05 October 2018

7 Learning Psychology Routes for Effective Training

Learner Engagement / Learning to Learn
effective training


Sylvia Johnson

L&D professionals have a real task on their hands – how to make training more effective. Learning content must not only be engaging and personalized to the learner, but it must also be delivered in a way that convinces the employee that it is time well spent. An understanding of learning psychology can help L&D professionals to unlock their employee’s curiosity, achieve much sought after learner engagement and deliver effective training.

Learning has multiple definitions, and my personal favorite is from the “Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” by Peter C Brown, Henry L Roediger, and Mark A McDaniel.

“Acquiring knowledge and skills and having them readily available from memory so you can make sense of future problems and opportunities”.

This definition encompasses both the process and the purpose of learning.

Upskilling, recycling knowledge and acquiring new skill sets are absolute essentials in the ever-evolving global market where company needs and job scopes are changing on a daily basis. A company cannot compete if their learning psychology does not change.

Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning
Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning

Delivering effective training is a considerable challenge. Both businesses and learners expect a lot when it comes to investing their limited time in training programs and therefore you’ll need to consider carefully the learner profile.

L&D has a lot to live up to if they are going to meet the needs of the modern learner and fulfill the learning objectives of their company.

Which elements ensure effective training?

One word: stickiness.

Learning isn’t effective unless it sticks and it changes the learner’s behavior. For learning to change behavior, we need to dig deep into the science behind training the brain.

Investigations into neuroscience can teach us to maximize the use of the brain to ensure that we transfer our newly acquired knowledge to from our short-term to our long-term memory.

How can you ensure that your training program brings together all the elements to create truly sticky effective training?

Learning can be driven by either extrinsic or intrinsic motivation, although it has been proven to be more effective when there is a combination of the two.

This essentially means partnering a desire to truly master the new skills for both personal satisfaction and development, with an understanding that the new skills set will increase effectiveness and productivity at work.

Learning how to learn

Changing a learning culture is as big a challenge as changing IT systems as people struggle to modify ingrained habits.

A key element of the learning process is overcoming resistance to changing the way we perform tasks, the way we manage our teams, or the way we document our workflows.

Acquiring knowledge and skills and having them readily available from memory so you can make sense of future problems and opportunities

It’s clear that the easy excuse is to say “the old way worked perfectly fine” or “I don’t see the point of doing it this way”.

If we are to look closely, this resistance partly stems from a natural reaction of fear, rooted in a lack of self-confidence, of not being able to do something following new principles, without making a fool of ourselves.

As L&D professionals we need to promote the idea that making mistakes is an essential part of the learning journey along with learning by doing and reflecting on the learning process itself.

Further reading

Making mistakes is crucial to learning and needs to be promoted as a positive step in the learning cycle.

Four key traits for successful learning

A study from HBR shows that there are four key traits learners must possess to make training more effective. Let’s call them best practices that can be applied to any kind of learning from languages to skills to the mastering a new CRM.

1.  Aspiration

Focusing on what we will gain from the learning. If we are aware of the benefits from the get-go, we are more likely to invest time and energy in the acquisition of the skill set.

What will I be able to do better and more efficiently?

If you can ensure that your learners have the answer to this question clear in their minds, you are more likely to engage them with the process.

Envisioning a happy, more productive and stress-free future can accelerate the drive to the finish line.

Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning
Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning

Encourage learners to focus on how the training can help them personally by asking them to self-assess current skills and map out where they would like to be.

Remove the obstacles that we identified earlier, that of resistance to change, the “it will take too long” and“if it ain’t broke, don’t change it” mentality.

Learning should not be a grueling and tedious journey so make sure you get rid of any roadblocks from the start.

2.  Self-Awareness

If you haven’t had a manager whose inability to recognize their weaknesses has made managing up extremely challenging, you’ve had a lucky escape.

A lack of self-awareness can make us reluctant to participate in training courses that would help us to work on our weaknesses.

