Enterprise Learning Initiatives.
Don’t Fight the CultureDon’t be culture-blind when developing training. Use our tips to and leverage what’s already in your favor.
“Not so fast! That might have been ok elsewhere, but we do things a bit differently on this team.”
Or what about…
“I know what the documented process says, but in reality, it’s not done that way at all.”
But surely you’ve heard…
“If you are going to live in this house, you will obey my rules – it’s my way, or [you insert the rest here].”
These colloquialisms are a part of our lives. In one way or another, they govern how we behave on a team, in a department, and even in our family lives. They deliver information about how we should behave socially, coexist, and get things done the “right” way. Or, as my 92–year–old grandmother would say, “Doing the thing the way it is supposed to be done, when it’s supposed to be done, using the right stuff to get it done.”
These phrases reveal culture. (OH NO….the “C” word!) Culture exists in any field of human endeavor involving two or more people. It is the way things work, regardless of what is formally documented or stated when “big brother” is watching. In the workplace, culture governs day–to–day business operations. Culture is rarely documented, but it affects every decision made. Once, when I asked a client about a practice that confused me, he said, “It’s just the way things get done around here.” That’s as good as any other definition of culture.
In my time as a learning and development consultant, I’ve become painfully aware that culture – the unwritten rules of order – can enhance or destroy the best laid plans.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast
Mark Fields, former CEO of Ford Motor Company
Once upon a time in a conference room far, far way, a client felt the company culture was getting in the way of their change project. He asked our group of experienced change management and learning professionals, “How do you change culture?” A colleague wisely answered “Slowly, and almost never.”
It’s a common question. The client reasoned that a strategic communications approach and well–placed learning interventions mixed in the corporate cauldron would miraculously change the very nature of the organization.
Actually, it works the other way around. Culture is “baked in” to the organization. Treat it as a fixed and powerful force. It should be considered when designing every piece of the solution or the operation is bound to fail. Don’t try to change the organization’s culture. Understand it, and then harness its power for your initiative.
As we sat with the client, my team talked about our experiences with organizational culture. We reset the client’s expectations about culture change and the limitations of plans that do not consider culture. But we also helped them understand they had a massive force at their disposal – a force that could help get them to their goal.
For example, their change project required new employee behaviors. New employee behaviors mean training, right? But training, in a vacuum, rarely achieves true behavior change. We talked with the client about the need to focus attention on the behaviors they needed and use their culture as a catalyst. We helped them ask themselves, “What is the behavior we need to see after this training? How can we leverage our culture to help us get there?”
Here are some ways you can use your culture to get the behaviors your organization needs:
You know what they say: acceptance is the first step to change. Accept your reality. Look at the hard truths in your organization and examine the culture. Culture is what attracted most of the people working there today, so it’s not a bad thing, but you have to understand it. What are the unspoken rules? How do people talk and interact with each other? What behaviors are being rewarded? Those are the ones that are aligned to your culture. Beyond self-examination, there are more formal ways to determine culture; consider a thorough assessment. You have to know your culture before you can use it.
Now that you have assessed your culture, determine the best way to engage the organization. Ask yourself a few questions:
- What type of organizational culture do you have? Rebels? Armies of one? One big family? Cooperation and synergy? A band of brothers who have each other’s backs? Creators and innovators? Risk–takers, encouraged to try and fail?
- Who are your employees? How much do demographics and characteristics (like gender, age, and background) drive the preferred learning approaches of the organization? For example, does the age of the majority influence the learning approach? As we try to engage the work force, what types of things will work and won’t work?
- How many people are you targeting? Does your organization have the infrastructure to support multi–faceted approaches, or are you limited to a few bells and whistles and a lo–fi approach to engage the audience?
- How are people rewarded for in the organization? What leads to high evaluations, promotions, more money, and social/political clout? In other words, what can we use – based on our culture – to facilitate engagement?
These questions are easy to answer for some organizations and difficult for others. Regardless, the effort is worthwhile. You must answer these questions if you want to engage successfully.
