Training: Maximizing Your ROI!

These comments originated and are expanded from my panel participation at the Getting it Right conferences in Irvine and Sacramento, California on June 6 and 8, 2017

“The emergency sector’s performance depends on resilience & flexibility to evolve as economic, learning, technology, legal & social landscapes change. “

June Isaacson Kailes,
Disability Policy Consultant

Those of you who know me, know that I’m not known for my patience. I’ve always struggled with having to accept being a “raging incrementalist”.

I’m passing along here what I’ve been chewing on in the hope that some of this will resonate and have practical application meaning for you!

I recently read Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. This book draws on evidence based research to challenge old learning and teaching models. The book increased my heart burn and agitation level regarding current emergency-related training offerings, as well as the churning, thundering, rumbling and tumbling in my mind, like a spinning washing machine that doesn’t stop. What follows is work in progress regarding my thoughts on training. It is not yet neatly packaged.

I’m known for leading the emergency world away from the vague “special needs” focus to operationalizing an access and functional needs approach using CMIST and adopting use of Functional Assistance Service Teams (FAST).

I led teams in developing, piloting, teaching, and subsequently getting FEMA approval for two courses: FAST and “Integrating Access and Functional Needs into Emergency Planning, Response and Recovery.”

CMIST is a memory tool I developed to help me and others remember the five key functional need areas:

  • Communication
  • Maintaining health
  • Independence
  • Support, Safety, Self-determination
  • Transportation

My intent was to foster better understanding of who was included in the large numbers and diversity of people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, and to build competencies for emergency personnel in implementation of physical, programmatic and effective communication access.

Dogma Needs an Expiration Date

The good news is FAST and CMIST and the “Integrating Access and Functional Needs (L197 FEMA Course) were adopted by government. The bad news is this came with a price. Refinements and revisions are a difficult challenge after government endorsed and integrated these concepts into governmental dogma. Dogma which unfortunately doesn’t seem to have expiration or “refresh by” date.

Figure 1: Dogma – can quickly rot on the shelf. It needs to come with an expiration date! What is the shelf life?

As a lifelong learner, I knew all of this was work in progress, and evolving concepts would require refinement and revisions as they were put into practice, tested and evaluated.

So, when I revise content, like CMIST, FAST and course content, I’m told “ you can’t do that because FEMA says this” or “California says that,” and I said “but I was the originator and developed it!” And the response was “that doesn’t matter, no changes allowed”. (The CMIST revisions are explained in more detail in the blog post “Defining Functional Needs – Updating CMIST”

Current Training Models Need Modernizing

In the emergency management world, applying lessons can make the difference between life and death for people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. It’s about impact and outcomes. The goal is not just lessons observed, documented, or heard about, but lessons repeatedly applied, so we can eventually claim them as lessons learned.

Recent California disaster response and other emergency experiences have highlighted and reinforced for me that our current training models need modernizing. Time and budgets for training are miniscule. For every quality training hour, it is estimated to take from eight hours to 40 hours of preparation including: research, design, materials, slides, videos, handouts, logistics, recruiting, and delivery. These associated costs are rarely adequately funded.

We must prevent the initial investment in developing training from subsequently getting stuck in outdated learning and evaluation models. Here’s my thinking regarding Six “How’s” for modernize training:

1. Refresh content and materials frequently

2. Train teams

3. Elevate importance of exercises

4. Use spaced reinforced interval learning

5. Put equal emphasis on just-in-time training

6. Use evaluation methods that measure delivery effectiveness, performance, impact and outcomes

1.Refresh content and materials frequently

Old standardized training models are not adapting to: reduced reading levels and to reduced attention spans for all age groups (partially due to the growing intensity of our “screen sucking” world of tablets, smart phones, gaming consoles, television). The quality of training content quickly degrades: sluggish systems that lack the flexibility and agility to constantly refresh material and exercises results in stale, inaccurate, and potentially damaging content. I watch dynamic training material get converted to what represents a whole new level of “death by power point” as instructors are forced to use slide decks that meet antiquated but so called “state of the art” training standards.

