Motivating Instruction Made Easy

“You’ve got it!”

Many people create training or teach others how to do something. Typically instructors, need to keep learners interested, providing guided practice, offer feedback and praise good performance. The qualifications for “trainers” or “instructors” are all over the map (along with the pay); it depends on the context. However, most workplace trainers were often exemplary performers who were found themselves in training roles. Workplace trainers don’t typically require a university degree, though they usually have a strong background in the subject matter, along with the desire and ability to share knowledge or skills with others. Some people are naturally more engaging as facilitators than others, having an innate sense of what learners want and find useful. Others need guidance determining how to make learning fun and effective for participants.

No matter if you are delivering software training, staff orientation, or a workshop on proposal writing to non-profit staff, you want to keep learners interested so they make a sustained effort to learn. For training and educational programs we write objectives of some form, detailing what the intended learning and performance outcomes will be.

Objectives focus our efforts on desired results. When we are learning – in a formal class, from a colleague or in a facilitated meeting – maintaining motivation is key. As adults we’re pressed for time and direct our attentions to what’s most important or applicable. Whether we’re taking a cooking class, downloading an app for our iPhone, getting oriented by our new supervisor, or taking part in a workshop, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of information or become intimidated by learning, resulting in the loss of motivation to learn.

John Keller saw this challenge and developed the ARCS model of motivational design to aid the learning process in instructional settings. His ARCS factors are: Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction. His first principle, Attention, refers to arousing interest perhaps with a quote, a shocking statistic or a question to pique curiosity. Anything that gets people actively involved in the discussion, seems incongruous or funny, will get people’s attention. This principle is practiced by the best public speakers as well who draw the audience in at the beginning of their speech.

Relevance, the second principle, ensures that the subject and activities are meaningful for group members. Knowing your audience, their prior experience with the skills/information, and what they want to get out of something will help you target content relevance. Remember, no matter how engaging you are the content needs to fit with the audience’s interest and context. Teaching industrial workers at a camp how to make the perfect soufflé, likely won’t hold their interest. (They work long days and have their meals made for them!) However, educating them about various Avon products for purchase close to Christmas may just hold their interest if they need quick and easy gift ideas. In other words, the content must be linked to practical application, importance, or future usefulness.

During the learning session(s), participants should also gain Confidence (fourth principle) or feel “I can do this” (i.e. apply the skills or knowledge). Ideally the “doing” or “knowing” should seem easy, and the performance standards and measures clarified. For example, security guards taking training on how to write effective observational notes would benefit from practice scenarios and seeing what good notes look like. Guided practice with meaningful feedback – positive and constructive –helps build performance confidence. Participants should also see the connection between their efforts and the results they achieve.

After the learning, the learners should feel Satisfaction, or rewarded by the experience based on a feeling of achievement. If learning is tied to applying the knowledge or skills at work or in day to day living, all the more satisfying the learning experience will be. Ongoing feedback and positively reinforced performance sustains participant satisfaction and motivation.

The next time you to share your knowledge or skills with others – formally or informally, in writing or verbally – keep the ARCS principles in mind, and identify how you will help your group pay Attention, see the Relevance, feel Confidence and gain Satisfaction (from the learning). For motivating seminars and key notes on workplace learning and performance, contact Performance Solutions.

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Needs Assessment – Step One for Physical Fitness or Workplace Fitness

“So you want to fit into that favourite pair of jeans again?”
“Let’s try a few more repetitions and increase the challenge a bit.”
“Come on, you’ve got this!!”

People close to me know have long seen me as a fitness enthusiast. A thirteen year stint as a fitness instructor led me to enter the field of workplace learning and performance. Fast forward several years and my commitment to exercise and healthy eating remains. At a broader level, we all need continuous learning and improvement throughout our lives – personally and professionally. Where do we begin to plan for our goals? With a comprehensive needs assessment.

For life or work-related goals, learning more about our needs is crucial. Some good questions to ask ourselves: What are the desired results? What are the potential barriers to achieving the results? What are the best sources of information and guidance in this area? Case in point: improving one’s fitness level with a qualified personal trainer is a one example of a situation that typically involves a systematic needs assessment process.

Much like a workplace trainer, a good personal trainer (like mine) will assess your needs first. Included in my fitness assessment were: health/lifestyle history, goals, current measurements, motivation level and support levels of people around me. Finding out where I was at and what my goals were helped me clearly visualize what I wanted. Related to my goal setting I was asked: How will your life improve as a result of these changes? How will these changes be important to you? How confident are you that you can reach your goal? Do you believe the trainer will help you make progress? Reflecting on these questions allowed me to clarify my vision of fitness, and revealed the gap between my current and desired states which my trainer is helping me close.

