What The Training Business Can Learn From Amanda Palmer

What The Training Business Can Learn From Amanda Palmer

Punk cabaret performer Amanda Palmer wowed the thinkers gathered at the March 2013 TED conference in California. In her presentation "The Art of Asking" she spoke of her humble beginnings as the "Eight Foot Bride" human statue in Cambridge Square in Boston. It was there that she began to understand that making a real, visceral connection with people was the most important factor in her life as a performer. Her ideas apply equally well to the world of learning, since making that true, visceral connection between us instructional designers and our learners is key to success.

Amanda Palmer, The art of asking (TED Talks 2013): Don't make people pay for music, says Amanda Palmer. Let them.

In a passionate talk that begins in her days as a street performer (drop a dollar in the hat for the Eight-Foot Bride!), she examines the new relationship between artist and fan.

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Amanda Palmer Has As Much To Say About Learning As She Does About Music

Here's what she said, gently tweaked to relate to us (and our learners).

1. Be A "Connector", An "Opener"

Keeping that "direct connection" to your learners is very important. Use less than stellar reviews on a new course as a connector to go back to the client and say, “It’s okay. Learning design, done well, is an iterative process. Initial resistance is not only expected, it's almost required.” Use the connection to open eyes and minds to partnership, honest feedback and collaborative improvement ideas to take the course to where it needs to be to provide learner engagement.

2. Ask Them

Realize that your fans (learners) are potentially already on your team. Remember that the information you are about to give them will hit learners with both vastly more and vastly less experience on the subject matter. Use this to your advantage by asking for help, and then actually enlist high (or even low) performers to help you improve the product by crowdsourcing. Give them a say in the content, perhaps letting them create their own contributions to the course, activities, job aids, and “real-world” experiences. Gain the support of your learners and your clients, and your success is almost a certainty.

3. Trust Each Other

Avoid treating your learners like the enemy. Together, you are an powerful force. Divided, not only will neither of you succeed to your potential, but the failed learner actually will learn something — that training doesn't work.

4. Serve Your Learners

An ideal course wouldn't look like training at all. Perhaps it would resemble the most fascinating experience that your learners had ever seen. It would feature exactly what the learners need in order to gain the information to help them understand, complete, comprehend or yes, even enjoy learning. “Give and receive fearlessly,” as Palmer says.

5. Have Fun

Palmer says that you should not only love what you do, but see the deeper meaning of what you are doing and why, and above all, have fun doing it. Staring at a blank learning objective matrix might be a hard way to have fun, but if you don't love what you're doing, find something else to do in the learning universe that you enjoy.

6. Give It Away

This might fly in the face of corporate cost centers and profit statements, but these days, giving it away is where the traction lies. From music to news to entertainment, the trend is towards giving it away, at least until the paywall comes between us and our audience. For your learners, the cost of admission should be their attention, the ticket stub their motivation. If you can't make a learning opportunity low-to-no cost for learners while making it interesting, worthwhile and fresh, come up with your own plan to change your ways to do so.

Empowered by Amanda Palmer's outlook, can you change your behavior to be more learner-centric? Can you use these simple principles to connect more effectively with both your clients and your learners? Will you be able to serve as a reliable, trusted connector to provide your learners additional opportunities to learn, explore and increase their performance, all without knowing that they've been "trained?" Perhaps Amanda Palmer has as much to say about learning as she does about music. Maybe it's less about making people pay (invest their attention) for your product and more about letting them invest their attention in your performance improvement initiatives.

Ron Arnold, Ed.D. – Ron is a Detroit-based training manager (and scooter enthusiast) with over 25 years of experience in instructional design and creating learning products of all descriptions.


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