Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. –Benjamin Franklin

Problem engaging people in learning

Child at play

Child at play

Have you conducted or attended a presentation or training and discovered that some, if not all, students were not able to pay attention to the instructor?

Even though the topic may be interesting, what makes it difficult for them to focus?


Here are some of the reasons why participants may not be able to engage:

  • They are distracted because something else is a higher priority than the lesson
  • They are disengaged due to the delivery process
  • There is a physical obstacle (e.g. they cannot hear properly)
  • They lack what it takes to comprehend the content

Three ways to empower people to learn

Regardless of the reason for disengagement, there are three ways you can attempt to engage them and enable them to get the message you are delivering:

  1. Reduce stress: The stressors can be internal or external

Some external stresses or distractions are obvious and they are relatively easy to remove. Others are subtle; such as the conference room or the office environment that reminds participants of normal work stressors and creates distracting thoughts.

When we are stressed, the limbic system in the brain hijacks our prefrontal cortex (PFC), which controls executive function, thereby limiting our learning capacity. We need to reduce stressors and make it easier to engage our PFC.

One way to solve this is to move the training away from the normal work environment to one that is more relaxing, such as in a park, a beach, or just outside the office on a lawn.

You may also integrate fun activities, humorous videos, relevant jokes or stories, or physical activity to reduce stress and engage the PFC and generate feeling of joy.

  1. Generate curiosity: Research shows that humans are inherently curious. They would definitely be interested in the content of a workshop if they are prompted to look for answers to questions related to workshop materials. So begin with raising a relevant question to inspire curiosity.

For example, I began this article with the question that is very relevant to the topic I am addressing.

  1. Enable exploration or problem solving: A toddler learns by being curious, taking actions, and concluding a lesson from the results.

For example, when I try to communicate the importance of having a vision or goal, I use a jigsaw puzzle.

puzzle 1First I have participants work on the puzzle without giving them the picture of what the completed puzzle looks like.

After they struggle for a while, I give them the picture of completed puzzle. In the former case they are unable to complete the puzzle; after they see the picture it only takes them several minutes to put it together.

They can see that the puzzle take a lot less time to complete looking at the end result.

It is easy to transpose the puzzle experience to the importance of having the vision to efficiently achieve a goal.

If you reduce stress, generate curiosity, and integrate exploration or problem solving activities, you will be amazed at how much participants are better able to learn, retain, and apply information.

What challenges have you encountered in your training and how have you been addressing them?

I would love to hear any comments or questions; please contact me at: shabbir@shabbirlatif.com.