October 11, 2016

The Importance of Engagement

Written by Chris McGhee

If I told my 6-year-old daughter, Gracie, to get out a piece of paper and a pencil, she would likely get out a pencil and a piece of paper.  But if I made the same request of my officemate, Ron, he would likely look at me funny and ask me why.  Of course, if I made the same request of my 14-year-old daughter, she would completely ignore me but that’s another story.

So why the difference in reactions from Ron and Gracie?  It really boils down to how we learn.  As children, we learn by being fed information.  During our early academic career, we take what teachers tell us as gospel.  However, as we get older, we begin to question authority, as if it’s a sort of rite of passage to adulthood.  I can hear those of you with teenagers, passionately shaking your heads.  What I am trying to say is that adult learners need to be involved in the learning process. As adults, we need to understand why we are in this learning experience and how it’s going to make our lives better.

Um, CC Pace is an Agile coaching and training company, why are you talking about learning stuff? 

Well, I am glad that you’re paying attention.  Aside from the fact that CC Pace recently hired me to focus entirely on creating effective learning programs and I gotta do something to show them that I actually know stuff, how we learn stuff is part of how we create lean, mean, efficient machines…er, organizations.  Just because you consider yourself an Agile environment doesn’t mean that you actually are!  Waving the magic wand does not make a company Agile, although it’s kinda fun to suggest it to the senior leadership team to see if they bite.   Agile needs to be embraced at the top AND at the bottom.  Getting buy-in from the folks in the trenches means that the training needs to be created with them, very clearly, in mind.

Think of the last time you had to go to training because management said so, or because of a requirement for some regulation.  What did you learn?  Did you pick up lots of good stuff?  Would you wish it on your worst enemy?  Learning experiences that fulfill a check box are often set up for failure because we forget to explain how this information will ultimately help the learner.  If we just chalk it up to a requirement or some mandate, then we have missed an opportunity to help reinforce the content.

It’s critical that a successful learning program understand that key difference; that adult learners need to be engaged with the process, rather than as just a passive participant.

So how do we get the learners engaged?  Well, hopefully, you can see where I am going with this.  If we start by successfully demonstrating how this information will connect back to the participant, then we stand a much better chance of helping the learner retain the information.  Otherwise, participants are left pondering all of the other ways that they could be wasting time while still on the clock. But if the participant sees why the training will impact them, then they will submit to the learning process.

And as Johnnie Cochran once so famously said, “If the training reason is legit, then you must submit!” Ok, so Johnny never said that, but I bet he would have if he read this post.  Ok, that might be a bit of a stretch, too.  But it’s a nice way to remind ourselves of the importance of setting up a training for success. Keep this in mind when you are planning Agile training for a team within your organization.  Thanks for sticking with me this long, how about we pick this up next time with some more ideas on building engagement in your learning program?

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