2.Train Teams!

Participant recruitment needs to be more thoughtful and deliberate in attention to who gets trained!

Building disability competencies into culture and systems isn’t just “one and done “or “checking the “training completed” box.” Training is the means, not the end.

Making it happen, and infusing new strategies into the fabric of what we do takes strong and sustained attention to: applied practices, programs, policies, procedures, protocols, processes, trainings, and audits.

Recruiting training teams and their managers should be the priority. An individual returning to work where colleagues haven’t experienced the same training content, is not as effective as several team members experiencing the same training. Trained teams can work together to identify, and apply new tactics, leading to improved performance. Teams can be more successful in working around competing priorities, heavy workloads and lack of manager support to convert lessons observed into practice and improved outcomes.

3. Elevate the importance of exercises

“Make it Stick” strategies repeatedly emphasize trying to solve a problem before being taught the solution. This leads to improved learning, even when errors are made in the attempt. We learn best when we struggle with the material. Functional exercises give learners an indelible frame of reference and increases motivation for improving planning, practice, and performance.

4.Spaced reinforced interval learning has much better outcomes.

Resilient, hardwired learning occurs over time, not in one-time only webinars, or one or two-day trainings. Inclusion into practice of physical, programmatic and effective communication access requires multiple exposure material. Quality training includes repeated connection with learners using hybrid and blended training modes: in person, online, on conference calls, and webinars. Shorter and spaced, learning opportunities provides learners time to analyze, synthesize and apply new competencies!

5. Just- in- Time Training

A quality companion product focused on just-in-time training should also be developed for whatever training is created or revised. This is because the people we trained yesterday won’t be there tomorrow! In addition, many of us experience “CRS”, an acronym for “can’t remember stuff” on a good day, and much less during high stress, chaotic situations.

Deployed emergency personnel need help untangling and connecting information from dangling threads. That includes wading through plans, processes, procedures, protocols, policies and training notes to get to the critical core. The essence of real, actionable, practical, usable, tactical and deployable steps need to be available in the form of checklists, field operation guides, and job aides that sustain and reinforce the competencies. As the 2008 version National Response Framework succinctly put it “The player’s bench is constantly changing, but a concise, common playbook is needed by all.”

Information that is easy to access on the net, and/or on your “always with you” mobile devices for quick review is vital and especially important for first time applying of new information. There’s nothing like captive and hungry learners to turbo charge the learning curve. Equal attention must be paid to just- in-time training and tools.

6. Use evaluation methods that measure delivery effectiveness, performance, impact and outcomes

Use evaluation methods that measure the effectiveness of delivery, performance, impact and outcomes rather than just rating the process: how many attended, how many answered so many post- test questions correctly, and the learners’ reactions to and satisfaction with the training and presenters.

The gold standard should include metrics related to performance in the trenches. Did targeted outcomes occur? In addition to self-reports, use independent evaluators that attend and observe performance. Have them analyze targeted outcomes and the raw uncensored hot wash content, not the scrubbed and sanitized After Action Report content.

If I have made you uncomfortable, then I’ve succeeded. Get out of your comfort zone! Do not be complacent! Do not accept the status quo. Amp up the learning curve and maximize the return on your training investment! Activate the “Training Real Relevant Rs:” refresh, rebalance, reinvent, redefine, and realign, your training activities!

“If you always do
what you always did,
you always get
what you always got.
Is that enough?”

Author unknown

© 2017, June Isaacson Kailes, Disability Policy Consultant

Feedback wanted!

This information is not dogma, but evolving concepts and work in progress. The author welcomes and encourages feedback.

Permission is granted to copy and distribute this article provided that:

1. Proper copyright notice and citation is attached to each copy;

2. No alterations are made to the contents of the document;

3. Document is not sold for profit; and

4. June Isaacson Kailes, Disability Policy Consultant is notified of such use, please contact

5. To learn more please see this post.

One Comment on “Training: Maximizing Your ROI!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.