You can lead a horse to the water but you cannot make him enjoy the view

horse water

“How can you assure us that every participant will be engaged in your workshop?” was asking a client recently. “I can’t assure you of that, I am afraid. My role is to create the conditions for each style of learner to feel comfortable in engaging, but at the end of the day it also depends on the willingness of each of them.” was my answer.

Learner engagement is critical to successful training but who is responsible for it? The facilitator, the learner HR, the business? In my opinion, it is everyone’s responsibility.

The facilitator’s responsibility is to ensure that content is relevant to the audience, the facilitation techniques are varied enough to create a certain rhythm to the session, the mix between activities, debriefs, facilitated discussions and content download is balanced in a way that satisfy all learning styles and to create a compelling story that links back to the business environment learners evolve in. This is why conducting a detailed training need analysis, through focus groups with HR and the business is critical. This can help the facilitator in understanding the specific requirements of the business, the level of content required and the outcome expected by the business, as well as gathering enough organization specific examples that can be used in the session.

The learner’s responsibility, apart from showing up, is to figure out why they are attending a training program. Whether they have been nominated by their management or have nominated themselves, each participant needs to know why it is they want to get from the program and how it is going to help them achieve their aspiration, whether professional or not. If nominated by their management, participants can have a quick discussion with their supervisor to better understand how the program fits into his/her own professional development plan and also discuss tangible expected outcomes.

HR, or the L&D Department’s, responsibility is to make sure the right participants are nominated for the right learning event, that each of them know the “why” behind the nomination and to provide with a conducive learning environment. In order for nominations to be relevant, training program nominations must be linked to competency mapping and assessment center results. This ensures that employees are not “shipped” to any blanket skill building program that they might, or might not, really need. Context setting, by email or as an introduction to the program, is also key in framing the program within the larger organizational scenario and allows participant to create a ‘line of sight’ between their developmental aspirations and the requirements of the business. As for the environment, most companies have now understood that putting 25 learners in a board room that can fit 15 people, doesn’t work. a conducive environment is one that limits the amount of potential interruptions, provides enough space for activities and facilitated discussions and is comfortable enough to enable learners to focus.

Operations very often think that training is not their responsibility. They couldn’t be more wrong. Learner engagement starts and finishes on the floor through discussions between potential learners and their supervisors and with on-the-job support to apply learning.. Ideally, learners, when nominated, should approach their management to get clarity on the purpose of the nomination but it is the management’s responsibility to make sure this discussion happens. The role of the manager is also to provide clarity of context and objectives to employees they send for training. This, once again, allows to create the ‘line of sight’ that adults need in order to engage in learning. The other responsibility of the business, is to ensure that they provide the right conditions for learners to feel comfortable in applying whatever they learned in their training program, especially when talking about behavioral training. Training programs are only a short event for learners to take the time to reflect on what, and how, they are doing, and learn new skills. Even if the program includes skill practice sessions, this needs to be sustained when they get back to work. The only people that can create the right conditions for this to happen is the business itself.

According to my experience, if everyone works together to create these conditions, we will all maximize the chance to create an engaging learning environment for a maximum of learners.

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This entry was posted in Business, Consulting, Learning and Development, Training and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to You can lead a horse to the water but you cannot make him enjoy the view

  1. pauldrasmussen says:

    Reblogged this on Organisational Learning and Development and commented:
    I think this is a great little article, and I agree with it wholeheartedly. L&D is responsible for the content and the delivery, but the individual learners and the managers who send them are responsible for engagement and understanding of why the person is on this particular course at this particular time and transfer of learning when they get back to the workplace.

  2. Hi Guillaume, great post. I enjoyed reading it and it’s an important reminder that learning and improving performance requires input and support from many areas within organisations, not just L&D.

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