Did you ever wonder why training fails more often than not? Why important material, meant to improve or educate, is not learned or acted upon? Why perfectly smart people keep doing the same things that didn’t work the first time when they have the opportunity to learn something new to be better?
The problem isn’t the value of information or the eagerness of the learner but a problem with both the training model itself and the way brains learn. In this article, I’ll explain how to design training to facilitate learning.
HOW WE LEARN
Learning is a systems/change problem, and our brain is in charge. It unconsciously translates incoming messages automatically as per our history, which doesn’t include the new content. And herein lie the problem.
We all operate out of unique, internal systems comprised of mental models (rules, beliefs, history etc.) that form the foundation of who we are and determine our choices. Our behaviors are the vehicles that represent these internal systems – our beliefs in action, if you will.
Because anything new is a potential threat to our habitual and carefully organized internal system (part of our limbic brain), we instinctively defend ourselves against anything ‘foreign’ and automatically resist when there’s no buy-in.
Indeed, to maintain system’s balance (homeostasis), our brains are programmed to maintain our status quo and resist anything new regardless of the efficacy of the required change. With the best motivation in the world, learners may not be able to congruently make the change the new information requires.
The other problem is a pure brain thing. Because the new doesn’t enter with an infrastructure, our brains have no place to store it uniquely. Hence learners practice well during the experiential portions of a program, but they can’t continue their proficiency after they leave.
But there’s a way to design training programs that incorporates change with new neural circuits. Let’s begin by examining the training model itself.
HOW WE TRAIN
The design of most training is information-transfer based and potentially poses problems when
- learner’s brains don’t recognize the need for anything new,
- the new material opposes long-held beliefs.
- there are no existing circuits that accurately translate the incoming information.
The current training model assumes that if new material is important and useful, offered in a logical, informative, interesting way, and offers experiential learning, learners will accept it. But this assumption is faulty.
At an unconscious level, this model attempts to push something foreign (i.e. new knowledge) into a closed system (our status quo) that is perfectly happy as it is. While new, incoming data might be adopted briefly, if it opposes our habituated norm, if it flies in the face of the beliefs and values that represent the status quo, the new will show up as a threat and be resisted.
The unconscious system that holds our beliefs, values and habits in place must be ready, willing, and able to adopt the new material be permanent. Effective training must change the existing system.
Training must enable
- buy-in from the belief/system and status quo;
- the system to discover its own areas of lack and create an acceptable opening for change;
- the system to develop new circuitry to ‘translate’ and hold the new material so it will be available when called upon
before the new material is adopted and available for habitual use.
I had a problem to resolve when designing my first Buying Facilitation® training program in 1983. Because my content ran counter to an industry norm, I had to help learners overcome a set of standardized beliefs and accepted processes endemic to the field.
My job was to help learners first recognize that their habitual skills were insufficient and higher success ratios were possible by adding (not necessarily subtracting) new ones.
Since change isn’t sought out until the system finds an incongruence, I had to help learners self-recognize where they had gaps in their automatic choices, then try to resolve the problem with their current skills, and then seek out new learning as their best option if they couldn’t first fix the problem themselves.
I called this training design Learning Facilitation and have used this model successfully for decades. (See my paper in The 2003 Annual: Volume 1 Training [Jossey-Bass/Pfieffer]: “Designing Curricula for Learning Environments Using a Facilitative Teaching Approach to Empower Learners” pp 263-272).
Here’s how I design courses:
- Day 1 offers exercises and self-study questionnaires that help learners recognize the components of their unconscious status quo while identifying skills necessary for greater excellence: specifically, what they do that works and what they do that doesn’t work, and how their current skills match up with their unique definition of excellence within the course parameters. Once they learn exactly what is missing among their current skill sets, and they determine what, specifically, they need to add to achieve excellence, then they know exactly what they need to learn.
- Day 2 enables learners to create a route to supplement their current skills then tests for, and manages, acceptance and resistance. Only then do new behaviors get introduced and practiced.
Courses are designed with ‘learning’ in mind (rather than content sharing/behavior change), and looks quite different from conventional training. For example because ‘information’ is the last thing offered, Day 1 uses no desks, no notes, no computers, no phones, and no lectures. I teach learners how to enlist and expand their unconscious to facilitate buy-in for new material, then when there are new circuits in place, offer the new information.
Whether it’s my training model or your own, just ask yourself: Do you want to train? Or have someone learn? They are two different activities. To enable learning, it’s necessary to first facilitate brain change before offering content. I’m happy to discuss my training model or help you develop training programs that enable learning. [email protected].