Needs assessment whether for improving fitness or developing workplace skills/knowledge, is the place to start when planning to reach your goals. With work-related training you begin with the end in mind and where the trainees are by assessing: current knowledge/performance, motivation, desired outcomes (vision), goal value, self-efficacy, social supports, and belief in the training’s effectiveness.

Not everyone has an energetic, 20-something personal trainer planning ever-challenging activities, consistently cheering them on and reminding them of their fitness goals like I do. In any case, people and organizations everywhere benefit from having competent trainers, who systematically assess learning and performance needs before designing and facilitating suitable training. A good trainer also helps you follow best practices by providing guidance and support to reach your goals.

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Trend-Line Analysis: A Tool for Evaluating the Impact of Training (Guest Blogger)

It can be difficult at the best of times to gauge the impact that your recent training program had on business results. For some programs, it may seem well nigh impossible. Here is an example of just such a program and my suggestions for your options in isolating the impact of your program from other influences on results.

Just as there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there’s more than one method for evaluating the effectiveness of a training program. In some cases, it’s extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to isolate the impact of non-training factors on a business outcome for some training programs.

Anti-bullying sessions are a case in point. You could try to capture the program’s effectiveness by not training a control group and comparing behaviors against a group that has gone through the program. But that raises ethical questions, especially if bullying complaints against members of the control group start piling up! What do you do?

Here’s another tool to consider: trend-line analysis. With this tool, you identify a trend you expect to be influenced by the training program. Let’s say you have instituted training that is aimed at reducing the number of lawsuits against your company. In your trend-line analysis, you plot the number of lawsuits in the months or years before the training and continue the graph in the weeks and months after.

Of course, you need to understand what other variables might impact the lawsuits. The veracity of this type of analysis depends on their being no other substantive non-training influences on the business result you are monitoring. This method may not be suitable if, for instance, government regulations caused an increase or decrease in legal actions against your company.

Here are some other questions to consider before using a trend-line analysis to determine the effectiveness of your training program:

When did the training program start? If the program has always been part of the business, there’s no way to identify the trend before the program started. For this analysis tool to work, you need historical data from before the implementation of the training.

Do you have enough data? If your organization is sued only once every decade, there is no statistically valid way to determine in the short term whether your anti-lawsuit training is effective. You will need enough data to be able to discern the signal from the background noise.

Of course, you need not limit your analysis to a single trend. If you want to determine the impact of an anti-bullying training program, you might consider looking at employee complaints, sick-leave days and other factors. You could then plot these numbers as separate trend lines on a single graph.

You may see a correlation among the variables and be able to determine lagging indicators (an increase in complaints or sick days taken leads to an increase in lawsuits, for example). You may also be able to calculate a value for Return on Investment (ROI) for the training.

This case study outlines one strategy for evaluating the effectiveness of training. Every organization and training program is different. The trend-line analysis can be a useful tool when there’s enough historical data and you know what you want your training program to accomplish.
-Leslie Allan

Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd, a management consulting firm specializing in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager, consultant and trainer. Leslie is also the author of five books on workplace training and managing change as well as many business articles. He currently serves as Divisional Council Member for the Australian Institute of Training and Development and is a member of the Australian Institute of Management and the American Society for Quality. His company’s website at  is a rich source of information, advice and tools in a variety of management areas.

© Leslie Allan

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Knowledge Workers – Critical Companions to Innovation

Drucker coined the term knowledge workers recognizing early that research and innovation are critical in the Information Age. Knowledge Workers (KWs) are the highly educated skilled information processors, who solve organizational problems and seize opportunities. Instrumental in uncovering best practices and synthesizing ideas, a knowledge worker’s tacit knowledge, skill and experience enable problem-solving. In the era of rapid change requiring fast learning, it’s important to optimize and retain KWs, but how?

Think about today’s most innovative firms. By hiring creative geniuses and ensuring forward-thinking workplace practices, firms like Apple, Google and Facebook represent the elite of knowledge-based companies. Internal and external KWs use research and analysis to define problems and develop the best solutions. Known for project-style work and superior communication skills, these innovative ‘intrapreneurs will thrive with the right work environment, work processes and human resources practices.

