In today’s digital age, onboarding techniques using traditional instructor-led training may not be adequately preparing our team members for the expectations and real-world experiences of working for an organization like Six Flags. The Six Flags organization employs thousands of seasonal employees annually to deliver fun and thrills for all ages by operating rides and attractions, delivering culinary experiences, and many other jobs. Our sole focus in onboarding was the deployment of content that answered the how, why and what when it came to preparedness for the job ahead. Guest interaction and new hire training ranked among the top five open-ended comments when we asked new hires, “How can we improve our learning and development programs?”

Six Flags, like most large companies with a multi-layered training and development program, implemented instructor-led facilitation techniques that employed power point, audio and visual approaches, activities, and, of course, feedback mechanisms to deliver content. What challenges were keeping these traditional learning techniques from adding to the growth of the organization, increasing revenues, decreasing costs or mitigating risks? We could blame the facilitator, the content, the engagement of the team member or a combination of all three. Our goal was to mitigate these challenges ahead of time by developing innovative ways to deliver content and learning.

In 2015, Six Flags tested a pilot engagement program that combined instructor-led training with tablet technology. The program broke up the four-hour discovery orientation class load by allowing team members to experience a blended learning environment, engaging in a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning. We introduced tablets to two of our properties with a Wi-Fi network learning module that moderated the flow of discovery training by introducing videos, expectations, a simulated park tour experience, safety quizzes and assessments that used gamification technology.

Both properties completed this test in August, and the reactive surveys showed an 89-percent agreement that the tablets improved participants’ understanding of the course materials. The properties also showed a 91-percent agreement that our facilitation needed more technology integrated with classwork.

Since that time, we have created an in-house application, free of Wi-Fi or network considerations, that lives on the tablets during the discovery process to alleviate any connectivity or latency issues and make the transition from instructor-led to employee-engaged learning easier. We have also integrated the use of “mixed reality,” combining both virtual and augmented reality to create a 360-degree park tour team members can navigate from the classroom. This tour allows our team members in colder climates and at parks that are expanding their capital assets to view the property without physically leaving the classroom. Team members are able to “walk” through the property while viewing certain guest hot spots. They can also watch videos, receive tips for an improved guest experience and culturally immerse themselves into the employer brand experience.

The goal of the blended learning experience is to increase engagement and improve retention and recall strategies to better prepare our team members for the job ahead. Creating a more realistic job preview process in training has helped us focus on decreasing the amount of time and labor spent in the field repeating in-class concepts and expectations. We are now expanding this innovative technology across the domestic park landscape with future plans to integrate the international properties in the next year.

Training should be informative, collaborative and engaging and create some form of measurement to improve operational and financial results. Then again, training should also be entertaining and fun. Six Flags is continually looking for innovative ways to transfer learning and correlate it to our overall guest experience and team member engagement and, most importantly, retention. Integrating blended learning strategies into the learning and development landscape in the world of ever-changing technology improves preparedness and immersion into the organizational values, mission and brand.