So, last week I took a bit of a time-out from fighting the good fight. I thought I’d earned a TV night, you know – something relaxing to unwind to. ‘What could be more relaxing than a nature documentary’, I thought to myself, switching over to Planet Earth on BBC1.
15 minutes later, I was a screaming ball of fear as I watched a to-the-death confrontation between a baby iguana and a racer snake. It was (and I’m not exaggerating) the most intense piece of TV I’ve ever encountered.
Once the thrilling conclusion (no spoilers) passed, I was so wound up, not even a dancing bear could have calmed me down.
Okay, I tell a lie – the dancing bear worked a treat!
The whole episode really got me thinking – before I’d sat down, I didn’t care about iguanas or snakes (I am a big dancing-bear fan though). By the time the show was over, I had a head full of facts and I’d had fun in the process. But maybe my head was full of facts because I’d enjoyed the experience.
Why can’t all learning be like that, I ask you!?
TV shows like Planet Earth are successful because the makers know how to engage viewers. As learning professionals, we can learn a lot from these guys. If we used the same tricks as they do, people might actually start to love learning again.
Education would be the next Pokemon Go! Employees everywhere would be focused like lasers on their career progression. Meanwhile, there’d be a whole world revolution – people would burn their dull training manuals in a dustbin outside. They’d find all the training managers that didn’t care about engagement and march them through the streets in a procession of shame!
It would be awesome! No – it WILL be awesome! We just have to make the training as compelling as possible, and here’s what it needs to have:
A Bit of Mystery
Don’t play all your best cards in the first stage of the game. Tease your learners and tickle their curiosity. Just like a face-off between iguana and snake, it’s only truly thrilling when you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Your people won’t connect with an abstract concept no matter how much you want them to. Create characters that your employees can relate to, with problems they would recognise.
A Twisting Narrative
Well, at the very least, you need a well-structured story (plot twists are a bit trickier). I have Robert McKee’s book, Story on my bookshelf and it’s full of insider tips from a huge Hollywood screenwriter. It’s a bit of a brick, but if you’re serious about creating a real blockbuster of a training programme, it’ll help you get the story just right!
Guys, if you don’t care about the training, then why on earth would your learners? Make sure that you put your heart and soul into your training content and don’t settle for half-measures. Yes, it’s difficult; yes, it’s exhausting; but once you can infect your learners with the same enthusiasm, you’ll see that it was all worth it!
A Touch of Random
Sometimes, when you want to get someone’s attention, you need to put on a clown suit and slap them between the eyes with a rubber chicken!
Don’t be afraid to do something crazy (in moderation of course). Invent some magical creatures that can pop up and surprise the learners and convince them that no, this isn’t ‘just another learning unit’.
If you’ve got a great story and realistic characters (and a dragon called Sean who plays the harmonica), your content is going to keep your people entertained and educated. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, but like so many things, first impressions matter.
Even if you can’t quite nail ‘jaw-droppingly gorgeous’, at least try to avoid making it scratch-your-eyes-out ugly.
At the heart of your thrilling narrative masterpiece lies an organisational objective and it’s down to you to make it a reality. Keep reminding yourself what it means to work in your organisation. Your learners shouldn’t just work for a salary – they should see the bigger picture and know their place in it.
Finally, keep things as interesting and varied as possible. If you keep doing the same things, the training will get repetitive and stale. Mash it up with different activities, throw in a few head-to-head challenges, or just ask your learners what they think every now and again. If they can see the topic from every angle, they’ve got a better chance of understanding it and eventually applying what they’ve learned.
There you go – a few spices to add to your training casserole! I’d love to know what you guys use to turn your education into entertainment. If you have any top tips for delighting your learners, hit me up on Twitter! There’s a good chance I’ll be absorbed in Planet Earth, so I’ll just thank you in advance!