Knowing What Works in Training

Over the last year or two, more and more attention has been paid to what DOESN’T work in training: learning […]

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Over the last year or two, more and more attention has been paid to what DOESN’T work in training: learning styles, left-right brain thinking, formal learning objectives at the beginning of training, and a long list of other “facts” that are not facts at all. Learning styles seem to be one of the hardest training myths to die because so many people have invested their time and energy into changing their instructional design and delivery to accommodate different learning styles and may even think they have seen learning styles work. We do have good things we can take away from all the work that went into learning styles.

One of these good takeaways is using a lot of different senses in learning and training. We do know that the more senses we use in learning something, the easier it is to remember. We also know that telling people information alone does not mean that it is understood nor remembered, much less used on the job.

That means, when we are training in the support center, we should be utilizing a lot of different activities that involve hearing, speaking, touching, seeing, and when possible, even smelling, although that’s much more challenging and can even be an unwelcome distraction. When learners are listening to information, they should also be doing something with that information – filling in notes, constructing a concept map, listening for specific information, analyzing the good and the bad, stopping to reflect on what is most important, and sharing the information with others. If nothing else, they should be listening with the filter of, “How can I use this information on the job?”

We can help learners use all of their senses by presenting information in multiple formats and activities and in short chunks. For instance, in a former company, we had a new client where we would be taking orders for vitamins over the phone. This required CSRs to use a lot of big words that they or may or may not be familiar with. I realized this while listening to a sample call from the client where the CSR mispronounced the word cholesterol. You may think everyone in this age is familiar with the word, but we don’t always recognize words in writing that we have only heard. I made a list of 25 difficult words that CSRs would have to use frequently, and then I designed different ways to work with the words over time.

We began working on pronunciation on the second day of a 10-day training. On the first pronunciation day, I had a slide for each word with a voice pronouncing the word correctly and the definition listed. The learners would repeat the pronunciation after the voice in order to reinforce the pronunciation, and the voice file was played three times. The words were also listed on a note-taking guide where participants could make notes about pronunciation. (I was easily able to find the voice files on the internet from several different pronunciation sites.)

On the second day, each word had a slide with the pronunciation diagrammed on the screen (rather than a voice file). The learners would pronounce each word together three times, and then they worked together to define each word.

On the third day, each word had a slide with no pronunciation clues and the team said each word aloud three times. In partners, they then had to write sentences containing the words that they might actually use on a call. By this time, they were familiar with the products and the order process, so they were ready to incorporate the words into what they would really be doing each day.

For the rest of the course, we did not have a daily drill, but we were using the words daily in scripts and role plays. By the time the CSRs were on the phones, they knew each of the difficult words completely and had no problems pronouncing or using them properly.

The training included seeing (seeing the words on the screen and the pronunciation diagrams), speaking (saying the words each day), hearing (the words were pronounced from a voice file and they could hear fellow learners pronounce the words), and doing (writing down pronunciation notes, definitions, and using the words in realistic sentences). I did not involve any smelling in that training session, but I did use all of the rest of our five senses.

There are plenty other ways we can focus on what works in training and put skills from what doesn’t work to good use. I would much rather focus on what does work, so I am going to highlight a different training technique or two each month. These will be techniques that have been proven to work, with concrete examples for using the technique in support center training. This month’s technique: using multiple senses in training to help learners remember what they need to know.

How can you involve more of the five senses in your training?

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