Barriers To Effective Training and Development

Last Updated on November 30, 2022 / Training & Development

Image of an effective training session.

HR Question:

We’re starting to take a look at our training programs for next year. What are the barriers to effective training and development? What can we do to make the training more effective for our team?

HR Answer:

There are a number of factors that may cause a training session to be a triumph or a “try again next time.” Rather than becoming overwhelmed by all of the variables that create successful training, we’ll break it down simply to identify the barriers to avoid during the planning stage, the delivery, and the follow-up of a training session.

Plan Ahead and Consider Your Audience

One barrier to effective training is the lack of good planning. It’s incredibly important to consider the needs of your audience throughout the entire planning process by doing the following:

Conduct a needs assessment

It is critical to match the training to the needs of your organization. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for determining training needs, a needs assessment can be of great value on all levels to aid in doing so. Check out Strategic HR’s guide to “How to Conduct a Training Needs Analysis.”

Consider learning styles

Everyone learns differently. Some prefer learning visually through graphs, illustrations, videos, or watching an example, while others learn best auditorily by listening to instructions or listening to an audiobook; reading notes or writing down instructions; or kinesthetically by walking through the steps on their own. A combination of lecture, discussion, and activity can enhance the learning experience for everyone, and it is more likely to lead to better information retention.

Choose your topic wisely

Is your topic relevant to the participants, timely, and is new information being provided? All of these are important. If there’s a firm-wide update or new software, everyone should attend the training. But if there’s a niche update that will only impact one department, consider making that optional. Keeping the needs of your audience front of mind will help you build a topic that can be tailored to meet those needs.

Select the right learning group size

Depending on the topic, the group size may impact how effective training is. If you are discussing a topic with complex detail that participants will need to know and understand, breaking into smaller groups will give them more opportunities to ask questions and gain the insight they need.

Keep Things Moving – Make it a Dynamic Session

Other barriers to effective training can include choosing the wrong timing for training (too soon or too late), not providing the right building blocks to anchor the new knowledge, proving snooze-worthy training, or not choosing the appropriate length of time to adequately cover the topic. Here are some tips to address these barriers:

Timing is everything

If there is a deadline to implement a new process or policy, make sure the relevant employees are trained well in advance of that deadline to allow time to address any questions or concerns. If you require every employee to attend a seminar on benefits when only 25% are eligible, it may not be the best use of time and resources. On the other hand, offering the presentation three months before open enrollment would also be problematic because it is too far in advance.

Start with the right building blocks

Are you striving to make sure that your topic is digestible and will be retained? Think incrementally and layer the sequence of your program so that one topic or concept builds on what was learned in the previous topic. Ask yourself how you went about learning more complex concepts – what did you need to know first or what mental bridges needed to be built before you could completely understand something? That process will help you to develop the best flow for your training.

Use humor to make it fun

We’ve all sat through dry or straightforward training programs that fail to keep our interest. To keep your audience engaged and entertained, look for opportunities to add an appropriate joke, a funny story or comment, or a cartoon or video (when those materials can be used with the appropriate permissions, of course). When used effectively, it can reduce participant anxiety, boost their participation, and motivate them to focus. Remember that to be effective, comedy must complement the course material and not distract from it. And it should not be distasteful or offensive or it may interfere with the participants’ learning.

Choose your length of presentation carefully

The length of a presentation dictates how in-depth you may be able to explore a topic. Determine what you are trying to accomplish with the training – just a broad overview, or a deep dive? Conversely, if you know you only have 30 minutes, don’t pick a larger topic than you can cover effectively in that amount of time. No matter how long the presentation, try to provide coverage while an employee or employees are attending training. This will help ease the stress of being away from the job and help them to stay focused.

Don’t Forget the Follow-Up!

After you’ve taken the time and care to design and deliver valuable training, don’t let your good planning fizzle out before you reach the end zone. A common barrier to effective training occurs when you skip these valuable follow-up steps:

Give them a chance to practice

If there is an opportunity to take the lessons outside of the training room – whether that’s through behavior-based training, mentoring, job-shadowing, or taking on new responsibilities for a short period of time – it’s important to remember the variety of learning styles your audience may have and give them an opportunity to practice the lesson. Also, remember that application of newly gained skills is the key to retention of that knowledge.

Evaluate every time!

This is a critical piece that should be built into the conclusion of all training. It’s important to assess how effective your training is from your employees’ perspectives. You can use this evaluation to assess their satisfaction with the training delivery, content, timeliness, and any other aspect of the experience on which you would like to gain feedback. You can also use the evaluation to briefly test their knowledge of your critical message to determine if they are indeed walking away with the information you had intended.

For more tips, check out the Top 10 Time Tips for Trainers.

For any organization, training is an investment in time, money, and resources. It can also be a tool for retention and rewards as well. Make sure you plan carefully for the audience’s needs to get the most bang for your buck!

Thank you to Terry Wilson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Training & Development Practice Manager, and Samantha Kelly, Sr. Sales & Marketing Strategist, for contributing to this HR Question of the Week.


The new year can be a prime opportunity to tackle the training that your team needs (i.e., workplace harassment, diversity, coaching, and skills-specific). Strategic HR can help you in developing customized training to achieve your desired results, and we can lead both in-person and virtual training for you. For more information, visit Training & Development, or simply contact us – we’d love to hear from you.