You can push corporate training attendees toward knowledge, but that doesn’t mean they’ll learn. When I started college many years ago, one of the things that surprised me was that the professors didn’t take class attendance. Wow, I thought, the teacher doesn’t care if I’m here, so I don’t have to go. I can sleep in if I want. College is going to be fun!
Needless to say, my excitement over this newfound freedom was short lived, and I was soon attending biology and calculus every day. Why? Because I was terrified of failing.
Fear is a tremendously effective motivator for a 19-year-old, and I didn’t fail. But while the fear of failing pushed me toward a passing grade, it was not the most effective way to learn.
Much has changed since my college days, but some things haven’t. One is that humans don’t like to be pushed in any form. As the field of learning evolves, we’re gaining more insight into the optimal ways humans absorb information, and pushing it at them isn’t one of them.
When Push Comes to Shove
In college, fear pushed me to pass biology. In the corporate world, fear comes to work daily, too. Salespeople might be fearful of not hitting quota because they are unfamiliar with a new product line and can’t sell it effectively. New employees might be fearful of not performing and losing their jobs because they’re having difficulty mastering the corporate body of knowledge they need to do it properly.
Push methods of learning can’t meet the needs of employees, and if you can’t meet their needs, you can’t train them. Push implies that an employee isn’t doing the job right. Push meets the needs of the organization requiring it, not the needs of the person acquiring it. Push supplies information that is standardized, not specialized, for what needs to be learned. Push — whether with reminders or mandates — takes away the employee’s feeling of empowerment.
When you’re pushed, you feel fear and you resist. When you resist, you don’t learn, you shut down.
The Power of Pull
Imagine walking by a bakery and encountering the tantalizing smell of your favorite cookie being baked. It would be almost impossible to resist going in and partaking. Learning can, and should, present the same attraction for learners. Ideally, it should be irresistible.
While fear pushed me to pass freshman biology and calculus, I didn’t pass by very much, and I enjoyed them very little. When I look back at the classes where I did well, each somehow pulled me toward success, demonstrated how helpful it would ultimately be for me or empowered me in some way. That kind of motivation is always more effective than being pushed by fear.
Pull learning helps employees unconsciously acquire a secondary skill by teaching them flexibility and helping them to proactively respond to the ever-changing landscape of the modern marketplace. Instead of the force mentality of push, the rewards of learning become an ever-stronger pull. There are highly effective methods that can help learning become a pull experience, including effective delivery of the right content and ensuring that the needs of the learners are taken into account on multiple levels. Here are some innovative ideas on how to pull employees into corporate training.
First, how is the learning being delivered? With pull, you need to draw the learner to the knowledge. All learners have different modes by which they learn best. The top three are visual, aural and kinesthetic. Some people learn by reading and seeing — they are the visual learners and will absorb information most effectively this way. The aural group learns by hearing. They need to hear information in addition to seeing it to fully absorb and embrace it. The third group needs to “do,” that is, have hands-on experiences to deeply seat the information in neural circuits. While one of these styles may predominate in an individual, it is important for training to incorporate all three modes to create a varied and interesting learning environment.
The presentation style for the material is also important. In the classroom, ask some questions. Is the trainer engaging and interesting? Is he or she likeable? Is he or she a good speaker? Does the trainer incorporate appropriate humor into the presentation? Are lectures interspersed with discussion, demonstrations, exercises and breaks? All of these factors enhance and enable the learning experience.
Training should also respect the learner’s time — and that includes both the trainer and the materials used. I had a college class where the instructor was often late, forcing everyone to sit impatiently and wait for him — an obvious waste of our time. A statistics course I took relied on a “textbook” that was a dot-matrix printout of a draft the professor hoped someday to publish. It wasn’t helpful. It was distracting, and I felt that being forced to use it was a waste of my time.
Presentation style matters with nontraditional methods of training such as Web-based instruction. Will Rogers once said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If learners aren’t engaged by their visit and subsequent experience with the course site, they are unlikely to return.
Push learning in this environment would include a dry list of properly written training objectives, each specifically stating how the learner’s behavior is expected to change once the course is completed. With pull learning, content is compelling. Learners feel they are acquiring something useful that’s relevant to the job. This can be accomplished in online learning with the use of a visually compelling image or short animation. When a participant sees it and reacts with a “Wow, that’s cool,” the task at hand has been achieved.
Levels of appropriate interactivity should be created by using compelling graphic design throughout the course. Avoid pages of text linked by the “Next” button. Audio, drag-and-drop quizzes, role-play scenarios, pop-ups and other interactive elements serve as a magnet for learners and address the different modes of learning.
