Work training isn’t going anywhere. Individual and group learning are necessary to help workers grow into current roles and prepare for new responsibilities. Unfortunately, training has become almost synonymous with a collective groan from many participants. One of the significant challenges for instructors or managers striving to teach others is to keep their audience engaged.
Real learning engagement is notoriously difficult to achieve. In reality, true engagement is a two-way exchange. Instructors should take the opportunity during any training activity, whether in-person or online, to learn from the people they are meant to be teaching. Learning from participants is often the key to achieving both a great course and great team dynamic.
So, how do you go about learning from the learners? The concept seems counter-intuitive, especially in a corporate setting. Even so, it is possible to do, and here are three practices that will help. These include creating a community of trust, keeping a humble attitude, and using the right set of tools.
One of the reasons learning courses are a difficult sell is that some individuals feel as though they are being talked down to. The implied message in an invitation to any kind of training is that what they are doing now isn’t good enough. Creating a culture of trust in the workplace is a great place to begin improving the training process.
Consider beginning the learning process by sending out a company-wide survey. You’ll learn a lot about your workforce. What do they already know? How do they apply the tools they already have? What do they want to learn more about? Trust your team to answer the questions honestly, and you can tailor future courses to exclude what they already know and include topics that will interest them and help them work better. Be sure to act on the information you receive from the survey as that contributes to the trust building.
Another demonstration of trust is inviting team members to lead discussions on a variety of topics both formally and informally. Some workers will thrive under the spotlight, and you can learn from different perspectives and different teaching styles.
Between very full email inboxes and a string of what seems like endless meetings, most managers probably feel like they do nothing but listen to their workforce. When it comes to training, however, many times instructors spend the majority of the time talking, not listening.
Of course important material must be presented — that’s why training exists. But splitting the time between talking and listening can actually be more efficient. Making space for feedback during and after a training can teach you a lot about what your workers are hearing. Ask lots of questions to help draw out of the learners their applied knowledge. This also helps build trust as they become more willing to share and participate in the training – and in the workspace.
Interactivity is a sure way to get learners more engaged in the topic – which means they will remember it. Use quizzes and knowledge checks throughout a course. You can use that knowledge to plan future discussions and even to pivot when a training is live.
One of the best ways to listen during a training course, especially when it’s online, is to use open-ended questions. The answers workers provide can tell a lot about how they are doing their job and what they need to do it better. The answers can also provide a window into current company culture and generate ideas to influence it for the better. Remember that listening takes concentration and effort on the instructors part, it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Use the Right Tools
There are many options available to build a training module on almost every subject imaginable. If the course content or method of delivery doesn’t resonate with the audience, how effective can a training really be? The only way to find out if the tools you have are working is to ask the learners.
In the corporate world, evaluation is a part of almost every aspect of business. Sales teams have quotas, marketing teams run reports, web designers show analytics and so on. Why should training courses be any different?
Evaluation of a course can show what works, and what still needs to be improved. Using short surveys to find out how the workforce felt about the program is one of the best ways to learn from their experience. Making adjustments along the way shows workers that you value their time and feedback.
A good measure that a course is doing its job is if your team knows what to do with the knowledge when you’re done. Watch for evidence of changed behaviors after a training. If company culture doesn’t begin to evolve, don’t hesitate to point to the previous training. Ask about what was learned, and how the experience could have been better. The answers to these questions often have a way of revealing weaknesses in the process and tools that are surprisingly easy to remedy.
Giving workers the ability to participate with instructors in the learning process may help alleviate the initial reluctance to participate in training. Trusting, listening to and inviting feedback from learners will not only give learners ownership of the process, it will give you valuable information. Keep an open mind and be willing to act on that information, and you may be surprised what you can learn from your workforce, when you planned on teaching them.
By Dave Christiansen: Instructional Designer for eLearning Brothers
David Christiansen brings years of experience in education and training to his role as an instructional designer at eLearning Brothers. He has previously worked in instructional design and curriculum writing at Allen Communication and Pearson. In addition to creating award-winning learning content at eLearning Brothers, he currently teaches ESL part-time at Utah Valley University and BYU, as well. Christiansen has a Bachelor's degree in Spanish Teaching and a Master's degree in English Linguistics (TESL) from Brigham Young University. He holds an Ed.D in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Instructional Design and Technology from Idaho State University.