Think back to the last training course you attended.
How long after the course did you ask yourself, “What did I learn?” - only to realize that you didn’t learn much at all.
Chances are the course may have done little to grab and hold your attention, allow you opportunities to contribute your knowledge and experience or deliver the content in a way that made it easy and worthwhile for you to remember.
Research from the book Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded): 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School highlights research-backed principles of how the brain learns. How these principles are applied in a learning environment determines how well you, as the student, will learn the material. Based on the principles, here’s what we know doesn’t work:
If the instructor talks the majority of the time, YOU are not learning.
If you are sitting the majority of the time, YOU are not learning.
If the course presentation is mostly words or bullet points and very few images, YOU are not learning.
If the content and presentation encourage mostly listening and little note taking, YOU are not learning.
If the content is presented for extended periods of time without built-in pauses to review, YOU are not learning.
If the content on the slides always appears the same to the point that it becomes predictable, YOU are not learning.
Do a quick mental evaluation of the last training course that you attended. How many of these principles did you experience?
To create an optimal learning environment based on these Brain Rules principles:
Students must be given frequent opportunities to contribute (ask questions and discuss the content).
Students must be given opportunities to move around the room during the course time and not just during breaks.
The course presentation slides must contain more images and fewer bullet points.
The content should encourage discussion and note-taking.
The course should have frequent, built-in reviews of the material just covered.
The course presentation slides should contain a variety of layouts so that the content is unpredictable.
As a Trainer, You Know This is True
Over the last 7 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with over 600 trainers in my Facilitating Engagement Workshop. As part of that workshop, I give participants the opportunity to evaluate the courses they have taught using these six principles, among other criteria. Through this process, the overwhelming consensus has been that, as trainers, they acknowledge that they have failed at properly applying these principles in their training courses.
And that’s ok. In my workshop, that’s the necessary reality the participants must acknowledge (and the pain point they must examine) before they are willing to improve their training skills.
And my main approach to improvement is by showing them how to create a learning experience that is engaging, memorable and unexpected - what I call The EMU Experience.
Training Event vs Learning Experience
There are plenty of training events out there. An event is where you arrive for the class to find a seating setup pretty much like what you experienced throughout all of your public education. An event is where the instructor begins the class by stating that he or she has a LOT of material to cover. An event is where the instructor kicks into “Show up and throw up” mode - talking non-stop until a hand is raised from the audience. For me, a key distinction of an “event” is a passive audience.
And when you have a passive audience, you can pack a tremendous amount of content into the course time. I’m not sure what the world record is, but I have been witness to a 4-hour training “event” that delivered 247 content-heavy slides.
If we apply these Brain Rules principles to training events, the majority of such events fail miserably in being able to facilitate learning. A metric that has been kicked around the training industry for many years indicates that in formal classroom training (which I will categorize here as an “event”), there is typically only 10-20% retention of the material. What if FedEx only delivered 10-20% of packages to your customers…would that be acceptable?
So, yes, we need to be aware of and begin to properly apply the Brain Rules principles. But more than that - and this is the heart of my approach - we should focus on the things we can do as instructional designers and trainers to make our courses engaging, memorable and unexpected. That moves us beyond the realm of just another learning event and allows us to create a learning experience? And doesn’t an experience imply something that you are more likely to remember…because it was relevant to you at the moment...and delivered something unexpected?
Creating the EMU Experience
When we deliver engaging, memorable and unexpected, we create The EMU Experience. And that is what this blog is all about. And while my focus is mostly on corporate training - since that has been my extensive experience - The EMU Experience can be applied in other areas. I’ve successfully applied EMU in my work as an adjunct instructor of Psychology, to team-building events, employee engagement activities, onboarding, presentations, company meetings and videos.
I think attendee expectations for training courses, meetings, etc. are low. Most come in distracted by everything else they are doing or have going on, so they could care less. Others have no knowledge coming in of exactly WHAT to expect, so they have no baseline. Many may assume that they get to arrive and be a passive audience.
For us as training professionals, let’s strive to integrate The EMU Experience into our deliverables.
Why Bring an EMU to your next Training Course?
What’s the worst that could happen? As we raise the bar for what we offer as professionals, we show our customers what’s possible. They, in turn, begin to expect bigger and better from us, which forces us to grow even more. We grow personally and professionally, and our customers get to experience engaging, memorable and unexpected training/meetings/events/team-building/onboarding/presentations/videos.
So, what’s one training deliverable that you can enhance by making it an EMU Experience?