So far, you have done all the right things – you understand your true culture, have a plan for how to engage the organization, and now you need to execute. Your plan should be a multi–level, multi–phased, and supportive approach.
- Multi-level means stakeholders at all levels of are aware and on message. How are all levels of the organization helping to drive the engagement and support? You will need top-down (leader-driven) and a bottom–up (grass roots) approach that is aligned with your culture.
- Multi-phased simply implies you need to allow the organization to warm up to each part of the change. Total immersion in a new way of working is risky – if you ask folks to jump into the deep end, you might lose a few. I recommend using a tried and true approach – formats, words, and platforms everyone is comfortable with – and use it to deliver each component. The idea is to minimize the new stuff and make it all feel culturally right. Wrap the familiar around the new and it will go down much easier.
- Supportive means intentionally building an environment that helps employees succeed. Along with traditional performance support material like job aids, stakeholders and leaders must continue to “talk the talk and walk the walk.” Create touch points for learners to see the importance of what they are doing – the connection to the success of the team and the organization. Reward behaviors that are critical to the program’s success. ALL of these things should be designed through the lens of your culture.
There is a lot more advice I could have covered, but this is a blog, not a book! Remember a few things the next time you have a discussion about training for a new initiative and someone brings up the “C” word. Training counter to your culture never gets the results you want. Culture is powerful and should be exploited to your solution’s benefit, not ignored or resisted.
“Now get back out there and do it the way we taught ya,” the coach said, with optimism in his voice. “Atta boy!”
Kenny Simon is an L&D Director with Emerson Human Capital, as well as a sports junkie who learned about culture through professional experience and old ball coaches who were often verbally abusive. (But he isn’t bitter or anything…)
Why You Should Use Real-Life Problems in TrainingWhen you design training, your scenarios and practice sessions should feel real.
Does this sound familiar? Your company is installing new software. You attend the training session, where the facilitator explains the benefits of the new system and demonstrates how you will use it to do your job. He asks for questions. He doesn’t get many. The training is over and everyone returns to their desks. “That didn’t look too difficult,” you think.
One week later the new system is launched. You log on and…sit there. You sort of remember what to do, but you’re not 100% sure. What if you make a mistake? What is at stake? If it’s a new payroll system, people might not get paid. If it’s a new manufacturing system, the product might not get made. If it’s a new helpdesk system, people might not be able to do their jobs or buy your company’s products and services. The same would be true for leadership training, sales training, or any behavioral training. What are the consequences if you do it wrong? You might negatively impact the customer or a coworker.
Learners weigh risks and rewards.
When attempting to use a new skill or behavior, there is risk. If the learner perceives the risk is greater than the reward, they are LESS likely to use their new behavior. As learning professionals, we know learners must use new behaviors immediately and repeatedly so they become habit.
How can we help our learners get over the hump of “the risk is too great?” We allow the learner to practice new skills during training. I’m not talking about taking a multiple-choice assessment at the end of the session. I’m talking about allowing the learner to try new behaviors using real problems in a realistic environment – where they feel the pride of doing it right, and where they are allowed to fail and feel the consequences of that mistake.
Keep it real.
People learn from real scenarios. Real issues. Real challenges. Real consequences for success and failure. People learn from experience. Your challenge is to bring that “real life” – that urgency – into the classroom or eLearning session. The more relevant and realistic the context, the more easily learners will transfer those skills and knowledge to the job.
Your learning objectives are your guide.
How do you know what to have learners practice during training? The answer lies in your learning objectives. They should follow the ABC method: ACTION, BEHAVIOR, CONNECT (See Greg Bunn’s Aug 10 blog post).
In other words, what do you want them to be able to DO with the knowledge and skills they’ve gained during training? What learners practice helps them meet the learning objectives.
So if your stated objective is…
After completing this course, you will be able to:Issue a refund for a returned item using the original form of payment.
…which of these options will get them to the objective?
