Want to Keep Learners Engaged? Start With Why.

Do your learners pay less attention than a goldfish?

If the human attention span dropped to 8 seconds according to a Microsoft study, it is less than the 9 seconds tallied by goldfish. Wait. What?

Most of us can agree that our collective attention span does seem shorter in recent years. This is partly attributed to the sheer abundance of information presented to us, especially since the rise of smartphones… As trainers, we are constantly exploring ways to increase engagement. It is such a pervasive topic, our team shares engagement techniques regularly. In a recent session with BankWebinars.com, I presented 10 Practices to Create and Present Engaging Training.

Fortunately, we don’t have to worry too much about the science of goldfish!

Because “attention span” is simply the ability to selectively filter where to focus, we can use engagement techniques to assist learner focus.

One of the most effective ways to increase engagement in training is to identify what’s most important to your learners. As Simon Sinek says in Start With Why, How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action:

“It is not logic or facts but our hopes and dreams, our hearts and our guts, that drives us to try new things.”

Imagine a wife trying to convince her husband he should learn to cook in a traditional household where she prepares the meals regularly and they supplement with takeout. Why would he be motivated to change anything? If he were told he had to attend mandatory “How to Cook” training, his attitude would likely lead to lower engagement.

Similarly, imagine a dad trying to convince his adult daughter to be interested in learning how to change the oil in her car instead of taking it to the dealer or local garage. She would likely say “Why should I invest my time? What’s in it for me?”

Tap into Learner’s Motivation.

Like the husband and daughter, every member of your training audience has a unique situation, and they are all considering the answer to “What’s in it for me?” before they commit to learning. There will always be a variety of personalities, life experiences, and expectations that show up in your training sessions. Effective trainers have the skills to appeal across these differentiators and ensure that each attendee can clearly answer the WIIFM question, ideally before training starts. Recommendation: Use a Learner’s Persona to tap into common motivations during the design phases of your training.

Find the Zone of Relevancy.

Some attendees are already excited to learn and are happy to spend time in training. Other times (especially when it comes to mandatory training) there can be a giant gap between what you think they need to know and what they think they need to know. Some trainees just want to get the attendance certificate and are barely present. Skillful Training Professionals know how to capture the attention of all types of learners by identifying the most relevant content to focus on, using strategic questions to uncover degrees of relevancy, and including stories to help learners picture how their situation will improve. Recommendation: Make a list of what you expect them to learn. Make a list of benefits learners will receive from the training. Find connections between the lists and focus on these early in the training.

Make the Shift to learning Facilitation.

Applying Malcolm Knowles’ principles of adult learning helps shift presenting training to facilitating learning. The following six were identified by him in 1990 (Sink, ASTD Handbook, 2014, p194):

1. Adult learners need to know why they should learn something.

2. The learner’s self-concept. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed.

3. The role of the learner’s experience. Adult learners bring a wealth of experience to the learning situation

4. Readiness to learn. Adults are most ready to learn those things that will help them right now, or in the near future.

5. Orientation to learning. Adults are life-centered (or task-centered, or problem-centered) in their orientation to learning.

6. Motivation. Adults are more internally motivated (chance for increased job satisfaction, self-esteem, or quality of life, and so on.)

Recommendations: One of the easiest ways you can bridge the gap is to simply ask your attendees directly: “What are the benefits to you, once you complete this course?” This is an underused but very effective means of getting down to what matters.

Also, I can promise you after 15 years of business coaching that your learners will be far more motivated to pay attention and draw something useful from the training when you can help them paint a mental picture of their own success. Try these 2 questions as a favorite motivating moment: “On a scale of 1-10, how successful do you want to be? How successful are you now?”

Quick Summary

Your learners need to know WHY your training matters to them. Connecting their motivation to your topic will help keep them engaged. Here’s the bottom line on how to apply this to your next training session prep:

1. Clearly identify the learning objectives you want to include.

2. Explore the challenges and goals learners are bringing into training, keeping in mind Knowles’ adult learning principles.

3. Focus your delivery on areas of overlap- the zone of relevancy.

Want more?

This must-know collection for trainers includes skills and techniques used during Build, Create, and Deliver stages of training. Buy course access to 10 Practices for Engaging Training on OnCourse Learning! (All feedback respondents marked this session as “EXCELLENT”)

Check out our upcoming sessions!