Encouraging Learning in the Workplace

Posted: May 16, 2011 in Personality Development
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Helping Others Learn


Make learning relevant to people’s jobs.

Opportunities to help others learn come up all of the time in the workplace. When you help a staff member deal with an angry customer, you have an opportunity to help her learn. When a team member comes to you frustrated by a recent change in a work system, you have an opportunity to help him understand why the change was necessary.

Whether you regard this as ‘training’ or not, this kind of learning doesn’t just take place in formal classrooms, seminars, or online courses. And you don’t have to be a trainer to want to help people learn new things, and better understand their roles within the organization. Many people, at many levels, train others at some point – and they have a role in creating a learning environment that affects the way work is done, and how their teams are taught new things.

So how can you help people learn effectively within your company or team? There are many ways to do this, some of which involve actual ‘lessons.’ However, the general idea is to create an environment where people are committed to learning, and in which they are supported in their efforts.

Motivating People to Learn

People aren’t always motivated to learn. Some simply don’t want to change. Others think that learning happens naturally, and that it’s an inevitable outcome of instruction. Clearly that isn’t always true, because you can teach someone lots of skills, and still not see that person actually apply those skills.

That’s why you need to motivate people to learn and change.

A useful model for doing this is ARCS, which stands for ‘Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction.’ This was developed by John Keller in 1983, and it’s been used and validated by teachers and trainers across a wide range of learning environments – from universities to the military.

Here are the basic components of the ARCS model:

  • AttentionCapture learners’ attention at the start of the session, and maintain it throughout.

    • Ask learners questions to make them think about why they should learn the skill.

    • Use role-playing or other activities to show the importance of learning the skill. For instance, you could play the role of an angry customer, and have the learner respond to you as a way of demonstrating the best way to handle a difficult situation.

    • Use specific examples, and ask learners to offer their own solutions, to stimulate their interest further.

  • Relevance – Explain to learners how important the lesson is, and how it could benefit them.

    • Describe the benefits. For example, by learning strategies for handling angry customers, your staff will be less anxious about dealing with them.

    • Relate the lesson to their current jobs and experiences. The learning materials, assignments, and projects should be applicable to their work, and to specific situations they face in their daily jobs.

    • Develop a connection between learning the skill and developing their careers. Discuss issues like increased satisfaction, higher pay, and promotion opportunities.

  • Confidence – Tell learners what is expected of them.

    • Set clear objectives for the session, and check in regularly with learners to make sure they’re not falling behind.

    • Design projects and lessons so that learners experience small successes along the way, before they completely master the skill.

    • Give learners enough time to practice skills, so that they’ll be successful when they apply these skills to the job.

    • Make sure you’re teaching at the right level. Learners can lack motivation if something is too difficult – or too easy.

    • Allow learners to have input into their learning by helping them create their own learning goals.

  • Satisfaction – Reinforce successes and motivation.

    • Give lots of feedback. Make sure it’s specific, timely, and relates to how learners can put the skill into practice on the job.

    • Recognize learners’ successes. Praise often, and find ways to reward achievements. Let learners know that you and the company value and appreciate expertise and high levels of skill and competence.

    • Look at ways to increase motivation. Find out what learners are interested in and passionate about. And find ways to get learners to motivate one another as well.

Learning Tips

As well as increasing the motivation to learn, there are many ways to make your sessions more interesting and enjoyable. These ideas can be used for formal lessons, or for spontaneous learning opportunities that present themselves.

You can help the learning process by doing the following:

  • Use pre-instruction questions – These can get learners to think about why they should be learning this new skill, as well as to appreciate the benefits of learning.

  • Use conceptual models – These are often a useful way for helping learners to store and retrieve information. Mental models (which can be in the form of diagrams and charts) are often helpful for learning the details of a lesson.

  • Vary the learning material – This will help you deal with the different ways in which people learn. You can vary your material for different learning styles as follows:

    • Visual Learners – Charts, graphs, or images are useful for representing the information being conveyed, as well as information in books or reports.

    • Auditory Learners – Lectures, presentations, and group discussions help auditory learners ‘talk through’ what’s being presented.

    • Kinesthetic Learners – These learners like hands-on practice that’s either real or simulated.

    We all have our own preferred learning styles. If you provide as many different learning experiences as sensibly possible, you’ll be more likely to connect with each learner.

There are several different learning style schemes beyond the visual, auditory and kinesthetic model used above. Click here to learn about Felder & Silverman’s approach, and see article on 4MAT to find out about the Kolb and Honey & Mumford schemes.

  • Group learners together – Encourage learning and understanding by having people work with others who are learning the same skills. By helping one another, they can all reinforce what they’re learning. Everyone in the team will then benefit from the strengths of the individual members.

  • Provide opportunities for reflection and thinking – Learning journals are a popular and effective way for people to write down their thoughts about how the learning process itself has been helpful to their overall development.

  • Actively review the lesson at the end – What progress did the learners make, and what difficulties did they encounter? By revisiting the lesson, you have an opportunity to learn from the experience yourself – and hopefully figure out how to improve the content or approach next time. Reviews also give learners opportunities to analyze their performance, and increase their commitment to continuous learning.

  • Use all of your emotional intelligence and communication skills – This means establishing a connection with learners, listening actively, using empathy where appropriate, being patient, and showing genuine interest in the people and in your teaching. Your attitude toward learning has a huge impact on the learners’ attitudes, so make sure you’re a good role model for continuous, active learning.

For more information, please see Bite-Sized Training session on Training for Non-Trainers. It’s full of practical tips on getting buy-in from learners, using objective-based training, and creating lesson plans.

Key Points

People usually learn best when they’re motivated. Although you can’t make someone learn, you can create an environment that supports and encourages learning success. Use an effective teaching style that allows people to participate in their learning. Find ways to emphasize the benefits of learning new skills, and make learning relevant to people’s jobs. Encourage them to take control of their own learning, and allow them to set their own objectives. The more you develop motivation to learn, the more successful you’ll probably be. Start today to recognize the value of learning, and see the many learning opportunities around you!

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