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how to conquer learner apathy?


Our organisation has a wide and varied training programme using blended learning approaches and a employing a high level of skilled coaches and mentors. However, there is a serious apathy amongst staff, starting with the managers to even think they need to do any development. The first thing they then moan about on staff surveys is lack of what they see as "training". Any suggestions on how to envigorate staff to take learning seriously would be greatly appreciated. I have tried getting area managers to appraise managers on their ability to develop staff but they are not interested and the inefficiency route is never used so there isnt even a stick incentive to get people to take learning seriously. Help please
craig mitchell

7 Responses

  1. Learning Styles Analysis
    Maybe you could start gently here and conducted a large scale learning styles analysis within the organisation.

    The staff might discover that “the training” on offer is actual more suited to their learning styles than classroom delivery as an outcome of the exercise.

    You as a department might discover that “the training” you offer is not as well suited to the average learner within your organisation as you might like.

    Or you might find that you meet somewhere in between.

    I would say that maybe you are getting lost in the rush to “deliver a learning culture” rather than supporting a training culture. Classroom delivery and group activity still have there place within learning – whether senior managers like it or not. It is easier for many people (me included) to learn with others in an environment where they can learn from other trainees experiences as well as from a trainer.

    Just in time training delivered in the workplace one-to-one is not as useful for many as the classroom event and honestly e-learning is almost always dull and unstimulating (it doesn’t matter how many videos you put in, it’s still hugely unengaging and I’ve yet to see anything to seriously convince me otherwise).

    So perhaps another option would be to survey your staff about what they want and start delivering that, and then use a gradual cultural shift within that to broaden take up for other programmes.

    I’m not being critical of what you do – as I don’t actually know what it is you do – but it feels from the question that you as a department are trying to achieve “best practice” without determining if it suits the actual needs of the organisation.

  2. Target Personal Development
    I too have faced exactly the same issue, in the past. The only way to seriously change this is to get senior managers, from the Chief Officer down, to make personal development a key result area for the whole organisation.

    One result of this is that everyone has a specific target to commit x amount of hours to training/development & education each month. The key here is to link development into achievement of other organisational goals, career development and, if possible, link it as a key factor in acheiving bonuses, ad hoc pay awards and performance related pay.

    In my experience, learner apathy can only be beaten if the issue is tackled from the top down – not sure how much influence you have but hope this helps.

    Good Luck


  3. Apathy Rules…I suppose!
    So training is once again either the problem or the solution..or neither! The last bit of advice is sound…what exactly are the learning needs of the staff? Sorry to be harsh, but if you are not providing what they want & need (and notice the difference between the two!) than they will never be motivated to attend any sort of learning event, training or otherwise! However the problem is by no means insurmountable. As a specialist in raining Consultancy I’d be very happy to help you out here, but I need much more information. Give me a call/e-mail there are I suspect a few simple moves that you could start to make that would have a significant impact on what you are trying to achieve…07733 366 771

    Kind regards


    Alefounder Associates
    Delivering Business Benefits through Coaching & Training.

  4. Stop trying to drive the wrong solution.
    Apathy is a state that is generated by the environment that we find ourselves in.
    People are not naturally apathetic.

    People become apathetic at work because of the way they are treated.

    If apathy is displayed towards training then it is their experience of training that has made them apathetic.

    That experience could be a number of things from being ordered to take training to being given inappropriate training.

    Whatever the reason, their experience of training has set an expectation that it is wasting their time.

    Ways to increase their apathy.
    Force them to take more training.
    Continue to provide the same training.

    Ways to get rid of their apathy.
    Find out what they want and give it to them, when they want it.

    We all want to do a good job.
    If something helps us to do a good job we will embrace it and work with it.

    If something is not helping then we resist it.

    Instead of wasting more energy trying to drive the wrong solution just find out what you are doing wrong (ask the workforce) and stop doing it.

  5. TRaining Apathy
    There are a number of common problems I experience as a training consultant visiting a wide range of client companies.

    Firstly where training is seen as punitive – “we have continually asked you to improve you haven’t so we are sending you on a training course – if that doesn’t work you are on a formal warning” That really sets the tone.

    Secondly where the delegates do not know why they are attending the course – what are the objectives and what they need to take away so they approach the training in a reserved even suspicious manner.

    Thirdly where delegates have repeatedly asked for training but are sent on courses where they fail to see the relevance to their work and advancement. Again confusion and resentment.

    Then there is the experience of past training where their expectation is more of the same.

    Just a few of the areas that cause apathy – how do you overcome it – Involve the staff early, explain the purpose for and the outcomes of the training. Make sure training is seen as a reward not a punishment. Finally get rid of the “oh you’ve been on a course you will soon get over it” mentality that manifests itself on their return to work.

    Managers should be positively involved with their staff prior to the training and follow up after it.

    Training is not the solution for poor morale but it certainly a major contributor to maintaining high morale

  6. Prisoners Vacationers Students?
    Most of the excellent advice offered by other contributers doesn’t seem to address what actually happens in the training itself. The dynamics in the room, the ability of the coaches / mentors / trainers to influence the learner so that s/he accepts responsibility for hir own own learning.
    Vacationers, Prisoners,and Students turn up on training.
    Vacationers treat it as bit of a break, a chance to gossip, to have a laugh.
    Prisoners, resentfully forced to be there, will often sulk or sabotage and refuse to learn anything.
    Students are those who decide to make the most of the opportunity on offer.
    No matter in which mode they turn up, I think it partly MY responsibility to engage people’s interest so that they WANT to learn. Most of the time my approach is effective.
    I seek to confound their expecations and to make the training a challenging and changing experience for all of us.
    I start from where they are, then set about intriguing, entertaining, inviting them into a different state of mind.
    Even if I’m presenting on something intrinsically dull, I will make the process of learning compensate for the material.

    Although, obviously, there is a topic and an agreed outcome, I almost never have a set agenda. I ‘make it all up’ as I go along. Create exercises based on the personalities, attitudes and behaviours in the room, always bringing it back to the contracted theme or topic or outcome.

    When I train mentors, I focus very much on motivational skills and techniques. I do so because, if delegates or mentees are apathetic, the trainer or mentor needs to be able to move and motivate them. Motivational skills are different than training skill. Without the ability to motivate people, blended learning will be like water on the hot sand.
    The apparent dichotomy between all the ‘wide and varied training’ and the moaning about ‘lack of training’ on staff training surveys is interesting – and probably important.
    It suggests that the staff WANT to learn but the training does not ‘speak to their condition’!
    You say ‘blended’ and the staff say ‘blanded’ – (you could call the whole thing off)!
    E-mail if you’d like a couple of my articles that might be relevant and interesting.
    Go well
    Michael Mallows

  7. WIFM
    Seems like the programmes are failing the WIFM test.

    I can think of only two possible reasons for this:
    – perceptions of course content/delivery (whether accurate or not)
    – reward systems (very broadly interpreted).

    People are essentially calculating an ROI. Social, educative, performance benefits divided by social, educative, performance costs. Something in the organisation is telling them it doesn’t add up.

    You’ve got expectancy (or VIE) theory (eg Vroom) in action.


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