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Take a Bit of Time to Bring Them Around

Learner Attitudes and Performance

"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou

Me: We'll let's plan the training!

Them: Um. Okay.

Me: What training to you need?

Them: None. Go away.


Your target learners' attitudes about training make a big difference. I was reminded of this recently. We had a great idea for training and development and it was going to knock their socks off. Except, it didn't. We forgot to consider our learners' opinions of training in general and this training in particular.


Pre-conceptions were getting in our way. You see, training for this organization was for those who were, shall I say, "broken." These people think training is because:

  • They've messed up.

  • They're new.

  • They don't know anything.

  • They make mistakes.

  • They aren't getting it done.

  • They need training. (As in, training is for OTHERS. I DON'T need it!)

This reality hit me. A useful reminder in the form of learner feedback to me, their trainer. So, I was reminded that know that learner attitudes about training fall into three categories:

  1. Inmates-- Those whose attitudes are generally negative. They're doing training only because they have to. "My manager sent me. What do you care?"

  2. On "Holiday"-- Those whose attitudes are generally neutral. These people generally like to do training, but have no specific application or problem to solve. They could take it or leave it, nothing personal. These people may only be here for the donuts. (In my day, we always had donuts.)

  3. Learners -- Those whose attitudes are generally positive. These people are there for a performance-based, learner-centered reason and expect to achieve competence and confidence as a result.

Thinking about these attitudes influences your decisions about communication, rationale, practice design, and feedback. Of course it does! A lesson learned again.


Attitude is a choice. So, how can we help our learners make better choices? First, how do you position training at your organization? I mean, what's it known for? Aspire to be learner-centered and performance driven. That's a good start.


Here are other lessons I've learned:

  1. Do your homework. That is, trainers should learn as much about their learners, their prior knowledge, and the relevance of the topics to solve real problems for them. Let your preparation show. That's your job.

  2. Help your learners learn the value of training. Provide problem-based learning content and provide lots of relevant practice and feedback. Position every topic, exercise, lesson, and activity in this way.

  3. Prioritize your content ruthlessly. Cut out anything that isn't tied to performance competence. Nice to know material could be looked up or avoided all together.

  4. Keep the practice and the feedback. Of the essential ingredients of good training, these may be most important. Strive for 2/3 of instructional time in application, practice, recall, problem solving, assessment, and coaching. Relevant practice improves learner attitudes!

  5. Follow up. Support your learners back on the job to follow through on what they've learned. Get your managers involved through their regular 1:1 conversations. Survey them. Interview them. Collect all sorts of information to help you.


Apply these principles, and you'll have far more learners and a lot fewer inmates and people "on holiday."


Let's try this again:


Me: Let's plan the training!

Them: Great. It's about time we did.

Me: Help me help you!

Them: That's great. We have a lot to say.


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