"There is something about this magic formula of determination and diligence, of commitment, if you will, which has always been an ingredient in the American formula for success. It is perhaps time for teachers to carefully re-examine the concept of commitment to see wherein it truly facilitates learning..."
~ John W. Hanson, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, Educational Leadership, 1955
Anyone interested in learning and development today might be well served to consider this timeless wisdom from nearly six decades ago.
Technology now allows organizations to dramatically scale up their training efforts, offering volumes of technical capabilities, soft skills and other content not just via traditional classroom experiences but through elearning, webinars, podcasts, apps, knowledge networks and more. Content and methods have been honed and refined, using cutting edge approaches... but has learning improved? Many would argue ‘no'.
Perhaps, as Dr. Hanson suggests, it's time to "re-examine the concept of commitment." Because let's be honest: we can offer or access the highest quality, most targeted and effective content available, but if there is no motivation to learn, explore, or apply it, why bother?
Commitment to learning and development drives us to actively and openly engage in learning activities. It's the key to accessing information - to really seeking it out and letting it in. It dictates the depth and breadth of content we absorb. Commitment activates the curiosity and energy required for learning. And finally, it enables the determination and persistence that allows us to struggle and persevere despite challenges and setbacks.
What does a commitment to learning and development look like?
So, what is the key to commitment and how can training and development organizations (as well as individuals themselves) cultivate the commitment required to make an investment in learning pay off? These six R's are powerful tools to consider.
Relevance: When there's a clear connection between the content and what's important to the learner, commitment flourishes. So, build a bridge to real life. Find the personal interest or win. Identify and mine the WIIFM (what's in it for me) or ‘why bother.'
Realistic expectations: In an effort to build excitement (and enrollment), learning and development experiences are frequently ‘over-sold' as the answer to every problem facing mankind. Training departments should offer more tempered descriptions and individuals should think critically about what's possible and establish personal goals and outcomes that are doable to enhance motivation.
Rehearsal: Trying out new skills and knowledge offline in a learning or testing environment and working out the kinks with a safety net can help people development the confidence that fuels commitment. Role-plays, simulations and other activities offer the opportunity to fail early and in a supported fashion.
Relapse planning: Motivation to change or try new behaviors is frequently torpedoed the first time things do not go as planned. Research consistently proves that individuals who anticipate setbacks and have a plan for dealing with them are more inclined to continue to persevere whereas those who don't entertain such possibilities in advance tend to revert to old, safe approaches.
Rapid wins: Early success leads to greater confidence and commitment to learning and practicing new skills. So, find ways to create even small victories and build a sense of accomplishment and achievement immediately.
Responsibility to teach others: One of the most effective ways to motivate learning, build support (and even groom zealots) is to ask those who acquire new knowledge or skills to teach others. Internalizing content to the point of being able to explain it triggers a sense of ownership and willingness to defend it. And this commitment building strategy is also an excellent strategy for cascading messages and scaling a training initiative.
These six R's aren't just the domain of those responsible for teaching. Each of us as individuals can spark our own commitment by applying them when we are confronted with opportunities to learn by asking ourselves:
- Why is this relevant to me and how can I actually use what I'll learn?
- What can I realistically expect to be able to accomplish?
- Where can I rehearse and try this out in a safe environment before going ‘live' on the job?
- What could go wrong as I practice these skills and what strategies might I employ to avoid relapse?
- Where might I achieve a rapid win to build my confidence?
- Who could benefit from this same information? Who will I take responsibility to teach?
So, perhaps it's time to be as smart as we were 60 years ago. Perhaps it's time to start putting as much energy and intention into building commitment for learning and development as we do into building content... and realize Dr. Hanson's ‘formula for success' today.
It's your turn. Which of the R's "R" you committed to making happen the next time you take on a teaching or learning role?