Linking to the Past Secures a Space in Long Term Memory
Starting as early as pre-learning or “pre-work” assignments, help participants reduce the insecurity that comes from looking up the steep side of a learning curve by providing them with opportunities to anchor their understanding to past knowledge or experiences.
Here’s how it works.
Remember the days when offices were full of filing cabinets? Good. Now, think of the adult learner’s brain like a room full of those gray behemoths. Instead of asking learners to label a new file folder and find room in already overcrowded drawers for the new information in the new file, it’s much easier for them if you give them the opportunity to staple the new information to materials already contained in an existing folder. Essentially, you’re asking them to “hook” the new information resident in short term memory to some piece of information already in their long-term memory.
For example, a pre-work or in session assignment for a coaching course could be for participants to recall a coaching experience that went well and one that did not go as well—critically assessing the difference between the two. Then, present the new coaching behavior or model tying key points to elements from their personal stories. Now, the new approach is “attached” to the past experiences and filed away with them in the person’s long term memory.
Linking to the Past Secures a Space in Long Term Memory
Right around the time “training and development” was the latest in the business lexicon-replacing “corporate education,” I started my career as a facilitator. Three years later, as I moved into instructional design, “training and development” was passé and “Global Learning” was in. Over the years, department titles may change but the goal remains the same: contribute to business results by improving employee performance through the enhancement of knowledge, attitudes, skills, and/or habits; otherwise known as KASH.
The art in this instructional science is to motivate adult learners to:
- Remember the new KASH
- Adopt what they have learned into their daily practices
- Invest their new KASH toward the achievement of the organization’s most desired business objectives
Motivating adults to learn is a fantastic application of interpersonal influence. Adults cannot be mandated to learn, change their behaviors, or use what is learned to attain certain results. They must be positively persuaded to endure the risk and discomfort of a learning curve. Here is one essential for inspiring adults to learn, change, and apply the difference to impact organizational goals.
Warm up with WIIFM
Pre-learning communication is critical. Adult learners like to know why they are doing something before they are willing to commit to participating. Even if the learning experience is a “mandated” or requisite program, you have to earn participants’ buy-in. Otherwise, their bodies will be present but their hearts and minds remain disengaged. Without the active participation of all three, the only thing they’ll take away from the experience is the hotel pen and some cookies for their kids.
Regardless of the type of learning (classroom, webinar, elearning, etc), provide participants with a clear concise explanation of the business reason for the program. Explain how the program fits into the big picture or overall organizational cause. Share the learning objectives, what they will know/be able to do when they are done with the learning experience. Most importantly, provide the performance outcomes they are expected to achieve by applying what they have learned. Participants should be able to use your communication to formulate how they personally will gain from the experience.
Come back soon…More Strategies for Motivating and Influencing Adult Learners Are On The Way…
When it comes to installing a “new” practice, system, or process and making it “the way” of producing specified results, anyone who has lead such a change initiative knows that success or failure often comes down to the conduct of leadership and the extent to which people adapt.
Click this link to learn what effective change leaders know about helping people transition from the way things are to the way they need to be.
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Many organizations today have Talent Management functions staffed with human resource professionals diligently trying
to attract, train, and retain “talent” (the newish word for those paid to do a job. You know, employees.) An important mandate for these Talent Management groups is “talent development”; growing the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of the talent. Implicit in the term “talent development” is the notion that the “talent” will change their behavior in order to improve their performance levels ideally toward the achievement of organizational objectives. Netting it out, this means inside of organizations there’s a department of employees expected to convince other employees to make serious changes in their lives.
Have you ever tried to break an old habit or start a new one? It’s not an easy thing to do. Now, imagine trying to get someone else to break a habit, adopt a new habit, learn a new skill, use a new software program, or do a task differently than they have for the last umpteen years. That’s the challenge faced by talent developers (otherwise known as corporate learning teams, capability developers, trainers, facilitators, instructional designers, etc.).
This brings us to two essential questions:
1. Why is change so difficult?
2. How can we influence others to change their behavior?
The Trouble with Change
According to David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, breakthroughs in neuroscience prove out what most of us who have tried to change our behaviors already know. Change is painful. It is actually physiologically painful. In their Strategy + Business article titled “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” Rock and Schwartz explain, “Trying to change any hardwired habit requires a lot of effort, in the form of attention. This often leads to a feeling that many people find uncomfortable. So they do what they can to avoid change.”
Another reason change is difficult is a perceived difference between expectation and actuality triggers activity in the parts of the brain that cause people to react more emotionally and impulsively.
“Try to change another person’s behavior, even with the best possible justification, and he or she will experience discomfort. The brain sends out powerful messages that something is wrong, and the capacity for higher thought is decreased. Change itself thus amplifies stress and discomfort…” –Rock & Schwartz
Have you ever tried to drive on a heavily rutted dirt road? You know the kind where deep tire tracks forged in mud are solidified hard as concrete when the ground dries? Once your tires drop into the ruts; it’s almost impossible to pull them out to drive on smoother parts of the road. Our minds work the same way.
We develop schemata or patterns of thoughts and behaviors for our activities. These patterns make us efficient. When was the last time you had to think about brushing your teeth? You were taught step by step; but as time went on, you grouped those steps into a schema or routine. Now, it’s not something you think about step by step but rather as a single task accomplished almost exactly the same way each time.
Schemata are the ruts in the roads of our minds. Changing our behaviors means fighting to pull our mental wheels out of the deep grooves to which we’ve grown accustom. Even when we get the tires onto flat ground, we still feel uncomfortable and anxious. The discomfort does not abate until we’ve worn in a new set of ruts; built a new schema.
Talent Managers and other organizational leaders should recognize and never underestimate the power of the pain of change. Employees’ perception of the required change and the physiological reactions they experience will greatly impact the outcome.