That’s not to say, it’s not tricky to self-analyze. Strive to be objective when you self-assess, stop being defensive when critical and constructive feedback is leveled at you. Take time to listen to those who criticize as well as those who affirm your qualities.

3.  Curiosity

Curiosity is one of the most cherished and loathed traits in a child; ask any parent who has had to put up with an endless chain of “but why?” from their inquisitive 2-year-old.

To make training effective, it is essential that this curiosity is fostered. We should encourage the learner to be relentless and to view their learning as a continuous process.

Ask questions on the topic that you are learning, follow up those questions with actions. Take away the roadblock of fear and encourage learners to try different paths before settling on the correct one.

Peer interactions and social learning can play a key role in bringing resistant learners on board. Help stoke their enthusiasm by looking at why others are getting excited about the topic. Focus on the personal benefits, how might learning this skill make my job easier?

4.  Vulnerability

We all fear being bad at something, being slow on the uptake, being awkward at first and that’s a big roadblock to overcome. It’s ok to need step-by-step guidance, it’s ok to ask a million questions until you really understand something thoroughly.

Further reading

Expecting mistakes to be made is accepting that learning does not always go in a straight line. Acknowledge mistakes and learn from them moving forward.

So let’s go back to our original question. How can you make training more effective? How can you make learning more sticky?

Here are seven tips to ensure that your training program is sticky and delivers effective training:

1.  Encourage active learning

Learner engagement is most successfully achieved when the learners themselves are actively engaged in creating, understanding, and connecting to knowledge. The new knowledge must connect to something the learner already knows and allow the learner to build upon existing knowledge.

2.  Make it relevant

Learners will be motivated by topics and content which are directly relevant to their professional lives, needs and interests.

The learning content must draw on their previous experiences, encourage them to be self-aware and to think about how they are going to incorporate new knowledge and strategies into performing their tasks.

The training should provide multiple opportunities for the learner to practice and concept check, and should drive them to learn by doing.

3.  Repeat it

Neuroscience has shown us that to make neural connections stronger there needs to be repetition and review built into the training program.

Learners need multiple opportunities to take in new information, they need multi-modal training programs where they can self-assess their learning progress. They need to have spaced learning opportunities where they can review key concepts.

4.  Don’t forget the emotional side

If we think we are good at learning, we are more likely to be motivated to apply ourselves better to the business of learning. If we make connections to the learning through realistic scenarios, engaging multi-media and storytelling, we’re more likely to retain information.

Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning
Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning

5.  Be happy making mistakes

We are always being told not to mess up and subsequently, we try to avoid the blame for things not going right. Making mistakes is a key component of the learning cycle. Whenever we have learned something new it is because we have made mistakes, reflected upon it and done things differently.

“Mistakes, obviously, show us what needs improving. Without mistakes, how would we know what we had to work on?” Peter McWilliams

Encourage learners to let go of the fear of getting it wrong and embrace making mistakes as a learning opportunity.

6.  Surprise them

Training needs to be innovative, compelling and exciting. It needs to include the wow factor where possible to make it memorable, to spark discussion and to stick in learners’ minds.

Use videos and visual imagery to convey your message and give it meaning. It helps learners visualize the learning and contextualizes it for them.

What does success look like?

7.  Provide instant positive feedback

You’ll feel more motivated to keep learning if you receive immediate feedback on how you are progressing.

Concept-checking questions, scenarios that ask you to put into action your newly acquired knowledge, questions that confirm you are on the right track.  A green tick, an 86% score, and a “ good job” all help us to maintain the momentum and enthusiasm needed for effective learning.

Awaken the curiosity of your learners

In order to make learning happen, we as learners mustn’t lose touch with our own innate desire to learn. Maintain that curiosity that has served you so well. Keep hold of that child within. To make learning truly effective, organizations must champion learner autonomy and foster learning cultures that provide space for thought development and reflection.

Learning specialists must give learners the tools to apply their learning for themselves free from the worry of messing up. To make training more effective learners must get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

Share this article

Latest Insights

Ready to start?

Take your business on the first step to transformative learning today. We look forward to being part of your journey.