Engagement isn’t a bad word

“The trainer is just reading the slides and you know me… I just don’t learn that way.” My husband started a new job almost five months ago and he’s only now going through some mandatory training. He works as a software support rep and already knows how to use the system he’s supporting. But mandatory training is mandatory training. So he spent several days sitting in a training class watching the instructor simply read the PowerPoints without any hands-on practice - using the system with realistic scenarios. No one learns that way! Especially not when it comes to systems training. 

Several years ago, I worked with a very accomplished technical trainer. She was fantastic in a classroom and was able to breakdown complex technical information so that even I could figure it out. She wasn’t as effective without the face-to-face contact, though and struggled when she had to take her course online and deliver it synchronously. She didn’t feel her learners were participating and didn’t think they were really 'getting it.' I was surprised when I looked at her material and found slide after slide of screenshots of the software with callout boxes that she’d go through before demonstrating the exact same steps in the system. 

I recently worked with a client who was implementing a new software system for attendance management. They had already created eLearning but felt they needed something more, just before the system was going live. The audience was large and geographically spread out so they decided several online webinars were the way to go. The sessions couldn’t be longer than two hours so they thought that they’d demonstrate several procedures and basically remind everyone of what they learned in the eLearning. 

What do these three stories have to do with one another? It’s all about engagement. People always learn better when they’re actively engaged in the learning. I’ve spent about 20 years as a facilitator and instructional designer and most of that time has been spent in the high tech field. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to design and/or deliver training on software and I’ve never once had someone say that they didn’t learn better by doing.

Get rid of the endless PowerPoint slides! Get rid of the endless demos! Give people the opportunity to try it for themselves. If you have to demonstrate first, keep it brief and allow time for the learners to practice. By all means, explain how to use the software, but do it as part of an activity so it’s more engaging. Don’t spend the first twenty minutes of a session explaining what each menu item does. Let learners find out what they do by using them. I guarantee it’ll be more meaningful. 

This works for all delivery methods. I just finished facilitating sessions for a client who was implementing a brand new accounting system. The face-to-face sessions were conducted after learners took an introductory eLearning course. I did a quick review of the eLearning and then just jumped right into a series of hands-on activities with a debrief after each one. The sessions were fast-paced and there was a lot of learning. Everyone was fully engaged and actively learning the entire time. 

As for my former colleague… she got rid of the PowerPoint presentation, did a brief demo and then allowed her learners to try it for themselves with realistic scenario-based activities. She was thrilled at how much more people seemed to be paying attention and participating. And they were asking more questions too. They were 'getting it.'

Those webinars I mentioned? Because time was of the essence, I convinced the client to leave people to get the basics from the eLearning, since that was the original idea, and focus on more specific processes. We started off with a couple of simple scenarios and let them work through those and then demonstrated some of the more complex processes before allowing them time to practice. We got a lot of positive feedback and most people appreciated having the opportunity to try things before the system went live. 

As for my poor husband, well, I have no control over his company’s training. So for now, at least, he’ll have to do his best and hope that someone at head office sees the light.  

Guest blogger Jana Schiff is a member of our Limestone Learning team with over 20 years of experience in training, facilitation and instructional design. She’s passionate about learning and considers herself a life-long learner who’s always striving to help create the most effective and engaging learning interventions regardless of the delivery method