Option 1:Multiple Choice<
QUESTION: To issue a refund using the original form of payment:
- Press “Return” key. Select “Original Form of Payment.” Scan the item. Press “Total.”
- Press “Return” key. Scan the item. Press “Total.”
- Scan the item. Press “Return” key. Press “Total.”
Option 2:Hands-on Simulation
A customer is returning an item using the original form of payment. Demonstrate the steps to issue the refund accurately.
Customer:“Hi. I’d like to return this item.”
Cashier:“No problem. Do you have the original form of payment?”
Instructions:Use the interactive cash register to complete this return accurately.
Option 2 will show the instructor – and the learner – whether the learner knows how to complete the task correctly. In addition, the learner demonstrates the behavior he or she will use on the job, building confidence and lowering the perceived risk. A week later, faced with the new system and a similar situation, that employee will perform better and more confidently. A multiple-choice test does not let you measure against the learning objective and it doesn’t prepare the learner, mentally, for on-the-job performance.
Here it is, in a nutshell.
Giving learners real-life problems to solve during training enables them to:
- learn from their mistakes in a safe environment and without impacting customers, clients, or coworkers.
- build confidence in the new skill or behavior, which reduces the perceived risk and increases the likelihood they will apply their new skills on the job.
It’s not Rocket Science, It’s Brain ScienceIf you see any of these warning signs, go back to the basics.
We’ve all read the research on the modern learner – make it more modular, gamify it, or make it mobile. But don’t let these trends distract you. Here are a few common signs you need to re-focus on the basic elements of good learning and changing human behavior.
- You deploy leadership training, but survey results show no one participated. What are your learners comparing it to? What is their frame of reference for his content? Adult learners anchor what they are hearing or seeing to what they have seen or heard before. If you don’t anchor it, they will! Try branding the program differently or compare it to an experience that has given them great skills or insights. Learners will connect your training to those anchors and begin to see the learning as more purposeful.
- Your training falls flat and survey results show a negative learning experience.How did the session start? How did it end? What highs and lows did you build into the session? Take a hard look at those and you might start to understand participants’ feedback. Ever go on vacation and, when you tell a friend about it, all you can remember are the most spectacular sights or the travel disasters? Our brains are hard-wired to focus on the highs and lows, or peak ends, of any experience. Orchestrate those highs and lows. For example, begin with an engaging ice breaker (high), followed by a challenging discussion (low), and then an activity that gets people on their feet and talking to each other. Tip: Do you want to ensure those evaluations come in more positive? End on a high note your learners will remember when they do their review.
- Your systems training is launched, but users report many issues as they try to use the system on the job. Research shows we feel the pain of loss much more acutely than the pleasure of gain. That’s why we stay in jobs longer than we should or in relationships long after they’ve fizzled. It’s called Loss Aversion and the loss of systems is no different. For some users, the old system was fine, and it was comforting and affirming to know exactly how to do the job well each day. For those users, the new system is painful; they don’t know it all anymore. They don’t know how to find information, complete daily tasks, or speed through those processes. They are grieving that feeling of safety and confidence. You can fix this by identifying the real pain points. What is the pain of not changing systems? What are the consequences of the aging or inadequate system – consequences learners might not be thinking of? If we don’t change, information might be more and more outdated or irrelevant. Maybe competitors will take our share of the market or our customers will have a bad experience and leave. Find out what this change is really about and build that into training. Help your learners imagine the pain in not changing to a new system.
