What is the most crowded day at your neighborhood gym? January 2. After the end-of-year holiday binging, New Years presents the perfect time to put one on the straight-and-narrow of bodily repair. Sadly, by about February, the gym is back to its normal population, with most New Years Resolutions forgotten. The same happens with training.
A person – let’s call him John – attends a training class and learns all kinds of new and useful techniques. At the end of class, he swears he’s going to try to start doing at least 3 of the new tips. Within a month, though, he’s back to his old ways. If he’s lucky, maybe he’s doing one of the three tips.
Why does this happen? It’s not because John is lazy or not motivated. It’s something much more deeply wired than that. Creating a new habit requires stringing new WIREs in one’s brain:
- Want: You never change unless you really want it.
- Information: You can’t change until you know some other way to do it.
- Recall: You need to remember what you learned in order to use it.
- Execute: You need to do something new multiple times before it becomes a habit.
Most training programs are excellent at providing the information and pretty good about getting participants to want to change. Some of the better programs set up coaching or mentoring to help the learners execute more effectively. Very few programs delve into improving recall, mainly because that is something that happens after class.
Recent studies by researcher Alice Kim and others have found that asking people to remember information they learned at regular intervals after class increases their ability to recall information. In many cases, study participants increased their recall abilities more than 80%. Neurobiology explains that when you try to remember something, you create a new neural pathway to that information. The more you recall it, the more “paved” that pathway becomes, making it easier to “walk” along the “path.”
The trick to paving the path, is that you need to actively think about the information. Just having it waved in front of your eyes doesn’t do the trick. Think of it as the difference between watching a weight-lifting video and bench-pressing weights three times a week: only the one where you actively do something makes a difference!
How can your training program reWIRE people’s brains and build new neural pathways? Consider doing the following:
- Send post-course messages: Send participants emails in the first six weeks after class reminding them of key points they learned.
- Ask questions: Rather than sending them messages that give them the information, send reminders that make them search for the answers. For example, if a course included the WIRE acronym used in this article, include the W and I in the message and close by asking them what the rest of the pneumonic means. The very act of searching for that information (either in their head or on paper) deepens the neural pathway and starts rewiring the brain.
- Make questions short and to the point: In today’s information-laden world, shorter is better. The question does not need to be so complex that it requires research. The goal is to get them to remember. Of course, if the question is too easy, then no effort to recall happens and the neural pathway is not paved.
- Create the messages as part of the course development process: Think about post-training as part of building your class. In addition to creating the instructors guide, the tests, and the other components, you or your instructional designer can add one more component: a list of 12 reminder messages that can be sent according to an appropriate timetable after class. With the hard work of creation already done, creating the emails seems much less daunting.
- Create incentives to remember: Increase interest by building competition and rewards into the reminder message program. You can give participants a reward if they are the first person to respond correctly to the question in the email. Extend the interest by rewarding the person who has the most correct answers sent in first over the course of the program.
- Answer the question:, Eventually provide the answers. Asking questions without the reinforcement of providing the right answer quickly leads to frustration and avoidance. Answers either confirm their correct responses and build confidence or correct their misunderstandings.
If you are serious about working off those extra 10 pounds at the gym, ask a friend to try this approach with you: “How much did you lift last Friday?” sounds a lot less annoying than “When was the last time you worked out?” and gives you a chance to brag about your accomplishments.