What would Benjamin Franklin think of your organization’s training?

Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”.

So, what would the statesman, scientist and inventor make of your organization’s approach to training? Do you:

  • Simply tell people information that they soon forget?
  • Teach them things in classes that they vaguely remember but can’t recall how to apply?
  • Involve them so they learn by doing?

The reality is that most organizations follow the first two methods: telling or teaching. Let’s see why this is a problem, then see how you can involve people in the learning you offer instead.

What is the problem with ‘telling’ and ‘teaching’?

We have all attended training sessions in the past or been told to do something and then realized later on that we’d forgotten most of the information received. Here are some of the key problems with ‘telling’ and ‘teaching’:

  • Telling people just doesn’t work

Do you have a major announcement that will affect how your employees work, such as a change in compliance procedures? Most organizations will send round an all-staff email. Unfortunately, just telling people means that most will simply forget this key information!

  • Knowledge Retention

Formal learning (i.e. instructor-led classes) provide in-depth information about a new system. However, most people forget 45 to 60 percent of information received within 48 hours.

  • Attention spans

It is well-documented that attention spans are getting shorter. In 1998, the average attention span was 12 minutes. By 2008, that had decreased to 5 minutes. It is unrealistic to expect busy workers to stay focused during a day-long technology training course.

  • Training is expensive

Classroom and webinar training costs hundreds of dollars per attendee. But if most people fail to understand or apply that learning in their jobs, the investment is wasted.

  • Not relevant

Staff usually have limited choice over what they learn – often it is simply not relevant or is not at the right level for their personal needs.

  • Cuts productivity

Put simply, time spent in classroom training courses stops people from doing valuable work for your organization.

Why Benjamin Franklin’s preferred model is better

As described above, Benjamin Franklin is believed to have said involving people in an activity was the best way to get them learning. This seems to make sense intuitively. Think back to many of the things you are now proficient at – for the majority, you learned by doing:

  • Writing with a pencil
  • Driving a car
  • Learning to cook
  • Learning to read
  • Most hobbies – from art to dance to video games

We soon master all these different techniques with guidance from someone who already knows how. We then learn to do them by getting involved, trying them out for ourselves.

Unfortunately, most business training treats learning like a school or college class. You receive the theory and take notes. Of course, that’s valuable for understanding abstract concepts, but when the learning is about practical things, this makes no sense. No one needs theory to:

  • Learn how to book vacation on your intranet
  • Learn how to securely share documents with OneDrive
  • Change their usual processes to meet a new regulatory requirement

Instead, they would benefit from getting involved: putting the new information into action directly.

Contextual microlearning gets people involved


Contextual microlearning is very much in line with Franklin’s notion of ‘getting involved’ when it comes to training.

This approach delivers on-demand, contextual training right within the work environment. Whenever someone is unsure of how to complete a task, they receive training there and then. Crucially, they then put that learning into action immediately. They get involved in their own learning and it becomes concrete for them.

Contextual microlearning has several advantages:

  • Immediacy: the learner doesn’t need to recall training from an hour, day, week, or month earlier.
  • Requires less training content: instructors do not need to provide a full day of training
  • Fits in with the work environment: bite sized training content is easily digestible and fits within the work environment.
  • Scalable: removes limits on how many people can use the system for training purpose – which is especially important in an era of remote working

The facts back up Franklin’s approach

In a 2014 report, it was revealed that learning through a support system that involves the users results in a 23% improvement in the speed of a new system rollout, and a 12% reduction in time to proven competency.

With staff learning faster, being more engaged and more productive, the benefits of training people through involvement are clear. And when it comes to enterprise technology training, contextual microlearning is the most effective way of providing this ‘involvement’ in learning.

Read more in our blog.

Related Posts