For learning to occur—and stick—one part of the equation is the contribution designers can make to encouraging mental engagement.
So Many Elements to Make Engagement Happen
As we put a training program together (when training is the right answer), designers can do more (than is commonly done) to promote engagement. We should remember not only the learner, but also the manager and the facilitator, as well. For example…
Support the Manager
If the person I report to expresses interest in what I’m about to learn before I go to training, and she also expresses support for what I just learned after training, then I’m far more likely to pay attention and later use what I learned. Here are two ways to make this more likely to happen:
- In General. Set the expectation that developing people is part of being a good manager…. and that sending employees to training is not sufficient. Provide tips for managers to support learning.
- For Specific Learning Programs. Communicate specific suggestions to managers about how they can support their employees before and after they learn new skills. Include the objectives (written in plain language) and tips for before-and-after conversations or other potential actions.
Support the Facilitator
Some trainers have a knack for encouraging just-the-right engagement—others, not so much. Here are a few things to add to instructor notes or, in some case, directly into the course materials or flow:
- Stories. If they are unlikely to have relevant experiences (personal anecdotes or war stories) to share, provide some. Encourage them to elicit stories from the learners (as appropriate).
- Questions. Suggest questions they might use to elicit a rationale for “Why learn this?” from the learners.
- Support for Content Types. For each type of content, design in the appropriate learner activities to enhance learning.
- Debriefing. Write out some “let’s see what we can discover about what we’ve just learned” debriefing questions.
Support the Learner
After watching a lot of television and attending educational and training sessions where it was entirely possible to sit back and zone out, many learners don’t expect to work too hard at learning new things. They expect, instead, to be entertained.
Even if this is not the case with our specific learners, everything we design should include the awareness that without mental engagement, learning doesn’t happen.
- Engagement Almost Unavoidable. Gear everything so that the learners end up thinking, talking, writing, moving, and using new skills with as much practice and repetition as required to master the objectives.
- Relevant Activities. Tailor the practice to fit the content types reflected by the organizational and learning objectives.
- Thinking and Feeling. Where change is involved (nearly everything we learn), include experiences that elicit both intellectual and emotional reasons for the change. Sometimes this requires a (figurative) wrestling match to work through implications of the change (a topic for another post).
To make learning happen in a useful way, instructional designers must encourage engagement by providing support for three different groups: managers (the learners’ direct supervisors), facilitators, and the learners themselves. Anything less and the training program will have less impact than desired; the learners are unlikely learn as much (or to use much of what they learned); and the organization itself (to be anthropomorphic for a moment) is unlikely to realize whatever goal was the impetus for the training in the first place.
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