- Compliance training leaves your audience “glazed over.”Have you ever conducted training face-to-face and sense that your audience is less than thrilled? Sometimes the content itself is hard to make fun and exciting. But you can find ways to add some spice to your training. One way: give learners some control. Humans like predictability and influence on things that affect them. For example, if you were to become ill, you would want to help determine the treatment plan and understand your prognosis. Faced with uncertainty, we seek control. When you’re designing training, (even compliance training!) look for ways to give learners control. For example, use advanced organizers so they can see the content at a glance. Let them describe their learning goals and track progress themselves. Give them electives to choose from. Or let them choose the order in which they take courses. Give as much control as possible and learners will engage and feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Learners are not up to date on the latest tax curriculum. You’ve built the course, your learners have taken it, but you’re still seeing performance problems on the job. The text-heavy content might be your problem. Studies have shown our brains are triggered more easily by visual images; in fact, we can remember over 2,000 images with 90% accuracy, even after 90 days. That’s huge! So, while some might say there are distinct learning styles or preferred learning methods, we know the brain loves visualization. Use that to increase retention. Make the content more visual and your learners will recall more than they would by looking only at text-heavy slides.
- Your accounting department is having a hard time learning the new business process. Chances are, any new accounting process is complex and has many exceptions to the norm. That’s a big hill for your learners to climb. Help them out by engineering success and building momentum. We all need small wins to keep ourselves going when the going gets tough. For example, when we diet, we like to see that our work is making a difference – the needle on the scale is inching downward. The day we stop seeing results, we become discouraged or demotivated. Learners are no different. They need to see that their effort is connected to results and progress toward the goal. Start with simple tasks that ensure small wins, then build in bigger achievements for more complex or challenging tasks. Momentum is a movement that takes on a life of its own and escalates – soon your learners will be on a sure path to success on the job.
This Isn’t Rocket Science, It’s Brain Science
All of these tips are founded in scientific research about human behavior and the brain. So, while learning trends and societal shifts won’t stop, we know a few facts about the human behavior that transcend the trend. Use these techniques to really give your training the wow it needs!
The Pen Is Mightier Than the KeyboardIn the digital age why use a pen and paper?
You might have heard that, all around the country, elementary schools are dropping cursive writing and replacing it with computer time. Sounds about right for the digital age, huh? But doing things the old-fashioned way has its advantages. I can’t claim to be a proponent of cursive writing – I can’t even make out my own signature — but what about print writing? Researchers are proving that writing things on paper is good for us.
In a recent study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller (Princeton) and Daniel M. Oppenheimer (UCLA) showed that students taking notes longhand benefited from better retention. They were testing an “encoding hypothesis:” longhand note-taking is “generative” and requires “summarizing, paraphrasing, and concept-mapping” whereas “non-generative” note-taking (i.e., typing on a laptop) is simply recording, verbatim.
In other words, the student tapping away on her keyboard is listening for words, not meaning. This hurts retention; Mueller and Oppenheimer found that the more students listened for the verbatim, the worse they did when they tried to recall what they had learned.
From the Classroom to the Workplace
I still do a lot of note-taking on my laptop, but I’m starting to change my ways. I have been inspired by author Austin Kleon. In his New York Times best-seller Steal like an Artist, he has a chapter called “Step Away from the Screen.” He quotes his favorite cartoonist, Lynda Barry: “In this digital age, don’t forget to use your digits!” Yep, she means those things at the end of your arms.
Austin uses two desks in his office: one for “analog” and one for “digital.” His swivel chair sits between the two desks. He starts in analog, with paper and a variety of writing instruments like pens and markers. After he gets his ideas down in analog form, he spins to his digital desk and edits his work on his laptop and big monitor. He uses a continuous loop: hands, computer, hands, computer…until he’s satisfied with the result.
I don’t have a set-up like Austin, but I’ve developed habits that work for me. I start my PowerPoint presentations with a pen. I like to fold an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper in eighths — each square representing one slide. Then I write directly in each square. Or, to kick my creativity up a notch, I jot down notes on small post-its and move them around on the sheet of paper until I’m satisfied with the flow. I’m “using my digits” and encoding the information, which helps me remember the arc and details of my presentation. And I can actually see the narrative unfolding on this single sheet of paper…something I can’t get in PowerPoint.
Austin also says the computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in each of us, because we start to edit ideas before we’ve allowed them to mature. There’s something confining about that single digital screen or slide, whereas a whole pile of scratch paper can be doodled on with abandon – ideas are quickly and easily kept or trashed.
