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Helping Others Learn

- written by Christian J. Fischer -

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 working 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 learn new things; they just 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 know whether the person will actually use and apply those skills.

However, you can’t make someone learn. You can have the greatest session prepared. You can have the most organized presentation. You can be charming, and know your subject thoroughly. But unless ‘students’ are motivated, it’s unlikely that they’ll learn.

That’s why it can be helpful to know a technique for motivating people to learn. A useful model 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:

  • Attention – Capture the learners’ attention at the start of the session, and maintain it throughout the lesson.

    • Ask the 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 stressed and 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 the skills so they’ll be successful when they apply those skills on 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, enjoyable, and suitable for all learners. 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 all learning styles. Some of the systems we use for learning are as follows:

    • Visual – Charts, graphs, or images may represent the idea being presented, as well as information in books or reports.

    • Auditory – Lectures, presentations, and group discussions allow learners to ‘talk through’ what’s being presented.

    • Kinesthetic – This is experience and 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.

Tip: There are many different schemes of learning styles in addition to the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic models.

  • Group learners of the same skills – 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. A review also gives the learners an opportunity 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.

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