Is the availability of free training materials really a free lunch?
One of the increasing trends I have noticed over the last few months are people asking on professional forums, groups and networks for “free corporate training materials”. This is in some ways a good thing and in many ways a real worry.
Why is this good?
For some time now there has been a decline in the amount of training (or learning and development activity) taking place in organizations. This is bad for individuals, teams, organizations and economies. For skills and performance improvement will be the solution to the current economic challenges we are all facing. The fact that people inside organizations are looking for content to use in these training events and actions is promising. Any progress or move to increase the development of the people that drive an organization should be applauded.
Why is this bad?
If we really value our people and the knowledge and skills we want or need them to have then we need to ensure that what we are providing them with is proven and has some quality within it. Intellectual property and training design is a value commodity. If much of this content is free then we need to ask ourselves why? Is is old, not proven? If we value our people and yes I am sure than any organization wants to reduce costs where possible or practicable, however that does not mean “just get some free stuff and that will do”
What to look for?
When looking for free or even when buying Off-the-shelf materials what should you be looking for?
Well if the supplier is giving away full courses for free or even just a dollar (or pound) or two ask yourself – does the supplier value what they have produced? is this cheap, low value material that is being re-distributed.
What should be in the “box”
- Participants handouts/ materials
- Visual aids (usually a ppt file or slide set)
- some activities
Less obvious but more important – detailed trainers notes or leaders guide. This should include timings, objectives, ideas, discussions etc. Not just a “tell..tell..tell” set of instructions. Trainers notes – and good comprehensive ones are really important, not having them is like buying a car without an engine – useless, but looks good on the drive.
Seeing a set of slides or participants notes is one thing – understanding the real key messages is something else. If the training is to be interactive, then generally only a few slides will exist – the real learning is in activity, discussion and sharing.
The very best providers in this space allow you to reproduce all of the participant manuals, handouts etc as much as you like (included in the price), and of course you want to be able to “brand” them to your company. Fully editable Doc and ppt files – not pdf files and pps locked slide sets. Watch out here as some providers of these materials require you to buy user packs each time you want to use the materials. You want to ensure that when you buy you are buying a lifetime use of the materials. Remember though this is not transferable to your next employer!
There is some great stuff free online
Where is the good “free stuff” – sites like MIT & the Open University have extensive course content online, as do publishers Dorling Kindersley. However often it is not the content itself that is of real value – but HOW to understand and apply the knowledge.
Sites like our own, businessballs, quickMBA and mindtools and many others have well researched and practicable information and tools. Most of these sites are of course business based, and the reason for providing good information and materials is often for marketing or building credibility in the market place. Some rely on extensive adverts to pay for the running of the site.
Should we really rely on free materials?
Free material may be of value – but what is the time cost in finding, adapting and applying the information? Not to mention the copyright costs if our organisations are caught using much of this information. most sites provide this information for personal education only – and not for commercial gain inside an organization.
You would not expect your IT team to provide you with a second hand PC or 1990’s software would you? you would not expect production to use the machine from the business next door to save capital costs. If we as L&D want to be credible, we need to show that the solution we are providing our “most important asset” (people) with is fit for purpose – not the cheapest we could find!
Most of the companies that produce “off-the-shelf” or ready to use materials are really aiming this content at the line manager or new trainer. An experienced trainer may well use such a pack as an accelerator into the topic, but will generally change much of the content to match the culture of the organization – something that most of the designers of the materials ignore.