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How to Speak to Your Learner — Not Their Job Position

You're constantly bombarded with books, whitepapers, and webinars about how to capture the attention of your learners. Of course, we read them for the right reasons – we’re trying to make engagement and efficiency that much better for our company. The problem is, we get so wrapped up in how to "capture" our learner that we forget that our learners are really just like us. They are motivated by certain things and resistant to others.

Learners are human, too

When discussing learning, we often return to a purpose statement, such as (for the hospitality industry), “We need to teach housekeepers how to properly make a bed.” But sometimes, we forget to think about who those housekeepers are. Then, “housekeepers” become a job title, and we lose track of the people behind that title.

Learners are more than demographics and psychographics

Even when we do focus on discovering the learners, it can be easy to lose them amid the large stacks of statistics. Where do they live? What is the average education level? What are the main ethnicities and languages? What are their hobbies?

Sometimes, we can even overthink what our learners need. We get so focused on who the learner is or what they need to know that we forget an important fact. A motivated learner is the greatest key behind successful learning.

While demographics and psychographics are important, it’s critical to appeal to a learner’s emotions. Just like how we need to convince customers that they need our products, we need to convince learners that they need our learning.

To do this, we need to take a new approach to learning — we need to tell our learners stories, to hit them emotionally, and to make them believers. At first glance, this list might look at lot like a list of ways to boost your external marketing, and you’re not wrong. It's a list full of warm fuzzies, but every item works together to make learners view learning from an emotional mindset.

Show your learner how the knowledge helps them

Just like a customer, your learner wants to know, “What’s in it for me?” When you take time to explain this, you create internal motivation for external change. You need to sell the benefits to your learner.

Create positive stress within your learner

During learning, learners intake information, recall information, and put that information into practice. This learning curve can cause tension within the learner as they begin to create new habits and break old ones. To do this involves a balance between the demands of new behaviors and clear solutions. In other words, your learning must not be so difficult as to create unhealthy stress, but it also should not be so easy that the learner loses the motivation to change.

Reach your learner with the power of storytelling

Story is one of the most powerful ways to create an emotional connection with others, and it can be used to amazing effect in marketing, sales, and learning. Think for a moment what you remember the easiest. While some facts might be easy to recall, stories are often the best way to ease recall and influence behavior change.

This can mean the learner follows a housekeeper, Ruth, through her daily duties of making beds, or it could mean that the learner encounters different bed-making scenarios and guides a housekeeping character through each scenario by choosing the correct answers.

Tell your learners when and where to apply the learning

Sometimes, telling a learner what they need to know just isn’t enough. Depending on the context, the learning could be broad enough that the learner struggles to apply the information in a useful manner. To ease this mental load, give the learner situational cues about when and where to apply their learning to their job.

This often ties back into storytelling — scenarios are a great way to give learners everyday context for their learning.

Break free your learner free from functional fixedness

Functional fixedness is a psychological term that describes fixating on a single use for an object. For example, you use a hammer to pound in nails — at least, that’s the use most people fixate on when they think about a hammer. They forget they can use it like a crowbar, to pry free old boards. Or even as a spade, to dig shallow holes in the garden. If you drop a magnet, try using a hammer to bring it back home.

In the same way, learners hear about using specific tools for specific jobs during learning. But once they’re loosed into the workforce, they lose the ability to use that tool in other situations. Be straightforward about the different ways your learners’ tools can be used in multiple environments. List them out.

Prep your learners to think for themselves

People naturally look for a guide — someone to tell them where to go and what to do. However, most people have the capacity to make informed decisions on their own. Often learners need a slight push to realize their own potential.

To do this, place trust in your learner by encouraging them to make their own choices and to follow logical trains of thought during the learning process. This is their chance to make mistakes, to learn, and to grow. Never shame learners. Encourage them to become resourceful thought leaders.

Break down learning into manageable chunks

The recent obsession with micro-learning started for a reason. In fact, keeping your learning short (2-7 minutes per topic) is one of the top ways to increase engagement and heighten impact. However, bite-sized learning does more than simply help your learner pay attention — it also decreases lost productivity and lessens overall training costs.

Making it actionable

The goal of learning and training is to create behavior change. And it’s almost impossible to force real change externally. We need to convince the learner to willingly create their own change. To do this, we need to step back and remember one key fact:

Our learners are not a job position — they are human.

Chances are you are looking for ways to change your learners’ behavior. So, test out these seven softer, more human approaches to making your learning stick. We guarantee that you’ll see a difference.

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Sydney Nordquist

Not to mention refreshing, positive and downright invigorating. Should we expect anything less from a personality that absolutely bubbles…

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