Training News

Engaging Learners—Common Mistakes

Ensuring that training sticks requires a certain level of engagement among trainees, and that’s not always easy to accomplish. One expert answers a couple of top questions regarding keeping learners engaged during training.

Having trouble engaging learners? Laura MacLeod, LMSW (licensed master social worker), creator of From The Inside Out Project® training, offers some answers to commonly asked questions regarding learner engagement during training.

Q: What are some common mistakes trainers make in terms of engaging learners?

A: Reading a training script word for word, using “icebreakers” that make learners uncomfortable, and putting learners on the spot with role-plays are common mistakes that can hinder engagement in training, says Laura MacLeod.

When trainers do not sway from a written script, they leave “no room for flexibility and group member participation,” she explains. “People tune out immediately.”

“Be flexible and willing to ‘go off script.’ This means that if you see people are bored, confused, or frustrated, you acknowledge this and adjust,” MacLeod explains. “For example, you see that people are rolling their eyes and sighing as you describe in detail how to safely lift heavy boxes (bend from the knees, etc.). Stop and say, ‘Looks like you all know this.’ Wait to see what the group says. They may say, ‘Yeah, we know. Had this training last year’ or ‘We do this every day.’ Then, let them take the lead and show the group. ‘OK great. Joe, why don’t you show the group how you do it.’ When Joe starts, others will probably put their two cents in: ‘Better this way.’ ‘Last week I tried X. Worked well.’ Now, you have engagement and collaborative learning. Everyone’s invested.”

Icebreaker activities are aimed at connecting learners, “but they are often risky and put people on the spot. Nobody wants to look foolish or be on display,” MacLeod says. “Activities need to have a purpose, and the participants need to know why they are being asked to do something. Otherwise, activities are just time fillers, and participants resent their time being wasted.”

MacLeod also urges caution when using role-plays. “The thought here is that role plays and presentations will help demonstrate the points covered and be fun for all, but this is rarely how it goes,” she says. “Performing for your peers is nerve wracking, and, if everyone is getting up to do a role-play skit, there is the added pressure of competing with your coworkers.” If you use role-playing, she recommends doing a group activity rather than asking individuals or pairs to “perform.”

In tomorrow’s Advisor, MacLeod shares what trainers should do before and during training to drive learner engagement.