‘I Taught Them, But They Didn’t Learn’

There’s a lot of wisdom in this old teacher’s saw that puts the blame for failure squarely on the student’s shoulders, unfortunately, it’s a pretty common scenario—an instructor has gone through the motions of training, and the participants were present, but lasting effects were nil.

That’s a real problem with safety training, and many types of training, because the stakes are high.

What’s the attention span of your trainees? According to studies of adult learners, your trainees are paying a lot less attention to vital training than you think. Most studies suggest that for most adults the outer limit of adult attention spans is about 20 minutes. And the longer a session continues, the shorter the attention span.

One study indicates that after an hour of uninterrupted lecture, attention spans can drop to 3 or 4 minutes, punctuated by long periods of inattention.

You have to wonder—and worry—about what trainees might have missed during those lapses in attention. Was it the essential piece of information that could have prevented an accident or a lawsuit?

How to Keep Trainees’ Attention

So what can you do to maintain focus? Training experts suggest the following:

  • Plan training sessions in reasonably small bits and bites. Say you’re going to train on sexual harassment—what it is, how to respond, and how to report. Rather than delivering information about all three points in one continuous stream, break it up into three chunks.
  • Include interactivity when you lecture. Try these suggestions:
    • Talk for a bit and then discuss what you’ve just covered, encouraging lots of trainee participation.
    • Have a question and answer period between training points.
    • Divide large training groups into small groups to discuss issues or complete training exercises.
    • Use quizzes and problem-solving exercises to challenge trainees and make them think about what they’re learning.
    • Give trainees a chance to practice what they’ve learned for a few minutes before proceeding to the next point.
  • Take age into account. Realize that the younger your trainees are, the more you need to take attention span into account.
  • Use a combination of training techniques. For instance, give a brief 5-minute introduction, show a short training video, have a discussion about key points, give a quiz, and then provide a handout and have a short review.
  • Allow rest breaks during long training sessions. Give trainees a chance to get up and move around, have some coffee, and refresh themselves for the next round. 

I you are expecting new supervisors to do training, be sure they get very practical guidance. It’s not that they are slow—it’s that you didn’t hire them for their classroom skills.

Workforce L&DMillennial and Gen Z workers now make up over half of the entire workforce, does your training program meet their needs and expectations? Follow in the footsteps of successful employment brands like Yelp, Adobe, Salesforce, and Dow to create learning opportunities that suit your employees’ needs when you attend, “Millennials at Work: Top Employment Brands’ Strategies for Continuous Learning and Engagement,” at the 2017 Workforce Learning and Development Conference. Click here to learn more.