This certainly does not deny the fact that objectives are critical for guiding the development of the learner in the training environment, but when the content is delivered in a compelling and creative way, the participant’s attention is captivated, thereby helping ensure the information is absorbed.
In some of my favorite college classes, I had friends or classmates with whom I could study. In those situations, I tended to get better grades, and the classes were more fun. While a social support group like this is harder to create in a corporate environment, it can prove to be beneficial.
Think back on some of your favorite corporate training classes, and you’ll probably find many of them focused on group projects and discussions, rather than entirely lecture-based material. Group projects are a great way to break up the monotony, and they leverage the skills, knowledge and experience of everyone in the class. You don’t just learn what the instructor knows — you have the opportunity to learn what everyone knows. People can share and discuss best practices, tips and war stories.
It’s more difficult to reproduce this environment online. Learners are often physically dispersed and (for asynchronous courses) taking the training at different times. But it can happen and is happening. Online training now can incorporate blogs, wikis, discussion boards and other more socially engaging and collaborative elements, offering a huge advantage over noncollaborative training.
This also can influence one of the most time-consuming and expensive aspects of training development: generating content. Course drafts are rewritten, reviewed, edited and rewritten, in what can only be described as a subjective, labor-intensive process.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We’re all familiar with classic examples of user-generated content — Amazon benefits from tens of thousands of unpaid reviewers, and Wikipedia has written a massive encyclopedia without paying writers. True, there are potential issues with the quality, accuracy and veracity of the content, but weighed against the cost of writing content the traditional way (which also can miss the mark), user-generated content involves the learner and supports the collaboration inherent in pull learning.
The Rewards of Learning
Though training incentives are popular, learning itself must be viewed as the ultimate reward for the journey. While incentives often are identified as a push-learning approach, they can be effective if created and used carefully. A simple incentive can be to award a completion certificate to the learner. This serves as far more than a piece of paper. It is a confirmation of accomplishment.
However, offering prizes that are perceived as more expensive often ends up backfiring and serves as an incentive for mere attendance, rather than for learning, retention and improved performance — which is the purpose of the entire exercise.
Incentives sometimes take unexpected forms. For example, Siemens requires its customers to complete preliminary online training as a prerequisite to classroom training. This allows classroom time to focus on more in-depth topics. Customers see classroom training then as a perk, and are thus inspired to complete online training.
For incentives to be effective, however, a method is needed to monitor those who have completed the training and how well they have done. This is easily done with online training that operates on a learning management system (LMS), which can provide reports on course participation and test score results. Many of these systems can track classroom training as well.
Get a Life
While face-to-face training is nearly always the ideal situation, it’s expensive. When employees are pushed to take on-site training, very often it entails a two-day course, often with travel time on top of that. That’s time employees won’t spend doing their jobs, and then they’ll be forced to return to a backlog of work. For an employee in sales, it means a time of potentially missed commissions. To address these issues, alternatives to the standard classroom, such as online learning, should be examined and considered.
Do the cost-benefit analysis. Evaluate what you save by going online and what you give up by moving away from the classroom environment. If you decide e-learning fits better into your training budget, the next factor in the decision will be how to best present the content online.
This analysis is another element of pull learning — applying flexibility and agility to respond to the needs of the situation. Online courses can provide a better alternative for strapped employees, particularly if the courses are concise, divided into manageable chunks and appropriately skimmable for the way the majority of online readers absorb information. The employee can then take the course when it fits into his or her schedule.
Fun, Fun, Fun
In college, I was much more excited about going to a class when it was fun. Those kind of college classes were rare, but they did exist. Enjoyable, engaging training exists, too, if you look in the right places. Good corporate training finds ways to inject fun into curriculum, with games, for example, that can provide a fresh approach to age-old challenges. Even crossword puzzles offer some degree of educational content. They’re fun, and they draw learners to training while being simple and inexpensive to implement.
As the budget grows, you can move further into the realm of more complex challenges and games, adding even more fun and educational value. Training also can be simulation based, with learners making decisions modeled on the decisions they make on the job. They learn from feedback and are scored based on performance. They are learning without even realizing it. That’s the course I wish I could have taken in college!
Achieving on the Corporate Campus
Learners will be drawn to training when it is delivered in multiple modes via well-designed course offerings with compelling content, group activities and support. Training that’s fun and meets the needs of the busy employee gets an A every time. The things that sparked learning in you initially are the very things that will encourage and compel you to keep learning now. And smart corporate training knows that.