Why the Great British Bake Off proves face-to-face training is important for businesses

The other week, I decided to try making a batch of Florentines.

If you’re not familiar with them, I can’t recommend them highly enough. They’re a delicious concoction of almonds, candied peel, sugar, honey and cream (and sometimes things like glacé cherries and sultanas). Once they’ve been baked and they’ve cooled, they’re dipped in chocolate – and when that’s set, you serve them as a sort of delicious biscuit.

You can see why I wanted to make them. The only trouble was that I’d never made them before. So, I got online and found some recipes.

The first one I found suggested I use golden syrup instead of honey. I’m fond of golden syrup, so I gave it a try.

I mixed up the ingredients, spooned the mixture onto baking paper and put the tray in the oven. I ended up with an amorphous lake of gloop.

So I found another recipe that called for honey. Same problem. The mixture just spread into a sort of lake that was too thin to be worth serving up.

I was on the verge of giving up, when someone suggested I try spooning the mixture into a muffin tray. I gave it a go and – lo and behold – I ended up with perfect, circular Florentines that were perfect for dipping in dark chocolate.

A different way of learning

We’ve all made a mess of things we’ve tried to teach ourselves. I spent years trying to make those little Hungarian dumplings called nokedli. Until I watched someone else make them, I simply couldn’t get it right. When I could see someone else prepare the ingredients, check the consistency of the batter for myself and watch them drop the mixture through a spätzle maker into hot water – well, the next time I tried making nokedli for myself, they were a huge success and the perfect accompaniment to my goulash.

But why am I telling you all this? It’s because I’ve noticed many businesses are cutting back on face-to-face training in favour of staff completing online modules.

There’s nothing wrong with online learning, but you need to remember that it’s not always going to be the best way to train your staff. When I trained as a teacher, we were taught to remember that everyone has different learning styles. Some learn best by doing, others by listening, still others by reading – and so on. It means that you cater to different ways of learning if you want all of your pupils to succeed.

It also means you could be missing a trick if you rely too much on online training. Some of your staff will take to it like ducks to water, while others would succeed better if they could be trained in a different way.

For me, though, there’s nothing like learning by example. My grandfather taught me to coach paint – a skill I’d never have developed as well by simply reading about it. I needed someone to show me how the brush felt when paint was ready to be laid off.

To return to my cooking theme, take a moment to think about that round in the Great British Bake Off where the contestants are given a very basic recipe with limited instructions. They often have no idea what the finished product should look like, let alone to what consistency they should mix ingredients. So they often make lots of mistakes – the sort they’d easily avoid if they’d watched someone else make the recipe to perfection.

When you offer training to your staff, it’s worth remembering this. We all learn in different ways and, sometimes, just watching an expert in action is worth many, many hours of solitary online learning.

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