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Training WON’T Change Behavior Unless You Engage – 4 Steps to Ensure Learner Engagement

4-Steps - Behavior ChangeAfter 15 years working in the training industry I’ve come to realize that the best way to test training theory is to raise teenagers!  The desired outcome of any good training initiative is to achieve a goal or objective by means of changing behaviors.  As a father of four awesome kids (two of them teenagers) every day is also a process of setting and reaching goals through a focus on behaviors.  Recently, my 15 year-old son taught me some very valuable lessons on the importance of engaged learners, which can be applied to any organizational training situation.

One battle waged from generation to generation is that of parents forcing piano lessons upon their children.  I have three older siblings I can credit for never having to wage the war myself, my parents were waving the white flag of surrender by the time I was coming of age to enter the fray.  So of course, consistent with my parental obligation, I purchased a piano and enlisted my unwilling children into piano lessons.  What followed was a predictable five-year battle of wills, with my two teenage sons exercising their traditional right to force their parents into submission and ended up quitting their piano lessons.

A year passed with our piano sitting idle in the living room, collecting dust and serving as an overpriced and oversized picture frame holder when a funny sound began emanating through the house as I pulled into the garage at the end of a work day . . . the piano was in use!  However, the music was not the typical piano lesson song, what I heard was the melody of a current hit song by Cold Play being vigorously pounded out on our piano.  It was the sweet sound of victory; my son was playing the piano of his own volition!

Of course I looked at my own training efforts to give myself credit, but upon further review I came away disappointed. I realized that if I had applied a few simple proven methodologies I could have produced results years earlier.

1.    Learner Engagement

An integral piece of the Allen Approach to training is performance mapping.  This process begins with identifying the desired results of the training.  Once the goal has been established, we can identify what the key behaviors are that will lead to the desired results.  The next step is to identify what the learner needs to know, and do, in order to adopt this behavior.  Before a learner will be willing to learn what they need to know and do, however, they need to be engaged or motivated to undergo this process of learning and change.

2.    WIIFM – What’s in it for me?

I had fallen into a very common trap of training, I was force-feeding my kids the information they needed to know, without taking into consideration their role in being engaged in learning.  Sometimes the need to disseminate information clouds our vision of the ultimate goal, the results of behavior change.  Before designing any training the question should be asked from the prospective of the learner, “What’s in it for me?”  (WIIFM)

In some cases there may be a financial incentive for the learner to be engaged, as is often the case with sales training.  Maybe a student in compliance training is simply motivated by not getting the company sued, or losing a job.  Whatever the reason, the learner should always be engaged by providing, upfront the answer to the WIIFM question.  My son had found his own WIIFM on his own, he likes current music, and he found stress relief in pounding out on the piano songs he hears on his iPod.

3.    Breaking Training into Shorter Bites

Long ago I learned an interesting study habit that had a positive effect on my grades, and dramatically reduced the amount of time I studied.  Retention of new material goes up significantly in the first, and last, five minutes of study.  When my son was going to an hour piano lesson, or sitting down for an hour of practice he was essentially tuning out for 90% of the time.  By sitting down at the piano when he had five minutes to kill, he was enjoying himself and also better retaining what he was learning.  Allen has innovated a similar approach to training called a “5 in 5;” a training structure which delivers five topics in five minutes. Topics can easily be retained by the engaged learner and in some cases behavior change is much more effectively accomplished when focusing on the key aspects in shorter time frames versus a “mandated hour of seat time” approach to training.

4.    Use the Learner’s Preferred Medium

No one in their right mind could argue that Google could teach my son the piano better than Mrs. Williams, a trained piano instructor, so I won’t, but that’s exactly what has happened!  Because my son is more comfortable finding the information he wants through the Internet, he has received the lessons there better than he had through five years with an expert piano instructor.  There are many mediums that are effectively utilized in a layered approach to training deliveryGamification, mobile, scenarios, simulations, social media, supplemental resource materials, ILT (instructor-led training), and WBT (web-based training) are all examples of effective training delivery vehicles.  Knowing your learner, and choosing the appropriate delivery is a key step in engaging the student.

Thank goodness we have children to remind us of important life lessons!  Going forward I will be sure to not fall into the training rut of simply delivering information.  Those who want to deliver more than “check the box” type of training will adopt a process to engage learners, which will lead to true behavior change.