Academic journal article International Journal of Management

The Application Bridge: A Model for Improving Trainee Engagement in the Training Process

Academic journal article International Journal of Management

The Application Bridge: A Model for Improving Trainee Engagement in the Training Process

Article excerpt

The goal of this paper is to suggest a model for engaging trainees in the intellectual or mental activity necessary for training to be effective. Often, managers/trainees leave training sessions feeling that there was "too much theory." The application bridge provides the vehicle for the trainee to understand the role of theory and the trainee's responsibility to make theory useful in the training process. The application bridge overcomes a major problem in making training effective.

"It was good, but it contained too much theory" is a common complaint of many managers upon their return from a training or development seminar. While in many instances, this may be true; in just as many other instances, it is an unjustified criticism leveled at the trainer. What many managers/trainees do not appreciate is the necessity for training materials to be based on solid empirical research results and evidence of support for the underlying theoretical formulations that form the basis for the training (Cameron & Whetten, 1983; Porras & Anderson, 1981). This has been referred to variously as the "intellectual" or "cognitive" or "concept" component as opposed to the behavioral or skill component of development activities (Bandura, 1977; Porras & Anderson, 1981). Without inclusion of the cognitive component, trainers run the risk of trainees perceiving that their own implicit theories of management are widely accepted. Training content might then be interpreted through the lense of each trainee's commonsense. Even one of the most popular (management) skill development textbooks, i.e. Whettenand Cameron's Developing Management Skills (2007), calls for techniques and skills based on social science and business research. On one page (p. 5) alone in the introduction of the text, Whetten and Cameron (2007) mention the need for a foundation of scholarly evidence no less than three times. Thus, the inclusion of some theory in training content is widely accepted by academics, consultants, and trainers.

Coverage of theory can help trainees to develop a framework for understanding and applying the training concepts to other situations that may be similar but not exactly the same as those presented in the training session. To facilitate the acceptance and appreciation of theory in training, trainers could find it helpful to explain the purpose of theory in training to trainees via the use of the "Application Bridge" concept. The Application Bridge can be used to clarify the roles of trainer and trainee in the training and development process, thus resulting in better outcomes from the training dollars spent in the organization.

The Participant/Trainee's Complaint

In designing, packaging, and conducting managerial training programs for large and small as well as manufacturing and service organizations, the typical and most often voiced complaint is that the training is "not useful" because it is not directly applicable to the participant's "real world." When participants are asked what they expect from training, they typically respond with: I want personalized training that may be applied to my specific and (in their view) unique situation. Trainees are saying that general training and knowledge of general principles are of little or no value to them. They want training that is directly transferable from the training seminar to the job without thought or effort on their part.

What Training Departments Do

An examination of the outcomes of management development programs conducted by many organizations reveals that managers/trainees going through those programs often are unable to transfer the training to the work environment (Boyatzis, Leonard, Rhee, & Wheeler, 1996). Also, training departments' objectives are often to design and provide training that is appropriate for a class of problems faced by a group of managers. The typical training program provides general clues and guides about how to analyze a situation and then select the decision or course of action that is most appropriate, given the variety of inputs or contingencies impacting on the situation. …

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