So, do you want to remember what you learn? Be more creative? Occasionally, swap your laptop for your trusty pen and paper and see what you get. I dare you.
Sources: NPR Weekend Edition: April 17, 2017: Attention Students: Put Your Laptops Away.Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon, 2012.
Spice Up Your Bland Off-the-Shelf Training So It Actually WorksA simple recipe to spice up bland training
By Emerson Consulting Manager, Patti Hughes
I am a Food Network junkie. I love watching the shows and seeing the amazing meals they turn out. I, too, want to turn out delicious, completely from-scratch gourmet meals; the bland and boring meals I typically cook don’t cut it in my family. But a lack of time, money, and confidence in my ability (I wasn’t exactly trained at Le Cordon Bleu) held me back for a long time.
I was stuck, until I discovered the concept of “semi-homemade,” made famous by Sandra Lee. How brilliant: take pre-portioned food, add your fresh ingredients and just enough spice to suit your tastes, and create a delicious, cost-effective, home-cooked meal in less time. I was hooked!
Early in my professional life, I faced a similar dilemma. As a manager of corporate training, I was charged with creating and delivering training to multiple audiences with limited budget, time and resources. My internal clients wanted champagne on a beer budget. How was I supposed to do that? I couldn’t hire a cadre of instructional designers, and I sure didn’t have the budget or time to find and manage consultants to build all the programs I needed.
I found an answer that worked for me: semi-homemade training! Purchase off-the-shelf training – for considerably less than the cost of a custom-built program – and add “fresh ingredients and spices” to make sure employees meet your company’s outcomes and performance goals.
A Simple Recipe to Spice Up Training
Start with the right pre-made components.
- Look for off-the-shelf programs that focus on achieving the behavior change and the performance you need in your organization. For example, some training packages for managers on delivering feedback in a corporate setting might not work if your supervisors are delivering feedback to union workers on a factory floor. Do a little research and read the training objectives to makes sure you get the best fit.
- Educate yourself about the platform, structure and content of the program. You want to be sure it’s flexible enough so you can make it your own.
Add your favorite fresh ingredients.
- Take out generic work examples and add case studies and job scenarios that make sense to your target audience, industry and organization.
- Include exercises and activities that allow learners to practice their new skills in the context of their jobs.
- Change the course content so it uses words common in your organization. Participants will tune out if they encounter terms and language that don’t make sense to them.
- Build in a time and setting for participants to share ideas and tips with each other. This takes real-world relevance up a notch; co-workers can reinforce ways to use the new skills in their day-to-day jobs.
- Leverage what works in your organization to enhance the training and create consistency with other training employees have had. Integrating your own organization’s methods and models connects their new knowledge and skills to something they already know, improving relevance and retention.
Throw in some spice
- Consider branding or renaming the training program to connect to a larger organizational initiative.
- Change or add visuals that you know will resonate with your audience.
- Chunk the training content and delivery. If you have room in the timeline, consider breaking the content into smaller pieces and delivering it over time. This is not only easier on the organization, it gives you time to gather feedback and fine-tune your customization.
- Eliminate content that doesn’t directly relate to your high-priority objectives and won’t support learner’s on-the-job performance.
- Schedule follow-up sessions, create job aids, and plan on-the-job support so real-world learning continues after the training is over.
Semi-homemade might not be the answer for all your training needs, but when it is, these steps will help. If you follow this recipe to make off-the-shelf training your own, your organization will be begging for more!
The ABCs of Learning ObjectivesHere’s how to craft learning objectives that drive business results.
When my son Trevor was a toddler, I wanted him to learn his ABCs. Pretty soon, like most kids his age, he was belting out The Alphabet Song loud and clear. When I heard him sing, I was confident that he could name all the letters of the alphabet. I felt even better when he began pointing to the letters in the books we read at night. I knew then that he would have an easier time learning to read words in kindergarten.
