Take a moment and picture your favorite teacher. Who do you think of, and more importantly, why do they come to mind? Perhaps they made you love a subject you previously couldn’t stand, or they supported you through a difficult time in your life. Likely, their impact on you can be summed up in one word: engagement. They engaged with you, or engaged you in the topic or the class. They developed some sort of connection that made you care. It’s why they came to mind when you read the words “favorite teacher.” Odds are that teacher was likely from your K-12 or college years. How often can the same be said when it comes to corporate trainers and managers?

Aside from spending four years studying instructional strategy, best practices and classroom management, a distinct difference between many K-12 educators and corporate trainers is their attitude toward engagement. K-12 educators know they must work to engage students, to help them see why the content is relevant or worth committing to memory. Too often in the corporate world, the default approach is “This is your job; you have to know this,” with little thought to engaging employees beyond that fact.

However, The Great Resignation has shown just how counterproductive this approach is. According to Gallup, only 36% of employees are engaged in their work or workplace. That lack of engagement often stems from having unclear expectations, lacking opportunities for development or growth, and feeling that opinions are not valued. Successful onboarding and continued professional development afford opportunities to change that but only if employees engage in the process.

There is a lot to be learned about learner engagement from K-12 teachers. Think about your higher-level math classes, for example. How often did the refrain “When will we ever need to know this?” echo around the classroom? What those students were really saying was, “Why should I care?” Employees think the same way. Engagement is often “me” motivated — what am I going to get out of this? How will this help me succeed? How can attending this get me to the next place in my career? Enter in clear, concise expectations.

Effective educators know that a core element of lesson planning is objectives and outcomes. Objectives define the goals of instruction, and outcomes indicate what the learner will be able to do as a result of participating in the course. You cannot successfully complete instruction without both elements, nor can you expect participation and engagement from learners if these objectives and outcomes are not made clear from the start. Whether they are 15 years old or 35 years old, learners need to know what they are learning, why they are learning it and how it will impact them.

Informal assessments are a critical tool in K-12 instruction, yet can be easily overlooked for the sake of time in the corporate training space. Teachers use informal assessments to assess learning without measuring according to a specific rubric. The goal is gauge how learning is progressing, which is a key indicator of engagement and understanding. If you can identify early on which learners are connecting with the content and which are not, you are better able to adjust instruction and improve learning outcomes as a result.

Consider the following options for measuring learning progress through informal assessments:

  • Quizzes.
  • Informal observations.
  • Exit surveys.
  • Impromptu presentations.

Corporate training professionals should incorporate at least one of these elements prior to the completion of the course, and the outcomes of the informal assessment should directly impact the direction the training takes: This means being willing to adjust your training programs rather than sticking to a specific outline or plan. As a result, you are more likely to engage your learners.

Informal observation, in particular, is incredibly useful in driving successful training. Seeing what your employees are doing is just as important as them seeing you modeling it. If you were a chef teaching a course on how to decorate a cake, you would first demonstrate the technique while explaining it. But to fully assess the students’ progress, you would need to watch them while they practice the technique. The same is true for training and development.

This can be difficult when many employees are working remotely, just as students are learning remotely. Implementing supportive technology that allows instructors to screen share and view the desktops of their students can help resemble face-to-face instruction. K-12 classroom management software often includes survey tools and other resources which support informal assessments, and many companies are already taking advantage of these solutions in their own training environments.

A final best practice in any engaged classroom is collaboration. After all, collaborative learning has multiple benefits, including developing leadership skills, increasing learners’ responsibility and self-esteem and encouraging critical thinking, which are all skills you’d likely want to see in your employees. Unless you are onboarding large numbers of employees at once, you may find yourself doing more one-on-one or small group trainings. Asking current employees to participate in onboarding not only benefits new hires, but also instills a sense of value in current employees. It shows them that you see their potential and recognize their knowledge and abilities.

The best teachers are those that care — about their students, about their subject and about their mission. That care is evident in the way they teach and lead, and the same can be said about great managers, trainers and instructors. It’s time to take a page from your favorite teacher’s handbook book and implement their trusted instructional strategies into your own training initiatives.

Register for the Spring Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE) to hear Maggie Layfield’s session, “Engaging the Learner Using K-12 Teaching Strategies.”