Training transfer studies have consistently found that participants’ positive expectations – or not having negative expectations – have an impact on whether they apply their learning. Now we have some proof that participants’ expectations can be influenced by other people such as their trainer and their manager.
Neuroscientists devised an experiment where they manipulated positive and negative expectations of students while their brains were scanned and then tested their performance on cognitive tasks. To induce expectations of success they were primed with positive or negative descriptors just before asking them to perform a test. When they were primed with positive words, they performed better than when primed with negative words. Even more interesting, they responded differently to mistakes depending on whether they had been primed with the positive or the negative terms. When the mistake followed positive words, the region of the brain involved with self-reflection and recollection was engaged. When they were primed with negative words there as no heightened activity after the wrong answer. It appears that when primed with negative descriptors their brains expected to do poorly (“self-fulfilling prophecy”) and did not show signs of surprise or conflict when an error was made. However, when primed with positive descriptors, their brains reflected on what they did wrong and, presumably, worked to figure out how they could have done better.
What can we do to increase positive expectations so participants have better transfer of training to their jobs?
- Communicate with trainees’ managers prior to the training. Ask them to communicate with their employee and provide talking points about the reason for the training, how they will apply it to their jobs AND to express their positive expectations with words and phrases (descriptors) such as “I know you will pick it up”…and “a sharp person like you”….etc.
- In the class announcement, registration confirmation, and other pre-class communications, include “can do” encouraging messages with positive descriptors such as “our talented employees”…..”you clever participants”….”quick, knowledgeable”…etc.
- Pair each trainee up with a buddy. As an introductory activity either before or during training, have the buddies spend a few minutes getting to know one another. Then ask each in turn to share 3 positive adjectives or descriptors about the other.
- As an initial activity whether live or self-paced, ask the participant to think about a time when they were successful at something – at work or personally. Instruct them to think about how they felt at that time and to come up with 3 positive adjectives or descriptors about themselves. This could be recorded in the notes section of an elearning program or typed into the chat of a live virtual session.
- At the beginning of live training, in introductions or early in the training, the instructor should make an active effort to use positive descriptors for class members individually and/or as a group using phrases such as “you are a bright group of trainees”…”brilliant idea”…”I can see we have a class of excellent performers.”
By priming participants in these ways, we can increase their positive expectations and help to make their learning stick.
Until next time,