techniques that I could implement into my own English Training strategy that would deliver optimal results.
Over the course of my 9 years of English Training experience I have been consistently asking myself the question above and also questions like “how can I help my learners learn more effectively? How can I deliver even better results and more ROI to my customer? How can I make my Business English Training better?” What follows are the insights, the findings and the answers I have discovered through my own English training experiences and observations.
'The One-Fits-All' & 'Everybody Gets The Same' Trainings do not work
There is a saying in marketing. If you target your product at everybody, you are targeting nobody.
Today’s most popular and common Business English training is the ‘one-fits-all’ type of training’. Basically this is a training program that assumes all learners have the same needs, same problems, same learning styles and preferences and the business has the same objectives and desired results. In this type of course, participants are put into groups based on their level (A1,A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), each person is given a course book with a wide variety of themes and exercises, the program and training schedule is standardised and fixed, already set out with learning objectives for each week and lesson, and finally the trainer is often instructed by the Training company to execute the training plan using a specific teaching method and lesson plan.
I can understand the appeal to this training. It’s convenient, it has got a clear red line, it appears cost effective and on paper it sounds and looks good – people think “super, after this course my employees will have these new skills and be able to do all these new wonderful things”. Unfortunately though, these new wonderful abilities and skills don’t usually come to fruition. So what’s wrong with this? It sounds good! Why doesn’t this English training work?
Lack of Relevance
The problem with any kind of standardized training is clear – no two people or businesses are the same: everybody is different, everybody has different goals and needs, everyone learns differently. Therefore, a training program that uses a coursebook with its many different themes along with the same-for-all training schedule is never going to be anywhere near 100% relevant. Without exaggerating, I believe the ‘one-fits-all’ & ‘everyone gets the same’ training programs can be no higher than 10-20% relevant. I know having a course that is 100% relevant is a bit of a pipe dream, but for a Business English training to be effective we do need aim for at least 80% relevance.
To learn effectively you need desire (motivation). Desire comes from having a ‘Why’, a purpose: basically a reason for doing something that will ultimately bring benefits like pleasure or take away pain. Bigger the reason (the why), the bigger the desire. If something is not relevant therefore not desired, the learner has no ‘Why’, no purpose. Basically this means, little relevant = little motivation and therefore no reason and energy to put in the effort and focus. It’s like telling somebody to go on a diet, when they have no interest in dieting cos their body is already very slim and healthy or telling somebody to learn Chinese when they have no reason to.
If your Business English Training program is only 20% relevant, that means it is 80% irrelevant. That means for every 10 hours of training, 8 of those hours you are practicing something and exposed to something which you have very little interest and desire to learn. Like I already mentioned, desire / motivation is a key factor in learning, no desire = no learning. Secondly, if something is not relevant or interesting, this will eventually lead to destructive states like boredom and frustration that actually inhibit learning; so again very little learning will take place.
Target Overdose = Lack of Focus
The problem with conventional, ‘one-fits-all’ and ‘everybody gets the same’ training programs are each week brings a different target or objective. So over a course of 26 weeks, this often equates to at least 26 objectives / goals. Ultimately there is simply too much to focus on; too much information, too many objectives, too much new vocabulary and too many language structures to learn. Nobody can learn everything at once. Have you ever tried to work on numerous goals at the same time, or implement several new habits and behaviours at the same time? If yes, I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty, you at least partially failed, if not totally. At the very least, you’ll probably agree that it was difficult to apply yourself fully, perform at your best and it was very strenuous to work on and focus on these multiple tasks all at the same time.
There is a great quote “Where focus goes, energy flows”and when we can properly direct our focus and attention, the mind has amazing learning and creative powers. However, our mind does have it’s limits – it can not effectively focus on too many things at once. If we focus on everything we are focusing on nothing and when our English Training is targeted towards everything, it is ultimately aimed at nothing.
Another problem with the lack of focus and the ever changing objectives, is the lack of application and repetition. Have you ever tried to learn a new skill or implement a new habit? Could you do it just for 1 day or for even 1 week and then it was fully learned, there forever, fully conditioned? The answer is clearly a “No”. The fact is, it take weeks, sometimes months of constant repetition and application to really learn something so it can be instantly recalled and applied on demand. Therefore to have a training program such as the’same for everybody’ that assumes and expects that new vocabulary, new structures, new skills and a new learning objective can be (properly) learned each week, is insane and deeply flawed – especially when most participants don’t have so much time to invest outside of their jobs.
