Unleashing Superheroes – Lessons from the Classroom

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Teachers: there are those we love and those we grimace as we remember them. Join me as I head back to school to find out what the classroom can teach us about Unleashing Superheroes. Warning: school flashbacks imminent!

As the school exam season approaches, our house is full of revision cards and my kids are finally glued to learning apps rather than Snapchat (most of the time anyway!). All this reminds me of my own school days, for better or worse… chalk screeching on the blackboard, scrunchies in every shade of neon and ‘Hey, Teacher Leave Those Kids Alone’ blaring out of my dad’s car stereo.



I’m beginning to think Pink Floyd weren’t just ahead of their time musically but also had something to say about how we learn today. They were on to something, not for the kids, but for online learners!

Online learning is not the same as classroom training and that’s a good thing. We’ve come along way since the days of grey traditional eLearning. Modern online learning has taken all the best parts of face-to-face training and broken down the classroom walls to bring learning to people wherever and whenever they need it. Pink Floyd would be proud – the revolution is here!

Hey! Teacher, Leave those Learners Alone

L&D pros beware! To create successful online learning we need to avoid taking on bad teaching habits. Whether you’re delivering blended learning or pure online training, these lessons from the schoolhouse will help you create lasting behavioural change.

Social Strengths

One of the most common arguments in favour of classroom training is the teacher’s presence. When done well, face-to-face learning can build strong relationships between student and teacher. This enables students to ask questions and get immediate answers.  

Yet, today’s eLearning can offer similar opportunities and more! Social learning features such as ‘Ask the Expert’ and Messageboards, mean online learners can share their knowledge and learn from each other. Rather than getting one answer from a trainer, learners can tap into the range of expertise from throughout their organisation or institution. This celebrate employees’ knowledge and encourages collaboration.

Heaps of Personality

Good teachers need heaps of personality…and capes…and Blandblasters!

Successful classroom training usually comes down to personality – the personality of the trainer and how much they are able to connect with their students. However dull a subject is, a brilliant teacher can bring the content to life and make it stick in our minds long after the lesson’s over. 

This passion can be recreated in online learning by building the content around a strong narrative and adding heaps of Epic Meaning to keep learners engaged.

Lessons from the Bad Teachers

OK, so you may be thinking these teachers don’t sound so bad. Watch out… For every Miss Honey there’s a Miss Trunchbull! As instructional designers we need to steer clear of bad teaching habits!  

Don’t let your training become as dull as Mr Ditchwater or as monosyllabic as Professor Snape. Let’s take a closer look at where these teachers got it wrong, so we don’t follow in their footsteps.

Mr Ditchwater 

One of the big problems with much of the traditional eLearning out there is this: it’s dull as ditchwater. In the modern world of endless digital distractions, online training needs to be engaging enough to grab and hold learners’ interest. Research shows 60% of face-to-face students find their lectures dull and 75% use daydreaming to cope with boredom. It’s clear, even if people are physically present they may not be learning.

So, how do you engage and hold your online learners’ interest? Avoid delivering reams of boring text and endless slides to your learners. Instead, infuse your training with fun and personality! Why not use gamification and gaming templates to bring the content to life and engage learners through healthy competition?

Professor Snape

Professor Snape was probably talking about some pretty awesome stuff – who wouldn’t want to know about love potions or how to finally cure hiccups? However, few of his students ever listened to him because Snape droned on in classic monotone teacher voice.

When it comes to eLearning, it’s easy to think that adding some audio or video content will spice things up enough to engage your learners. Yet, if you simply transfer reams of boring text into hours of dull audio, the outcome will be the same: stupefied learners. Make the content engaging and meaningful. Why not break long units down into more digestible chunks of bite-size learning? This will help to keep engagement levels soaring higher than a Nimbus 2000!

Miss Trunchbull

As most of us know, it’s no good using a metaphorical dark cupboard or sharp javelin to intimidate learners into completing training. Why? Because when we do things because we have to, we rarely learn.

People may do compulsory training to avoid the consequences, even if the consequences are simply endless reminder emails. However, if your training fails to engage learners they’re unlikely to apply their new knowledge in the real world.

This will lead to the dreaded Forgetting Curve, with learners forgetting 90% of what they learned within first month! Chokey or no Chokey, without engagement you won’t create lasting behaviour change.

Mr ‘Eat-Your-Meat-Laddie’

Who could forget the strained voice of the teacher in Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’? He bellows – “Eat your meat Laddie. If you don’t eat yer meat you won’t get any pudding!” This exasperated teacher seems to have got a bit confused over whether to use the carrot or the stick to motivate his pupils! So, he opts for both. Big mistake.

Whether you’re offering students pudding or learners points, rewards won’t work if they’re not delivered within the context of Epic Meaning. Learners’ won’t care about aiming for a badge or the next level if they don’t understand what’s in it for them (WIIFM). Just like Pink Floyd’s ‘Laddie’ may have been a vegetarian and not liked the dessert – if you don’t understand your learners’ needs and wants you won’t engage them.

Another Brick in the Wall

The important thing to remember when designing training is – make it personal! Don’t let your learners feel like just another brick in the wall. Build the training around a clear narrative and make it super engaging. Add Epic Meaning to ensure the eLearning is tailored to each learner’s’ personal wants and needs, as well as the wider company goals. Above all, answer learners’ most important question – ‘What’s In It For Me?’

Whatever you do, remember, learning doesn’t have to be grey and boring. Have fun on the way to successful behaviour change!

I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane… Now I need to go and recover from all those flashbacks of tight school ties and Bunsen burner mishaps! If you’re eager to learn more about the dos and don’ts of creating lasting behaviour change, all will be revealed in my upcoming book Unleashing Superheroes. But for now it’s home time everyone… and remember to eat your meat!


PS: Want to find out more about the online classroom revolution? Download our corker of a whitepaper: Classroom Training Goes Tech. I love it!


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