Spreading the word: how language can help L&D

Language skills
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Designing courses, curriculums and content for learners within your place of work is all very well, but what happens if that material simply sits on a learning system gathering (virtual) dust?

If you want to motivate people to use it, you need to change people’s perceptions of what L&D can actually do for them. And that’s where language can come in.      

Shake off the language of L&D

Like pretty much any profession, L&D is up to its neck in acronyms, abbreviations and phrases that are – quite frankly – a little bit hard to make sense of.

Pulling 70:20:10 or SMART objectives or LNAs out of the bag might merit a badge of honour in some circles, but it’s certainly not going to help learning gain the respect of the very people it’s there to help: normal folks on the lookout for ways to do their job better. 
 
When I work with L&D teams who are revamping the way they interact with the rest of the business, I start by putting their language under the microscope.

Just as Apple won’t sell me an iPhone by telling me it has fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating on front, I’m not going to rush to sign up for a course about corruption in the workplace if it promises that at the end of it I’ll know how to protect information and how to access it with a view to continuity of evidence.

I think L&D’s average learner cares less about broad learning objectives and more about what’s in it for them. I worked with an L&D team that changed the name of its mandatory training on ‘bribery in the workplace’ to the ‘keep you out of the clink’ course. I bet they’ve changed learners’ perceptions as a result. And raised a smile or two along the way.
 
Shake off the language of L&D, and you’ll have a much better chance of motivating people about what learning can do for them. 

Make it personal

Here’s the thing: we’ve got a much better chance of motivating people if they can see a direct connection between what they’re learning and what they do. So rather than positioning training on some higher plane, make it personal.

What does it mean to someone in the warehouse, the call centre or at reception? How will doing this particular workshop or using this checklist or resource help them get a new skill, or polish one they already have? How can it help them in the job they’re doing now? And will it help them do the job they’d like to have in a year’s time? 

You’ll get a better response if you think of just one reader.

When I run writing workshops, I push people to focus on who their reader is. To really step into their shoes: how are they feeling? Will they be reading your words on a four-inch screen on a crowded train or while swivelling on a chair at their desk?

Even if your words – about new training programmes or away-days or learning platforms – are heading to many people, you’ll get a better response if you think of just one reader.
 
So find a link between that big picture stuff –  your brand’s purpose, vision or values – and a real person standing in front of you in the queue for a coffee. If a message feels personal, then you’re much more likely to draw your reader in.

Get people talking about it

I’ve been thinking about learning Portuguese for a while now. My local college offers some evening courses, and a couple of times a year a brochure comes through the letterbox. I’ve seen posters in the library and thought about signing up. But I never have.
 
Instead I’ve started dabbling with Duolingo. Not because I saw an ad. But because I kept on looking at the screen of someone who sits behind me at work and wondered why he was playing around with French verbs most lunchtimes. I asked what he was up to and he told me about it. So I thought I’d give it a try myself.

There’s no hard sell. No dense grammatical mazes to wade through. And definitely no learning objectives. Just an app that someone told me about in passing, and I tried out for myself. And you know what? It’s good.
 
Now think about the kinds of learning you’ve got at work. What’s the likelihood of someone peering over a colleague’s shoulder because they’re curious about what they’re doing on the learning management system?

We’re obsessed with what other people have to say about stuff

Getting people to talk about what L&D can bring to the rest of the business is a sure-fire way of promoting what’s available. You see, we’re obsessed with what other people have to say about stuff (unless we know they’re the person doing the selling, and then we get cynical).

Even if I’m only buying a pair of headphones on Amazon, I’ll scour through the reviewers’ comments before I buy. Bizarrely, I’m a thousand times more likely to believe Tony from Newcastle than I am to believe Sony.
 
Similarly, after running a session on storyboarding, one client invited participants to say what they thought of it on camera afterwards. The ‘happy sheets’ L&D typically uses for feedback stay in a filing cabinet somewhere. These ‘happy video clips’ doubled up as a movie trailer for the course.
 
We can’t force people to talk about what we’re up to in L&D. But if we create content that’s personal, easy for them to make sense of, and even interesting, then we’ve got a much better chance that our colleagues will talk about it without us even asking.

About Georgina Bromwich

Georgina Bromwich

Georgina Bromwich is a writer and trainer at language consultancy, The Writer.

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