As you might expect, Talent Development, Trainers and Learning & Development professionals care about the business of learning. We do much to ensure that our training and development efforts are meaningful. We strive to have the most up-to-date technology, the most engaging and memorable lesson plans and the most skilled facilitators. And, like all true professionals regardless of field, we seek to produce the best products and services given the time, budget and resources available to us.

Sometimes, in our striving for the perfect training product, we forget that the business of learning is really the business of motivation. Whether we act as internal advisors to our organizations from a training, talent or HR role or we are consultants serving clients, we should not forget that we are only successful if the people participating do something differently as a result of their learning. And, nothing that we teach—even if it is learned—will be used unless learners are motivated to change. So yes, the business of learning really is the business of motivating.

Can you say this claim true? Examine your most successful learning and development initiative. While it is probably true that it has innovative learning methodology, strong positive reactions from participants and content geared to addressing organizational needs—it’s unlikely that it would be fully considered a success if those who attended perform the same upon completion. Training and development is a behavioral ‘before vs. after’ process; we haven’t done our jobs if the ‘before’ and ‘after’ performance look the same.

Knowing this, training and development professionals need to become motivational professionals. Whatever we design, deliver and implement should do its best to not only build knowledge and skills but also build a desire to apply and use. The learning should feel incomplete unless the learner feels compelled to act. In crafting learning from this point of view, we should seek to address the top missing motivation factors in learning by asking: “What gets in the way of designing development processes that are motivating?” The top three answers are:

  1. We train people for our reasons, not theirs. Much of the time the development we want for others and what they want for themselves is fully aligned. But, (nearly) everyone has had the experience of the mandatory training program, the course we were required to take, the e-learning series we needed to watch—the learning box we had to check. In those situations we learned, but did we really apply? Sometimes, yes. For instance, we were motivated to avoid a penalty such as in compliance situations. But other times, no. We were motivated to get the credit for certification, but not enough to use the information once we’ve achieved our goal. Align your rationale for training closely to participants’ reasons for attending if you want them to do something differently, and if you cannot, perhaps training isn’t the solution—communication of expectations is.
  2. We use methods that are reachable and available to us, not necessarily usable and accessible to the learner. This is the classic challenge of designing every solution based upon the learning methodology that you like, are good at and have at your disposal. Sometimes it is the lure of the bright and shiny object (in many cases, that object being the latest learning platform or technology or a cool experience or simulation). If we are to motivate learners to use what they learn, we must think carefully about what they will access every day as part of their ongoing work. Let the way we teach mirror the way they will apply what we are teaching. If we believe this principle of usability is motivating to the learner, maybe we as designers of learning would choose having them access a file on a common shared folder on the intranet rather than the LMS that requires them to log in to a system they only access for instruction.
  3. We implement training based on role rather than on true need. In some ways, we manage attendance at training very well. The more specific the development and the easier it is to measure performance, the easier it is to train and develop only those people who need to improve. In those situations, we match the learner to the learning very well. In other situations, a mismatch is unavoidable—someone who is already good at something ends up in a program designed to make them better. If you’ve ever been in that situation, then you know you aren’t very motivated to change. (Why try a new approach to leadership if I’m having success as a leader now?) And, in our often politically charged organizations, it can be a landmine to exempt someone from learning that is tailored specifically to their role. (Be prepared to explain. And explain. And then maybe justify some more.)

For the learner, being able to pick and choose to learn based upon skill and knowledge level—or better yet—self-identified interest, is greatly motivating. As designers of learning, we should look to tap into this motivational truth in whatever we construct. Not only does it motivate application of learning, it can greatly shorten learning time; the people who know they need to change and seek out ways to do it are the people who tend to apply what they learn.

In the end, motivation is as individual as the learners themselves. If we are committed to the learning and development success being “changing behavior,” we will look to avoid the missing motivation factors of misaligned rationale, usability and matching learner to learning.

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Kelly Fairbairn

Kelly Fairbairn is President of PPS International Limited. PPS International Limited is a global consulting firm specializing in skill-based training and performance improvement of leaders and individual contributors. To learn more, email info@pps-synetamericas.net. We love to share best practices with our HR and Training colleagues and counterparts.
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