May  10,  2017

Recently, when I picked up my high school junior from school, I asked her how her classes were. “Boring,” she said. I develop learning programs for my clients, and I never want my learners say anything like that. Usually, if our training participants aren’t stimulated, it’s because we are focused more on content delivery – unconsciously thinking of our learners as passive receptacles to be filled with content. Instead, we need to focus on engaging them. It’s easy to be bored when you’re sitting, with little to do – it’s hard to be bored when you’re taking center-stage as the star of the show.

So, I’d like to provide four tips for stimulating learner engagement:

Stimulate their brains.

Lectures are boring because they trigger only one part of the brain – the part that listens. To make your learning more impactful, try to engage as many brain systems as you can. Engage the visual cortex by surrounding the learning environment with pictures and graphics. We process images much more quickly and effectively than words, and we remember those images longer – especially if they are unique and grab our attention. By appealing to multiple brain centers, we give learners multiple paths to store and retrieve the information.

Stimulate their hearts.

People learn more when they have an emotional connection to the topic. And the best way to build emotional connection is by sharing a story. Stories bring training to life. They give us a main character that learners can relate to. We care – we root for the character through the obstacles and challenges that give the story drama and build our interest. We are drawn into the story and want to know what happens next. We cheer when the hero of the story finds a way to overcome those difficulties – and we learn a little something about how we could do the same when facing a similar challenge.

Stimulate their hands and feet.

Get learners out of their chairs and get their hearts pumping faster. Make the learners interact with and manipulate the content. Have them demonstrate content points. For example, if there are five key customer service principles you want them to remember, assign each principle to a small group and have that group come up with a dance move that represents the principle. Then have each group teach the others their dance move and pull it all together into the whole group doing the “customer service dance.” They might find it a bit silly, but they won’t be bored. And that will be one topic they remember for a long time!

Stimulate their funny bones. 

Laughter is the opposite of boredom. So make the learning fun. Use gamification to inspire some friendly competition between groups. For example, ask learners to share their funniest story from when things went wrong – you might even have them act it out as a skit or record it on video. Then, challenge the group to come up with their cleverest way to use the learning concepts to address the situation.

When learning programs activate participants’ brains, hearts, hands, feet, and funny bones, the last thing you’ll ever hear is “that was boring.”