Trainers can achieve engagement in many ways, from encouraging participation to sharing personal experiences and interactive activities. How the trainer encourages engagement is very important, but we can’t lose sight of the value this type of engagement brings to each training intervention.
First, highly engaged participants will have higher levels of retention. It’s easy to impart knowledge to a group of participants in a factual, or even dry, way. Some adults do retain facts and trivia, but many do not. Using engaging techniques during training will create an intellectual anchor to the material being learned. When participants go back to the job and must use the information they’ve gained, that mental anchor will kick in because of the activity surrounding it.
Engagement encourages increased participation. Again, when someone participates in a discussion or activity, a mental anchor is formed with the material. But increased participation goes further than each individual. As trainers, we can use increased participation to better transfer similar learning experiences from one participant to another. In other words, if we encourage participants to share their past experiences with the subject matter, participants without the benefit of past experience will also be able to create a bond with the material. Trainers may have “war stories” to tell during class, but they are limited in scope because they are limited to one person’s experience. By opening participation to other class members, the variety of experience will make connections with more people.
Learner engagement creates a sense of ownership and accountability. This is especially true in longer-term learning interventions. For example, let’s say a course lasts one week. If participant engagement is encouraged and begins on day one, each person will develop a feeling of ownership toward the course and will feel more responsible for its satisfactory completion. Not only this, participants will feel a stronger sense of accountability – to each other, to the trainer, and to their managers. How does that work? When learners are engaged not only with the material but also with each other, they’ll become accustomed to helping each other out through the benefit of understanding or past experience. When the trainer encourages engagement, he or she is creating a bond of accountability with the participant – each person will feel more responsible for continued engagement as the class is completed. Finally, an engaged learner will feel responsible for learning the material, passing exams, and being able to apply the material on the job – this is a form of accountability with the manager.
There are also more “feel-good” benefits of a high level of engagement. First, participants will walk away from training with a sense of time well spent and accomplishment. Think about it. If a participant has sat through a non-participatory, non-engaging course, he or she will probably feel as if the time was wasted. On the other hand, if the participants have been engaged in the learning process, they will more likely feel that their time was well spent – not only because of the engagement but also because they know they’ll be able to apply the material upon returning to the job. One of the best benefits of engagement is good advertising for the training department. Again, participants that have dragged through a boring learning intervention will probably not have anything positive to say. But participants who have been engaged and stimulated throughout the learning process will probably report more favorably.
So what are some of the best ways to create engagement? One of the most basic engagement tactics for a trainer is to encourage participation in class. Shared experience will go a long way for both experienced and inexperienced participants. Activities that simulate the job environment are also great ways to engage participants – instead of being lectured on how to do tasks, participants learn through doing. Group discussions and activities are also excellent engagement tactics – for example, instead of creating a lecture format, have participant groups explain topics with the trainer as the mediator. This type of engagement stimulates all learning styles and leads to further sharing of previous experience.
Remember that one of the trainer’s chief roles is to engage the participant. Through engagement, participants will increase retention, transfer knowledge, gain a sense of ownership and accountability, and have a sense of time well spent.
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