Senges concept of the learning organization is nurtured by engaged KWs in environments that promote collaboration and knowledge sharing, but that’s not all. Research suggests KWs defy conventional supervision and management since only control their own productivity. Command-and-Control style management won’t work with these individuals (or with most employees today). How can you effectively engage and retain these mysterious muses? It begins with assessing key factors to gauge your support for knowledge worker performance in the: work, workplace and work processes.

KWs help organizations innovate through research and analysis leading to the development of custom solutions. Examples of knowledge work value add include:

  • Business analysts figuring out how to resolve a customer service bottleneck
  • Consultants noticing that managers are not conducting performance evaluations due to lengthy forms with vague descriptors, or
  • Researchers synthesizing jurisdictional data to source successful solutions for homelessness.

Learn more by reading my article, “How to Motivate and Retain Knowledge Workers”, published in the International Journal of Management, posted on SlideShare here. To optimize your knowledge workers’ performance, assess and build on your company’s ability to engage and retain them. Contact Performance Solutions for your complimentary consultation.

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Leadership Development Programs – Sacred Cows Above Evaluation?

“7 percent of all employees trust their leaders.” In a recent book, “The End of Leadership” by Barbara Kellerman has caused quite the stir in both the Learning and Development/training and business worlds. On many senior management teams’ radar is the need for succession planning and developing the next generation of leaders. It’s ironic that such an important task has largely gone unmeasured for the most part. Read more about the book here:

Kellerman goes on to say, “…most corporate in-house leadership training is an even bigger waste of time and money than what goes on in business schools.” Ouch. Shockingly accurate, Kellerman is spot on when she recognizes this potentially colossal waste is supported by research, showing as little as 10-20% of training is applied on the job due to various factors. Leadership Development is just ONE example of a training and development program that goes unevaluated or is only assessed on learner satisfaction as indicated on a “smile sheet” (i.e. “Level one” metric). While pre- and post-testing to see if people acquired and retained the knowledge is key (“Level two”), again it doesn’t guarantee performance. How could these proud legacy programs aimed at building the leadership pipeline be missing the mark? Performance level change or applied learning as behavior change must be measured, and taught using guided practice. As Harold Stolovitch’s book title suggests, “Training Ain’t Performance.” This is where things become fuzzy. Just because people have acquired the knowledge does NOT mean they can perform skill (or how well) in real world situations. Where the rubber meets the road for workplace learning is workplace performance.

Sadly the companies generously investing in a Leadership Development program are at risk of being stripped of program resources due to the inability to demonstrate the program’s contribution to solid business results. Evaluation is a sticky and uncomfortable business in organizations. People dread “performance evaluations.” The idea of assessing the merit of a something is viewed as threatening, complex, biased, time-consuming and expensive. Worse yet, some digging could reveal that the program is a waste of time, being run poorly, or not delivering intended outcomes? The alternative is blissful ignorance, where the company and its sponsors remain unaware of opportunities for enhancing efficiency and effectiveness, gains or building on its strengths. What’s a training manager to do?

In my experience as a consultant with evaluation skills and knowledge, evaluation services are not a big seller in the corporate world. Public sector organizations typically require program evaluation in some form, even if the methods are not always best suited to uncovering critical program-level results data. Evaluation should be embraced as a feedback opportunity for continuous learning and improvement (formative evaluation), not just end results (summative evaluation). It’s strange that some companies and executives can justify weighty investments for Human Resources Development programs such as leadership and succession planning, yet many (semingly) remain unconcerned about what the results are, or have a keen interest in performance outcomes and measures. Can your company afford to stick its head in the sand and ignore the need for Leadership Development program evaluation? If not, call Performance Solutions for your free, confidential program evaluation strategy session.

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L and D Myopia?

There is a huge gap between the rhetoric of Learning and Development (L and D)/training and the reality of performance improvement. Training supposedly achieves better results (efficiencies or effectiveness) from learners/trainees merely by attending said class (or logged into said course).

Workplace and other adult learners need learning opportunities which are relevant, interactive, engaging, and of practical value. They don’t need that that which wastes time and money if their is no acquisition or enhancement of knowledge or skills for benefit of the organization. In Canada that amount is much less – more like $500 per employee. Some firms are an exception with an outstanding learning organization culture and commitment from the top. For those lucky folks, learning is multi-faceted and woven into the fabric of an organization in various forms and at all levels – not just F2F orientation, or internal staff workshops that staff don’t need or want. Too often  a senior leader decides what employees need to learn and do with little or no input from the front line. L and D itself is much more all encompassing than simply training events. It’s implementing a myriad of performance improvement and support solutions such as: coaching/mentoring, job aids, EPSS, tuition reimbursements, self-study, knowledge sharing portals, and communities of practice.