In my professional life as an instructional designer, my clients come to me with a lot of things they want their employees to learn. Often, they say they have some content they want workers to know or understand. They might write their learning objectives as follows:
By the end of this course, learners will:
- Know the procedure to ring up a returned item.
- Understand the elements of our storytelling framework.
- Know how to use the AUTOSUM formula in Microsoft Excel.
Unfortunately, these learning objectives don’t go far enough. We can’t see inside people’s brains. If we want to be sure they have new knowledge, we need something observable. They have to demonstrate that they know or understand the content.
I was sure Trevor knew the letters of the alphabet because he was able to say them out loud.
My clients need even more than that. We don’t build learning programs just to put ideas in peoples’ heads – we want those people to DO something with the knowledge they’ve gained. That’s why I encourage my clients to focus not on the content they want people to know, but on the OUTCOMES.
I was sure Trevor could use his knowledge of the alphabet when he started spelling words.
Knowledge is the foundation, but the real key is being able to perform a task that drives business results. The best learning objectives are job-relevant activities learners should be able to perform – not only in a training environment, but also in the course of their daily work.
Using these guiding principles, I would push my client to rewrite their objectives around job performance:
By the end of this course, learners will:
- Issue a refund for a returned item using the original form of payment.
- Tell a two-minute story that incorporates drama, detail, and dialogue.
- Calculate the total annual budget using the AUTOSUM function in Excel to add the monthly allocations.
When learners are able to demonstrate the behaviors identified in these learning objectives, we will be confident that they know and understand the underlying content. But we’ve raised the bar and now have equal confidence that they can perform key activities that will grow and sustain the business. And, after all, isn’t that why companies invest in learning programs?
So remember, when writing powerful learning objectives, think of your ABCs:
A – use ACTION verbs
B – focus on a BEHAVIOR
C – CONNECT the learning to a job-relevant task
Now you know your ABCs…next time won’t you sing with me?
If You Train Them, They Will Perform!Use these tips to improve the chances of sustainable behavior change.
Or will they? Perhaps you’ve just rolled out a new system. Or you’ve changed a core job process. Or maybe you’ve hired a new set of leaders. What do you do before letting your employees loose on the job? Train them! And yet for some reason, they don’t always do what you want.
In 2016, companies around the world spent $359.3 billion in training their employees according to TrainingIndustry.com (source). Within North America, companies spend $161.7 billion. Outside the misspent dollars and time, when behaviors don’t change, there are other implications.
- Your company doesn’t realize the benefits of a change.
- Leaders point fingers and want answers about what went wrong.
- Managers become frustrated because they’re not getting the outcomes they’re accountable for.
- Employees lose productivity, confidence, and might suffer real impacts to their rewards and careers.
As a learning professional, I certainly don’t want these outcomes for my clients. While there’s no guarantee of on-the-job performance, there are five things you can do to improve your chances. Think of this plan as your CREST for success!
- Commit. When your company is making a change, get your senior leaders on board from the outset. Have them define what success looks like. Ask them to model the changes they want to see. When they champion the behaviors, employees are more likely to adopt them.
- Reward. When you see it, reward it. As employees start to adopt new behaviors, reinforce their actions. Make it public and immediate. Don’t wait until the next staff meeting to call out a victory. Send an email to the team describing the success and the positive outcome. Forward positive messages from customers to the team. Show that you know what success looks like, you see it, and that you care about it.
- Embed. So often, learning is a one-time event. Right before the change happens, you train employees and expect them to remember it all. But there is always a lag between when employees learn new behaviors and when they need to perform. So embed the learning into the job. Train and support new skills and behaviors as they come up naturally, in real life.
- Support. Performance support, like online help and job aids, is another way to move learning closer to on-the-job performance. And remember your walking, talking performance support: super-users or peer experts should be available when employees need them.
- Test. After completing a training program, assess employees to make sure they can demonstrate the skills and behaviors your organization needs. Make the tests objective and performance-based.
Apply CREST to your learning program and you’ll likely see more of the employee performance you want.
