Lately, I have been giving a lot of thoughts to the longstanding question that bothers almost all training managers, that is, how to make trainings effective? Of course, our warm hearted training managers and specialists tend to exhaust themselves in their attempt to create conditions for effective training. In this article, I want to first differentiate different types of motivations that could affect training effectiveness; secondly, I want to call attention to conditions/sources of motivation that are often the most critical to learning effectiveness but are oftentimes ignored by training managers and specialists; lastly, I want to briefly explain why brain based learning is oftentimes not as effective as the experiential way of learning when it comes to adult learning.
It is useful to check beforehand where the motivation of the participants stems from. The most attractive participants are those who are motivated to attend the course ‘from within’. The participant actually does not need an incentive. This form of motivation is called ‘intrinsic motivation’. If a participant is motivated by others, this is called ‘extrinsic motivation’. A new job, a possible dismissal or a raise can be the incentives that motivate the partici¬pant. In addition, one may also have to deal with ‘conditional motivation’. Participants are motivated by all kinds of pleasant circumstances that may occur during the course, such as social contacts, etc. In addition, motivation can be influenced in a positive way, when the participant sees a meaningful relation between the learning material and what he is going to do with it. The relevance of the learning material has to be clear to the participants. The gap from theory to practice needs to be as small as possible.
What I would like to stress is that while we oftentimes recognize how external factors, such as a pay rise or a promotion opportunity can help to motivate organizational employees to learn, the ideal participants are those who are internally motivated. In reality, when identifying training needs and deciding sending whom to what training programs, HR practices can include HRs or functional managers subjectively nominating participants to attend certain learning programs. Referring back to the above mentioned motivational factors and conditions, clearly when that happens, individuals are not internally motivated to learn; neither is the participant likely to see a clear goal of the learning—the meaningful relevance of the learning. In other situations, organizational employees are sent to certain training programs due to negative performance review in certain areas (according to their direct managers) or gaps between individual competency status and competencies required for a given job according to organizational competency models. Clearly, when participants show up in a training program for the above mentioned reasons, they can be very much goal driven and can see clear “meaningful relevance” of their learning. Nevertheless, they may not be internally motivated to learn. That is, if their managers or others (say, people who are the 360 degree feedback givers) believe they should improve in certain areas, the level of motivation on the participants are still not the same as when the participants themselves recognize the needs. Therefore, only when employees are very much involved in the process of identifying learning needs and gaps and are consulted with before being sent to a training program, can they be internally motivated to learn. Clearly, the more attention we give to this step of learning preparation, the more effective we can expect the learning results to be.
Becoming internally motivated is not only relevant to the process of identifying learning needs, it is also relevant to the process of learning itself, that is, the training methods. It is not difficult to imagine, for example, a participant who is very much motivated and eager to learn comes to a very boring and didactic style training program, his/her enthusiasm for learning is immediately dampened by what is actually happening in the training site. So their internal motivation needs to be sustained in the training as well, which has a lot to do with how training is actually organized and conducted.
Traditionally, training is trainer-centered and brain-based. First, in terms of roles that trainers and participants play in training, one option is that trainers are the “stars” occupying the central stage. They are supposed to be experts that have solutions to all problems that their trainees might have. The type of training can be effective when the participants can see clear relevance to their real work situations, they cases that the trainers give can be transferrable to their work settings, and that they believe that the trainers’ knowledge and experience is relevant and helpful to their problems. Alternatively, the internal motivation of the participants can be better secured through making them the center of learning. That is, trainers are coaches and facilitators and the content of the training is from their real work and life experiences of the participants (sometimes they get help in training periodically while they are engaged in real projects). First, adults learn best or are the most motivated to learn through self awareness and self reflections. Coaches thus play the questioning role most of the time. The trainees consequently drive the process of learning with their own problems. In my opinion, this latter way of training, what we call, the experiential way of learning, fits the characteristics of adult learning much better in many situations, as they are more trainee centered (coaching/facilitating style versus didactic style) and are more directly related to application (action and behavior based versus brain based). I devote the last part of my article to an explanation of the difference between brain based training and the experiential way of learning.
Traditional training and education focuses often on the left brain (aiming at ratio, logic, analyses, language, with as result automatisms based on insight). it assumes too much that learning is made possible by the logic of the new information. The logic in itself should bring forward learning. Features of these interventions are: instruction/demonstration, systematic practice and giving feedback. At the most this kind of learning leads to the fact that the learner can tell what he has learned but in fact does not use the knowledge in his daily practice. As a result there is asynchrony between what employees think (their theories and conceptions) and what they actually do (their daily routines).
To activate the right brain part (feelings, experiences, associations, images, with as result experience based behavior), trainers should work more with imaginative language, powerful metaphors and behavior instructions. With telling how to act, without very much explaining why, it is expected that workers will act in the desired way and that insight will follow behavior . When you use a more explaining way of instruction (selling) it is expected that the logic will convince the worker and the new insight will trigger the behavior. Clearly, the linkage between theory and application can be much closer in the experiential way of learning.
To summarize, in this article I call for new perspectives and new ways of thinking in terms of guaranteeing the effectiveness of training. Training managers have been frustrated by looking for solutions to ensure the effectiveness of training. They may be happily surprised if they start to focus more on the internal motivation of the participants, not only from the perspective of identifying training needs, but also from the perspective of identify the right training methods. We can create all favorable conditions for our participants by selecting brand name vendors, by providing pleasant training environments, by developing complex competency models and elaborated process of performance appraisals, but in the end, the people who we want to train have a more decisive impact on the result of training. Only when we give sufficient attention to their motivation to learn, can we have a better chance of being effective in training them.