Create Love in the Classroom

(Originally created for Litmos blog 8/2016)

Have you ever been in front of a group of training “captives”? They just aren’t feeling the love in the classroom?

Either people were told to be there by the boss, or perhaps the training is part of some punitive action (You turned left instead of right…now you MUST go to training!)? If you’ve been in training longer than a day, then you’ve been there – done that. The question at hand is how to turn those frowns upside down? To answer this we must first talk a bit about motivation in general.

First, know you cannot “motivate people”. People motivate themselves. We get confused between making people do things and getting results, and people who are motivated and getting results. There is a big difference! If I have to force someone, this means that I have to constantly follow-up, push, remind, and a variety of other micro-managing techniques. This does not create motivation, this creates people who are on CareerBuilder.

Second, motivation is internally driven by personal reasons. People have reasons behind the decisions they make. Let’s say the participant doesn’t complete the pre-work. In other words, they are not motivated to complete the pre-work. The lack of motivation manifests because they are more motivated not to do it, than to do it. The reasoning may be because they have decided the input of time won’t be worth the effort. The motivation then, is to save time and effort for something they believe will not have a payoff. People make decisions because of what they want, not because of what you want. An important distinction.

How do we get there? It starts with a basic paradigm shift. Many times we think, “How can I ensure the exchange of knowledge in this workshop”? Let’s think of this as less about “I” and more about “them”. Flip the script. “What does the participant need from me in order to ensure the exchange of knowledge”? A small but powerful change in wording. Now it’s time to build motivating techniques into lesson plans.

3 factors to consider when building motivation

So, What?

The common refrain is a training course hasn’t clearly articulated the “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) factor. While I believe this to be true, I would also state it’s because we haven’t clearly answered the “So, what?” question. As in: “Okay, I’m here…now, so what? So, what am I supposed to do now? So, what? What am I supposed to do with this information back on the job?” Answering the, “So, what?” question becomes even more important that the WIIFM question.

Being able to answer the “So, what?” question, helps the participant connect the dots contextually and helps them to understand the long-term goal of program. People what to know how the information they are receiving will fit into the big picture. Addressing “So, what?” helps. This gets us back to the first point of not being able to motivate others. Trainers often times tell me, “We can lead a horse to water…but we can’t make him drink.” True enough. My response, in this case is…”We can’t make him drink, but we can add sugar to the water to make it more tasty”. In other words, we can create an active learning environment so people care and become interested. Hopefully leading to motivation. It starts with answering the “So, what?” question.

It’s about choice.

People want choice. Remember this scene from the Matrix? Where Neo is first meeting the “The Architect” and a bazillion TV’s are everywhere. The Architect says, (regarding people hooked into the Matrix), “99% of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice…” He’s correct. People want to have a choice in how they receive and process information. Your participants want to feel like they have some kind of control. If you are controlling the stage, people feel they have no choice in the outcome. When people feel like they have no choice

The smart trainer figures out how to turn the learning experience over to the participants and create an environment where everyone is involved.  Example: In a recent workshop, when explaining job task analysis, I asked groups to pick their own job from a pool of options, make the job their own, then as a group, analyze it. One group chose to analyze “Prison Baker” (I am not kidding). Sure, I could’ve redirected them to choose something more realistic, but it was their choice and you know what? They completed the group think exercise perfectly, had fun and learned something. Choice.

It not about attention, it’s about interest.

There is a research paper out there, about how people surf the internet, which has been widely and wildly misinterpreted about how adults have shorter attention spans due to technology. Because of this, trainers focus on having people hop around on one foot, and playing musical chairs to help lengthen participants attention span. When really, it is less about gaining attention than keeping interest. Yes, we have many options and there are plenty of shiny things capturing people’s attention and distracting them away from your important messages. However, let’s be a bit honest with ourselves…perhaps our message is boring, dull and yawn-inducing. Perhaps the workshop wasn’t well designed and doesn’t keep interest peaked? Telling people to put away their mobile devices isn’t going to help. Never try to compete with a mobile device. It will actually hinder your goal, as the group will be anxious for the next break, daydreaming about happy hour and disliking you for not trusting them in the process.

Here are some things you can do: Build interest through activities that include gallery walks; this creates opportunities for storytelling and experience sharing. Create activities that connect directly with the lesson of the moment, have participant’s debate issues or have a quiz bowl where the questions are user-generated. Creating opportunities that promote thought and action, will in turn build interest. If you build interest, the participants will be motivated to stay with you.

Hearts and Minds

When we reach the hearts and minds of people, we are adding sugar to the water. These three factors will help to build learning motivation in your workshops, courses or classes. Can these same techniques be used in elearning? Absolutely. Logic scenarios, having participants choose their own path, not locking down screens, giving options that actually make them think (activity is about the brain, not the mouse) touching hearts and minds. When we create a learning environment that allows for the three components above, we have a win-win. Motivated participants = subsequently better results, which make for a good day indeed!

Now, there are more than three ways to build motivation. I’m sure you have many ideas and proven practices that help out those participants who are “captives” and I’d love to hear more about them in the comment section. Let’s share and set our training “captives” free!


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Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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