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How to make trainings fun and engaging in the workplace

It is 3.30 PM. In a large meeting room with only 1 window that looks at the cloudy skies outside, 20 people are seated, and 1 person is standing and looking at the screen while talking to them. Some are looking restless, few engaged, but all (including the person standing) wants to get out and continue the work they were on. You can imagine that meeting room to be in any part of the world. It’s perhaps in your own office, maybe you are sitting in that room right now. What is happening in that large meeting room is a training on a topic that is certainly relevant for the 20 people in the room, but unfortunately, the urgency of wanting to get stuff done tends to override the need and even desire to learn a better way of doing things. Trainings have become a thing that needs to be done, rather than a thing that people genuinely want to do. So it is imperative to ask how to make trainings fun and engaging in the workplace?

We all understand the importance of learning new things, ideas and best practices to improve our overall performance and outlook. However, somewhere between that realisation and the actual training itself, the drive to learn is lost. There are many factors that come into play here – Organisational environment, Management’s view of training, Performance review processes, Training process and methodology, and of course the learner himself/herself.

With this backdrop, which I admit may have been painted gloomier than how things might actually be, there are other silver linings which have emerged:

  1. In the past 5 years or so, we have seen platforms such as Coursera, Udemy and the likes see significant uptake and enrollments. This indicates a genuine interest in people wanting to learn new things. However, the one big difference is that it is self-initiated and it is at their own time and pace.
  2. At the same time, over the last decade, we have seen how social conversations on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have dominated our time on the internet, and has transformed us into collaborators and co-creators of content. When you think of learning about something or getting an opinion – there are 2 sources: (i) Google, (ii) your social network. But where do people go when they want to learn or get an opinion on something related to work? Should they wait for the training to happen 3 months later in that large meeting room?
  3. Most people in the developed and developing world will check their smartphone within 30 minutes of waking up. The mobile device is the go-to-place for anything today – your work, your play, your avoid-eye-contact-device, anything. Smartphone proliferation rates are through the roof and the expectation that there must an “App for that” is fast becoming the norm. Is the smartphone really smart and delivering any learning outcomes?

By now, you must have gotten the sense of where this is headed. Can we learn from these trends and make training a more self-initiated, social, at your time kind of a learning community. Don’t get me wrong – the large meeting room with 20 people in it has its advantages, and need not disappear completely. But without adding the characteristics highlighted below, we run the risk of low engagement and outcomes for our trainings. 

Next Generation of Training

The dramatic changes in human behavior in the last decade has necessitated changes in our training methodology and delivery. The workshop style of training meets the objectives of building team rapport, communicating effectively face-to-face and get quick feedback and clarifications. However, the cost of delivering such fixed time and fixed place trainings in an increasingly work-from-the-airport-lounge world is high and many times not practical.

Make Trainings Fun-Teamie

The trends highlighted above show us a path that can lead to trainings becoming more effective, engaging and meaningful. In my view, the next generation of training must be:

  1. Social – Trainings have to move away from being a once a year event on a specific topic, to an ongoing learning community of relevant people who can share ideas, ask questions, discuss and update each other on the related topic. As an employee, you may be part of 4 or 5 or even more learning communities depending on your interest and area of work within the organisation. I might find the link to an article shared by my colleague in the community more meaningful than a 1 hour session of online or face-to-face learning.
    These communities can be private to your organisation so all ideation and discussions are within the bounds of the company walls, so to speak. The biggest benefit of a social learning community is the presence of experts or senior management who can now be involved in an asynchronous way with your learning initiatives, and provide important feedback and direction in such communities. Besides being the de-facto mode of communication today, social style of learning breeds a collaborative approach that is beneficial for all learners within the organisation.
  2. Experience driven – What if everyone was a trainer, and in some senses, we all are. We all learn from each other, and from our experiences. If we could share the experiences with our communities, we could learn from these shared experiences. In my experience, we have seen people appreciate and learn a lot better from their peers’ experiences and sharing sessions, than a know-it-all trainer. The idea here is to allow the learners to share their experiences and become creators of the training content, along with the experts and best practices that are being shared.
  3. Self-paced – Imagine a world where you could attend the 3.30 PM session remotely or access the resources or simply view the recorded video of the presentation at your own time sipping your cafe latte with your legs up in the hotel room, while the trainer is getting notified that you have completed the session. As cliched as it may sound, time is money, and hence allowing the learner to decide the time when he/she wants to complete the training allows for more flexibility and better outcomes, both for business and learning.
  4. Mobile ready – It is time to put the smart in smartphone. Use the mobile device as a learning device to enable training that’s always accessible and right in your pocket. Moving to mobile learning also involves re-thinking how you are sharing your resources. A 80 page slide deck would not really appeal on your commute, but a quick 5 minute video that can be watched on the go makes more sense. Apart from having a “learning app”, you need to think about the content that fits the mobile screen and attention span.
  5. Byte-sized and just-in-time – The idea that you should learn everything and then use it as effectively when the need arises, maybe 7 months later, is a bit ambitious. Trainings should become byte-sized and be accessible just-in-time when you need to use that piece of learning in your work. This is a lot easier said than done. But, the tools and technologies available today allow this to become a reality, sooner and easier than you think. Be it compliance, or just a knowledge sharing resource, if it is byte-sized, the chances of that getting consumed is a lot higher.
  6. Rewarding – Everyone loves incentives – be it a pat on the back, or a badge or be top of a leaderboard or an Apple Watch as a gift. In my work in training and education sectors, I have seen more interest for gamification in adult learning and training, than in the K-12 segment. It sounds surprising but if you think about it for a moment, it makes perfect sense. Gamification can provide an extrinsic push and motivation and drive better adoption of learning initiatives. If people still don’t engage in trainings, your issue lies somewhere else!

But I am already doing e-Learning!

And how’s that going for you? e-Learning is a great first step. It allows remote access to resources, there is nobody to stand in front of the meeting room and read the slides, and you can do it at your own pace. However, the trouble with basic e-Learning is that it is delivered over systems where there is little engagement or ability to discuss anything that is being learned. Imagine, you went to Facebook, and you can see the pictures but there is no way to like, comment or ask why I have the silly face in the photos? Currently, e-Learning has some of these issues – (i) The content is not instructionally designed to be suited for online delivery, (ii) the platform of delivery is barely a way to host the content, but not to drive engagement, social communities of learning or offer any gamification incentives. The challenge that organisations have faced despite “doing e-learning” is that there is little incentive or engagement for the learners on such systems.

Trainings have to adapt to the changing landscape of learners, and I am not specifically talking about the millennials who certainly expect such social and mobile tools, but for the entire organisation to move and be prepared for the next set of changes.

(It’s 3:45 PM, stop reading this blog, and focus on the training in the room)


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