PowerPoint is Not TrainingDon't let your PowerPoint get In the way of learning
I can’t wait to see your deck! – said no one, ever.
Real talk: chances are slim you’ll hear oohs and awe during your PowerPoint presentation. Don’t take it personally, take it as failing of the business world. Microsoft estimates more than 30 million PowerPoint decks are presented every day. That’s a lot of slides. We’re decked to death.
Keep this in mind the next time you use PowerPoint. While it’s an easy and well-accepted tool for the deck builder, it’s not always so great for the learner. Why?
The way we use decks helps us as presenters and trainers more than it helps learners.
People have to quickly read and glean data from each slide, while you’re talking, before you – poof! – move on and the slide disappears. Same for the next slide. And the next.
If you have a more active and familiar audience, you can expect requests to “go back a few slides” where you’ll re-explain as they furiously take notes. You’ll see a few furrowed brows, but eventually they will stop asking questions. That’s not always a good thing.
If you have a distant or more formal audience, people will tune out and make a mental note to ask you for the deck later.
Most presenters offer to send it anyway. The presenter and audience have good intentions, but it’s sort of a cop out. You’re unintentionally saying, “I know you probably didn’t learn what you needed, but it’s all right here – good luck!”
Many of us in the audience don’t look at those abandoned decks. If we do…now it’s a job aid. You could have designed a job aid that works as a job aid instead.
Most people need both the deck and the presenter to facilitate learning. You probably won’t be with learners when they are trying to execute what you have taught. So even if you have the most amazing deck ever, there are a few things you can do.
- Even if it’s not training – it’s “just a presentation” – raise it to the level of a learning experience. Think like an instructional designer. People learn by engaging, but every slide is essentially a passive experience. Any kind of content can be turned into an interaction. So, stop. Leave the deck during your presentation to get your audience talking, doing and sharing.
- Build in time for that engagement. If you have 30 minutes on the agenda, don’t build 30 minutes of slides. Leave time for practice and discussion. And that doesn’t just mean after your slides are done – make it clear you’re ready to stay on one slide until everyone is comfortable, before moving on. Leaving no extra time says to the group, “My deck is perfect – this is all you need.”
- Think of even the simplest presentation as a multi-step learning process. The steps should include your presentation, follow-up, and on-the-job learning opportunities. So build tools that support each step.
PowerPoint is an incredibly successful and useful tool. But it’s just one tool and it shouldn’t drive the service you are providing to your audience. Put learning first and make the deck follow.
Training Doesn’t Have to Be BoringFour tips for stimulating learner engagement
Recently, when I picked up my high school junior from school, I asked her how her classes were. “Boring,” she said. I develop learning programs for my clients, and I never want my learners say anything like that. Usually, if our training participants aren’t stimulated, it’s because we are focused more on content delivery – unconsciously thinking of our learners as passive receptacles to be filled with content. Instead, we need to focus on engaging them. It’s easy to be bored when you’re sitting, with little to do – it’s hard to be bored when you’re taking center-stage as the star of the show.
So, I’d like to provide four tips for stimulating learner engagement:
Stimulate their brains.
Lectures are boring because they trigger only one part of the brain – the part that listens. To make your learning more impactful, try to engage as many brain systems as you can. Engage the visual cortex by surrounding the learning environment with pictures and graphics. We process images much more quickly and effectively than words, and we remember those images longer – especially if they are unique and grab our attention. By appealing to multiple brain centers, we give learners multiple paths to store and retrieve the information.
Stimulate their hearts.
People learn more when they have an emotional connection to the topic. And the best way to build emotional connection is by sharing a story. Stories bring training to life. They give us a main character that learners can relate to. We care – we root for the character through the obstacles and challenges that give the story drama and build our interest. We are drawn into the story and want to know what happens next. We cheer when the hero of the story finds a way to overcome those difficulties – and we learn a little something about how we could do the same when facing a similar challenge.
Stimulate their hands and feet.
