Learner Failure: Are You Solving The Right Problem With Your eLearning Course?
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How To Address Learner Failure And Boost Employee Performance 

So, how to spot the right problem to solve in your eLearning course in order to help your employees overcome learner failure?

I recently attended a project kickoff for a client who wanted to develop an eLearning course to teach their sales team the art of the upsell. Promoting additional products to customers was an established part of the learner’s job, but for some reason, they just weren’t doing it. The Allen Interactions Team began the meeting by asking the group two questions:

  1. What do learners need to do to be successful?
    The answer to this question was agreed upon by everyone in the room: “Our employees need to introduce themselves to each customer, ask the customer if they need assistance, suggestively sell an item, and thank the customer for their business.”
  2. Why there is a learner failure in this task?
    Initially, the answer given was simple: “Well, they just aren’t doing it.” Within seconds the conference room filled with the cacophony of debate as a dozen Subject Matter Experts argued the root cause of their performance gap:

    • “They don’t know enough about our products.”
    • “No, all associates attend product training. They just don’t have the confidence to approach customers.”
    • “They are afraid of hearing objections.”
    • “They have so many other tasks to do that they don’t have the time to deal with every customer.”
    • “They don’t know they have to do this as part of their jobs.”
    • “They know they need to do this, but they have no motivation to.”
    • “The store managers aren’t enforcing our standards.”

In order to create an eLearning course that truly impacts behavior, we must identify the factors that contribute to learner failure so we can ensure the training we create addresses them. When a performance gap is identified, it is often assumed that a lack of skills or knowledge is the cause. However, we find that just as often, the real problem is the learners’ lack of confidence in their ability to perform or a lack of motivation to perform. These three potential growth areas (skills, confidence, and motivation) often overlap, but each require a different approach. Let’s continue with the above example of retail sales training to explore how to address these real performance problems.

  1. Training for skill or knowledge.
    Lack of knowledge or skill is a pretty straight forward training issue. Addressing it requires that we provide learners with relevant content in an engaging way and allow them to practice their new skills in a realistic context. There is typically a wider breadth of content for this type of training and job aids are almost always valuable here.

    • In context: In our retail training example, this might mean teaching learners about the products they will be selling and giving them opportunities to practice recommending the right products by responding to virtual customer scenarios. Depending on the complexity of the content, training to address skill or knowledge gaps may not require any post training coaching or follow-up, except on an as-needed basis.
  2. Training for confidence. 
    Lack of confidence is caused by fear. Fear of rejection, failure, conflict, being embarrassed - all of these fears can keep learners from growing and lead to learner failure. The best way to tackle fear is with reassurance and lots and lots of practice, both virtually and in person with a manager or coach. Don’t be afraid to address learner fears head on in your training. Simply saying “You are probably a little nervous about XYZ, and that’s OK! We’ll work through it together” reassures learners that they are not alone in their feelings and that their employer will help them be successful. However, repeat after me: A single learning event will not turn an anxious learner into a confident one! This type of gap requires ongoing practice and follow-up from coaches, trainers, or managers as the learner becomes more comfortable performing.

    • In context: For retail training, we might create an eLearning design where learners practice countering objections or responding to customer questions. This would give them a taste of the types of responses they might hear and examples of wording that they can use on the job. The eLearning course could be followed by a role-play activity, team meetings, and coaching.
  3. Training for lack of motivation.
    Whew, this one can be tough. Lack of motivation is almost never just a training issue, and when that is the case, training alone is not going to solve it. Perhaps learners do not perform a task because they are simply too busy with other, more critical job tasks. Maybe their manager is not enforcing the rules or requiring the type of performance expected by the corporate office. Maybe they do not feel they get paid enough, or recognized enough for their work to do more than the minimum. Maybe learners are working irregular shifts and are tired and forgetting things. Maybe they think the performance expectation is stupid, unrealistic, or impossible to do. There are a million different reasons why a learner may be unmotivated, and while we can and do create eLearning experiences that motivate learners, when the root cause is organizational, management and/or HR will need to intervene as well.

    • In context: We could create a short, motivational eLearning course with a strong “What’s in it for me?” message for learners and their managers. However, it is more critical that our client institutes organizational changes that motivate learners to perform. This might include an incentive program, changing their hiring process, implementing consequences for non-performance, and/or changing the performance review process/rubric to ensure that it addresses the required behavior.

It’s easy to see when learners aren’t doing the right things. It’s can be tough to figure out why. Do your research and dig below the surface to discover what is actually causing your performance gap. Observe and interview real learners, if you can. The insights you gain will help you create the right kind of training program for your learners’ unique challenges and skills.

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