The goal of training programs is to create permanent changes in people’s knowledge, attitudes or behaviors. Unfortunately, researchers suggest only 10 to 20 percent of what is taught in training is applied on the job. This abysmal ROI can be improved using simple strategies that align with how people’s brains learn and remember information. These four principles engage participants, improve learning, and encourage application of knowledge and skills back on the job.

1) Show and Tell. Motivating people to change their behavior after training can be difficult. The reason for this is based in neuroscience. Our previous blog discussed the two systems of the brain – one is automatic and emotional and the other is slower and rational. Most behavior is automatic and driven by our emotional system. It is energy-consuming to recruit the rational system and control automatic actions. Therefore, people are quickly exhausted when trying to change their behavior. If you want people to change, you have to appeal to both the emotional and rational system.

To appeal to the emotional system, show participants something that will make them feel something, explained Dan and Chip Heath in their book, “Switch.” Give them a glimpse of a grim reality or a vision of an exciting potential future. For example, if you are training leaders on motivating employees, show a video of their employees describing their vision of an engaging day. Presenting something visual makes learners feel something, which gives them motivation to change.

To appeal to the rational system, tell participants exactly the kind of change they need to make. For example, outline specific actions they should take daily to improve employee motivation. Making abstract ideas practical increases the chance that training concepts transfer to work.

2) Relate information to what learners already know. The brain is automatically drawn toward what it has already seen and heard. Activate relevant prior knowledge to help learners organize and retain new information. For example, during a collaboration skills course, ask participants to call to mind a difficult team experience and use this to generate a list of obstacles to effective collaboration (e.g., lack of trust, cultural differences and dominant individuals). These obstacles become cognitive “hooks” on which strategies hang. Different learners will gravitate toward different strategies depending on the obstacles they experience, which creates a personalized and “sticky” learning experience.

3) Incorporate stories. Stories enhance learning. They activate not only language processing brain regions, but brain regions that would activate if we were actually experiencing events of the story. For example, sensory regions activate in response to descriptions of smells or sights, and motor regions activate in response to descriptions of motion. This wide distribution of information throughout the brain facilitates later retrieval.

For example, if you are facilitating a course on innovation, you might use a story to illustrate the tunnel vision bias– the concept that when people focus narrowly on achieving an objective, they often miss unexpected opportunities.

4) Have learners set goals. Use goal-setting to make training “stick.” Research shows that when people set specific goals, they create new habits in the automatic system of their brains. So, even during times of stress or distraction, their brains remain committed to the goal. At the end of training, have learners write down training-related goals – what they will do, when and where. This will help them transfer what they learned to work.

These tips will help ensure your training program meets its objectives.

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