L and D myopia is the failure to see clearly that  being a strategic business partner requires getting results in employee performance – and having a systemic perspective, not just trainers as “one-trick ponies” delivering up learning goods. Only when people lack knowledge or skills is TRAINING an appropriate solution, and rarely does training alone produce desired outcomes.

Seeking independent advice for training transfer, performance improvement and program evaluation is highly advisable. Too few companies see the monetary value of investing in the transfer-performance support piece, although the cost of NOT measuring training quality, effectiveness and efficiency somehow escapes the radar of many companies. It reminds me of the parable of the boiled frog, who jumps into a pot of cool water where it remains and slowly boils to death because it fails to sense gradual increases in water temperature. Call Performance Solutions Corp. to assess and support staff learning/performance needs, or conduct and independent review of your training to keep your people alive and thriving.

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Instructional Design Logic

How was the last seminar, webinar or workshop you attended? Was it informative? Engaging? Inspiring? Relevant? Practical? Sadly too often the answer to most of these questions is “NO!” If that’s the case we can only hope that the food was good, you were paid to attend or there was something else in it for you. We all have personal or professional reasons for continuing our learning, sometimes in a formal setting, whether it’s taking software training on or signing up for a webinar or an evening course at our local college’s Continuing Education department. There are limits to our time, ability and motivation to seek out learning opportunities on our own. However the Google or Youtube mentality has dramatically increased informal, self-directed learning. The issue now becomes not lack of access but sifting and selecting from a sea of information.

In my experience in western Canada the bulk of Instructional Designers (“IDers”), also called “training developers” or “curriculum writers”, completed a teacher education program. Yet ironically most of the people developing and delivering training are Subject Matter Experts (“SME”) in their field, who largely came up through the ranks as exemplary performers (e.g. cashier, warehouse technician, customer service representative, process plant worker). These folks were later moved into a training role because of their superior on-the-job performance (not to mention the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes). As someone who studied teacher education in Canada prior to learning instructional design in the US, it’s interesting to contrast the preference south of the border for hiring people with a Master’s in Instructional Design to develop corporate training aligned with strategic objectives. Does it mean Canadian IDers trained in teachers’ college (or not even that) are ineffective? Not necessarily; I see value in learning from either a formal program or experience. Still, formal education or experience doesn’t guarantee great performance or following best practices, in any field. The “self-taught” typically have gaps in their knowledge that formal programs are designed to systematically address. The ideal situation for sound instructional design: a SME partnering with a qualified IDer to develop effective instruction together.

The logic of the IDer is to identify what the learners need to know and do. This information will determine the learning and performance objectives, or intended learning outcomes of the instruction. In workplaces, a close cousin to Training/Learning and Development is the Human Resources department – often responsible for coordinating and tracking work-related training such as orientation, compliance-based or regulatory courses, or sponsored work-related learning. Naturally keeping staff engaged and skilled goes a long way to supporting their retention and productivity – a win-win. My favorite counter argument to management’s weak declaration that, “We’ll train ‘em up and they’ll leave” is “And if you don’t train them up and they stay, how will that serve you better?”

Adults learn for different reasons, often work-related ones. They usually invest time and effort in learning as a means to an end – moving up at work, making more money, gaining status, entering/changing careers, or doing what they love and trusting the money will one day follow. Like an engineer designing a bridge the IDer designing a course needs to know the learners’ needs (job and task, or program related) and other circumstances.

Creating learner centered training or instruction means clarifying:

  1. Top Management’s support and commitment to developing this instruction (course, training, seminar)
  2. Specific knowledge/skill and performance gaps that need closing
  3. Target population’s characteristics (as a group and individual to some extent)
  4. Learning and Performance Contexts
  5. Logistics (i.e. time, budget, human resources, quality standards and assurances), and
  6. Likely ROI (Return on Investment) measurable RESULTS of developing/delivering a pricey strategic learning opportunity.

Qualified and empathic SMEs and IDers are critical to assessing and developing a suitable learning and performance solution according to identified needs. If you need to accurately assess needs, develop effective training that gets results, or evaluate a current program contact Performance Solutions Corp. for a complimentary consult. Why continue to run a high-end Training program as is, if there is no evidence of learning transfer or value-add to the business?

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