The Fixed Plan and Lack of Flexibility
Many Business English Training programs are like failed launches of new businesses. An idea or concept is put into a plan: a plan that outlines each step from start to finish. The whole process is all about executing the plan – step by step. Each milestone should be reached and on-schedule. Finally the business plan is realised and the product or service has hit the market. The thing is though, nobody wants or buys the new product. What has happened here? What went wrong? The problem was everyone was so focused on executing the plan to the letter and on-time, nobody actually stopped to think if the plan was actually the right plan, if the plan would work, or if the product the plan was meant to be deliver was a product that was actually needed. It’s a similar story in conventional Business English Training programs. It is all about execution of the plan, and not many actually stop to think “is this plan the right plan or is this plan actually working?”.
Inaccurate and Misleading Measurement of Success
Many Business English courses and English Training companies that I have come across in my time put a vast majority of emphasis on completion. The course is all about completing the coursebook, completing the lesson plan, completing the training schedule, completing the task. The learning objectives are the focus and the completion of the objective is the priority, regardless of other essential factors like the learners energy levels, emotional state, and own wishes. Completion is the measurement of success, the measurement of progress and learning. Basically the assumption is, if we have completed it, we have learnt it. This sounds convenient and simple and it would be nice if it was the reality, but it isn’t. Just because somebody manages to complete a task does not mean actual deep learning has taken place. I can remember attending an intensive German course and managing to complete a number of tasks, but a day later or a week later I had forgotten everything. As already mentioned, for true learning to take place, new knowledge must be repeated and applied several times over a period of weeks. It has to be experienced and conditioned into your mind and nervous system.
Lack of Application
No Focus on Learner Psychology
I will admit I am a bit of an obsessed self-improvement, human behaviour, peak performance book worm and junkie. Time and time again from some of the worlds leading authorities, I have read or hear about the importance our psychology and mind-set has on the results and success we get in life. I am not just talking about learning a language here, I am talking about ALL results, the learning of ALL new skills and knowledge. Tony Robbins (one of my idols) states 80% of success comes from your psychology and only 20% comes from the actions you take. So despite this significant fact, I have never come across a language institute or even another trainer who understands this fact and includes this essential aspect of learning into their training philosophy and strategy.
What follows are a few aspects of Human Psychology that play key roles in effective learning and all our achievements.
Desire – Desire is the starting point of all achievement. Plain and simply without desire there will be no progress and no tangible results. Without the necessary levels of desire (a real need) interest is quickly lost, especially when the going gets a bit tough or it is time to put in a few hours of self-study – there will always be an excuse to not do it or to not attend the training. “I am too busy to attend English today”, is the classic excuse that indicates a lack of desire. Furthermore, how much money is spent by businesses sending participants to Business English Training who don’t have a real desire to learn? Moreover, how many of these participants without a real desire have obtained tangible results? Not many I bet!
State – Effective learning can only take place when the learner is in a positive state. Feeling relaxed, feeling positive, feeling energized, confident, interested and engaged. When participants walk into a classroom tired, stressed, frustrated you can forget about any kind noticeable learning – learning just won’t / can’t happen – it is biologically impossible. The order of the day should be to get them in a more productive state – wake them up. However the reality is as I mentioned above, it’s all about execution of the plan. There is either no awareness of the importance of state or there simply is no time for having a good time and having some fun.
No Focus on the Importance of the Learning Environment
This is closely related to Learner Psychology, especially the learners emotional state, because having a fun, vibrant, supportive environment and atmosphere will have a direct impact on the emotional state of each learner. It is obvious that if the room is disorganised, if the room is dark or smelly, if the room is not comfortable, it their is not a rapport between the trainer and the participants, this will have a big effect on how each participant feels and as a consequence on their capacity to learn. Yet how many language trainers and institutes prioritize this? How many make sure that there is a good atmosphere in the room before commencing with the main part of the lesson? How many make this a key goal from the outset of the training?
There is a Place for Standard Business English Training
I know it probably sounded like it, but my intention is not to deliver a beating up session to all the trainers and language companies that provide one-fits-all and coursebook based English trainings. I do actually think there is a place and a time for them. I just don’t think they should be the default solution, because from my point of view it is impossible to get good consistent results each and every time. In the world of training there are just to many variables and the standard course can not accommodate all these variables and the diversity. I know it won’t sound so great but I think the standard one fits all English training programs are best served to those who aren’t really looking for significant progress, who aren’t looking for top quality and who are more looking to maintain their English, or get a broad overview of English and pick up some new expressions, language and maybe tidy up their grammar a bit. I think if you are looking for optimal progress, tangible and measurable results and your needs are more specific, then a customized, focused, target driven Business English Training must be taken.
Thanks for reading and feel free to pass comment.