Get learners out of their chairs and get their hearts pumping faster. Make the learners interact with and manipulate the content. Have them demonstrate content points. For example, if there are five key customer service principles you want them to remember, assign each principle to a small group and have that group come up with a dance move that represents the principle. Then have each group teach the others their dance move and pull it all together into the whole group doing the “customer service dance.” They might find it a bit silly, but they won’t be bored. And that will be one topic they remember for a long time!
Stimulate their funny bones.
Laughter is the opposite of boredom. So make the learning fun. Use gamification to inspire some friendly competition between groups. For example, ask learners to share their funniest story from when things went wrong – you might even have them act it out as a skit or record it on video. Then, challenge the group to come up with their cleverest way to use the learning concepts to address the situation.
When learning programs activate participants’ brains, hearts, hands, feet, and funny bones, the last thing you’ll ever hear is “that was boring.”
Blend a Learning Program Like a Top ChefConsider these essential elements when you’re whipping up a killer learning program.
I’m not a great cook, but I enjoy watching competitive cooking shows like Master Chef and Top Chef where amazing dishes are created. The TV chefs create an experience using the right combination of flavors, textures, and presentation. There’s no cookie-cutter approach; each dish is unique and carefully planned to achieve the optimal eating experience. Likewise, when I want to create a great learning program, I try to use the right combination of learning techniques, blended together, to maximize the transfer of knowledge.
There’s nothing cookie-cutter about my learning creations either. People learn in different ways, so putting together the best experience takes an understanding of audience, content, skills and behaviors they need to learn, and any delivery considerations. There are, however, some staples – elements I think about when designing any blended solution.
Elements of a Blended Learning Program
- Set up. “Mise en place” is a French term for having all your ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, grated, etc. before cooking starts. Pans are prepared. Mixing bowls, tools, and equipment are set out. It is a technique chefs use to assemble meals efficiently. For blended learning courses, the setup is also important. Provide an overview of the course, including how the course will be organized and delivered. Set expectations with learners about how they will interact with media, measure success, and find support after training ends.
- Present. Chefs use a variety of ways to share their recipes and cooking methods: books, videos, TV cooking shows, and live classes. For blended learning, we use classroom instruction, group activities, independent learning, eLearning, coaching, etc. Build a blended solutions solution that gives the individual more ways to learn, improving their chance of success. And allow learners flexibility across a blended program; they learn better when they can control their own experiences.
- Demonstrate. Learning a new recipe for the first time is easier if someone shows you how to do it. Include live demonstrations, video demonstrations, and other ways to observe someone performing well.
- Practice. The best way to hone your cooking skills is to experience first-hand a dish that turns out great and a dish that flops. Allow learners to practice using the content in a realistic, but controlled environment. Simulations and other realistic trials help learners test their learning and get real-time feedback on their performance in a low-risk setting. And, for tasks requiring human interaction, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction and practice in a real or realistic setting.
- Assess. Good chefs taste their food as they cook to make sure it meets their standards and expectations. For blended solutions, verify the learner has mastered the skills through performance assessment, certification, or informal learning checks. Just as chefs make sure each part of a dish is right, consider having your learners demonstrate mastery of each skill or behavior before they move on to the next.
- Coach. Every great chef once worked under the wing of an established, reputable chef who taught them the nuances of cooking that can’t be learned from a book. Make managers and peers part of blended learning programs. They should provide structured, ongoing coaching and feedback. This is a key piece of any blended solution; it helps ensure the skills learned through formal training are applied on the job.
- Collaborate. Social media has become a great platform for chefs and casual cooks alike to share recipes, cooking techniques, and lessons learned. Enhance your blended learning program through communities of practice. These communities enable collaboration during the course; for example, participants might use online chat to ask questions, share information, and solve problems. They are also a great way to deepen skills and reinforce critical behaviors over time.
Successful learning takes many forms because learners and situations are different. It’s all about thinking like a Top Chef and finding that optimal mix of techniques. As great chef Emeril Lagasse would say, blended programs give your learning some “BAM!”