Helping people prepare to learn

Six factors that will lay solid foundations for the learning journey ahead

Facilitators, trainers, coaches, they tend to be a positive bunch. Full of belief in people’s potential, creative in sparking change, reveling in playing some small role in others growth. If you gather a group together though, and challenge them to reveal their biggest frustration, I’m confident “unprepared, unbriefed learners” would be high on their grouch list.


“Managers rarely talk to people about their learning or performance objectives”

“they never explain how this training programme fits the business goal”

”learners rarely bother to do the pre-course work”.


Whilst I do not want to alleviate line managers of their responsibilities here, there is a deeper piece of work that is necessary to ensure individuals can truly lean into their learning. To help them become high performing learners if you like, with the greatest chance of achieving their performance outcomes. And that work is very much the remit of an experienced learning professional, not the line manager or stakeholder.


This work I am referring to is essentially the very start of their learning journey and as such should happen as early as possible. As soon as the individual becomes aware they will be embarking on that journey. Sure, if the individual has signed up to the programme themselves, maybe self-funded, is self-aware and super motivated then some if not all of the following may not be necessary. In all other circumstances though there are six factors that can make or break their learning performance: their level of motivation, their commitment, their self-awareness, their understanding of how they will practice and reflect and finally their role and relationships in the team or learning group. Working with them to establish solid foundations in these six areas is helping set them up to succeed.


So how do we do this? Well, it’s not a pre-course questionnaire. It’s not an e-learning module. It’s not an icebreaker at the start of Workshop 1. To do this properly, to the right level of depth and understanding, is a coaching conversation, or for some a coaching process. Individual conversations that challenge any limiting beliefs, build awareness and construct the framework of these 6 factors. Resulting in an individual that takes complete responsibility for their learning and drives you, the facilitator to support them at the highest possible level.


We’ll start with motivation. If there is no intent, no purpose that resonates, no “why” for participating fully in the learning journey, well, the rest is largely pointless. Explore their perspectives on the relevance and importance of this learning journey to them. What difference would success make to them, their own performance? If there is a lingering belief that this is not a priority, help them unpack this. Discover what needs to happen for them to build belief, to lean into the possibilities the learning could uncork and to become excited about it. This won’t be a one-off conversation if there is strong resistance and may involve others such as managers and peers to help them discover their purpose. An unmotivated learner who see’s no purpose in the journey will act like an anchor on the journey and potentially disrupt the group.


Assuming motivation is present or at least growing, then we can begin to establish the level of commitment required for them to succeed on this journey. This involves conversation around not just time but the focus on weaving their learning into their workflow. So that the formal learning element of their journey is not an interruption and not viewed in isolation. That they commit to taking responsibility for their own journey, that they commit time to practice and reflection, that they seek feedback, that they commit to contributing to the group. Helping them understand and commit (right at the start) to the responsibility needed to thrive in their learning journey will payback tenfold as that journey progresses.


As you help lay the foundations of motivation and commitment, it is important to shine some context on this in terms of their current performance/behaviours/skill levels. How truly aware are they of their current level? What is this awareness based on? How objective is this? Often you will have people at the two ends of the scale here, over inflated views or under inflated views. And yes you can use tools like 360 degree feedback to help build greater awareness but these can be based upon varying standards and expectations. A really useful exercise to gain some real insight and awareness is to encourage deliberate practice in the learning focus. So, for example, if you are developing a coaching approach, set up coaching practice sessions with well-structured feedback. Before any of the formal programme has started. A real, hands on method to set their awareness at a tangible and objective level against the expectations. The greater their awareness heading into the programme, the more open their filters will be to the learning they can absorb.


This neatly sequences with the next two factors. These are practical and hugely important aspects of their learning journey but can too often be left to chance. Firstly, practice. Proper, deliberate practice to develop the “muscle” of the new behaviours/mindset/skillset. Practice with peers, with team members, with their manager, with you. How will they do this? With who? When? Where? How will they gather feedback? Helping them plan this in advance gives far greater chance for it happening and happening well!


Then there is reflection. Not just a few minutes of quiet time at the end of each workshop, but deliberate, high-quality reflection. Onan individual basis, in pairs or small groups and as a whole group. How do they reflect? How can they make sure they do this well? When will they do this? What do they need to set up to make sure this happens and happens well? What can you do to support this and make sure this crucial learning skill is ingrained in their learning journey?


Last, but not least, we turn our attention to their role in the group. How ready are they to be vulnerable in the learning sense with the group? To share their concerns, questions, mistakes, and trust these will be handled positively. As learning experiences. How will they handle feedback and challenge from their peers and you as their facilitator? And are they ready to contribute to others success, through challenging, motivating and supporting other’s journeys? I will explore the group work that can be done here in a separate blog but there is individual work to build the willingness and trust to be an active contributor to the groups learning journey.


With solid foundations in these 6 areas, individuals are now well placed to map out high quality, intensely relevant performance outcomes for themselves. Outcomes that will serve as a GPS beacon for them as they navigate their journey. And you as their facilitator will know, at a deep level the role you need to fulfil to help them along that journey.


Motivated, committed, self-aware learners who have a clear plan of how they will practice and reflect and who understand their role in their “learning” team. No grouching from this facilitator!

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