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We were discussing a recent project. One of my colleagues mentioned how frustrating it was for him as a coach to get people committed to learn new skills. What surprised him, he said, was that they didn’t seem to realize just how important these skills would be for them in their workplace. This set me thinking of my own experiences. I do realize that there is a lot of truth in the old saying which says that you can’t teach anyone anything. But you can create an environment where the person seeks to learn and improve.

People learn better- and faster- when they are truly motivated to learn. There can be no general rules which apply to everybody but my experience tells me that these are 7 Ways To Facilitate Learning:

  1. People learn better when they have personal passion for a subject: Whether it can help them on the job or not, everyone has a pet subject. If something appeals to you- be it a new technology, a new language or a new skill,- you tend to be more motivated to learn it. The chances of your applying yourself more strongly to learn something that you enjoy are much stronger than your learning something you seem to dislike.
  2. People learn better when they see a co-relation between the skill and their paycheck: It’s as simple as that. If by learning a new skill, you tend to earn more or by acquiring some new competence your earning capacity increases significantly, you tend to take that much more interest. Conversely, if you do not see any impact the new skill can make on your paycheck, the less motivated you are likely to be to learn the new skill.
  3. People learn better when there is peer pressure to learn: This is a strong catalyst for learning. The fact that everyone else on the team seems to know a skill that you don’t is often a great motivator. It presents a compelling case for you to be up there with the others, be accepted in the team and be part of the core team, as it were. Excluded from the team- in subtle or sometimes more direct ways- are those who ” don’t belong”.
  4. People learn better when they are eager to learn: Intrinsic motivation always scores over external compulsions. When someone has a genuine desire to get ahead or learn something to be a better person, you will be much more motivated to go the extra mile to acquire the new skill.
  5. People learn better when they get recognition: The fact that your competence can get you a lot of recognition and attention makes you strive to be the expert in that field. Everyone likes to be acknowledged as being the best in the team. The chances of learning something to get you that extra edge to make you the recognized expert is often a strong driver to learning.
  6. People learn better when they see the learning result in career advancement: If your company is beginning operations in China, you would do well to be amongst the first to acquire skills in the Chinese language. They is no point at that stage to hone your skills in Russian. The return on learning Chinese is likely to be far more significant. Likewise, co-relation between the new skills and chances of career growth is a strong motivator to learn- and change.
  7. People learn better when they are under threat: Controversial? But true. Tell someone who shows a lack of interest in learning a new skill that he needn’t come back to work if he doesn’t acquire that skill wthin a prescribed time- and see the difference. It’s sad but true. I guess fear can be equally galvanizing as recognition. At times, the threat of losing a job or losing status on the team can be a great motivator. To put your nose down to the grind and learn something- regardless of whether you like it or not.

As I said, some factors work better for some than for others. The thrill of coaching lies in the fact that there can be no set prescriptions- as people and their circumstances vary so much. Yet I have found this useful and hope you will too.

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This is Post No: 313 of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.