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What Works in Training: Variety

This month’s research-backed training technique is mixing things up and using variety. We are programmed so that our brains turn off when the same thing keeps happening. Things that are the same, our unconscious brains tell us, do not need our attention. When things are different, however, our brains wake up.


Anything new in the learning environment will catch participants’ attention. Newness is addictive to the human brain. If, however, the same learning activities are used too long or too often, they will also become repetitive and routine. So mixing things up, doing different things, and always looking for new delivery ideas becomes important for mainlining your participants’ attention and motivation.

The chunking technique lends itself to varying the learning activity, unless you use the exact same one-minute review activity every 10-20 minutes. That becomes too routine. Every 10-20 minutes, have participants do something different and/or change the delivery. Move from lecture to brainstorming, to a case study, to small group activities, to a video, to a discussion, to a demonstration, to a game, or to any of a number of other delivery methods and activities.

The higher the contrast between activities, the more attention it will get from participants. The contrast can be physical, where the participants move from place to place in the room. It can also be visual, where participants look at photos, or watch a video, or draw pictures or diagram a chart. Or the contrast can be emotional where you tell a touching or exciting story or participants share their own stories. Best of all, it might be a mix of all three of these to raise the contrast even more.

The contrast of emotional variety is often overlooked. You may have heard an instructor say something like, “This is important, so pay attention.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t really grab participants’ attention. What would grab attention? Doing something dramatic or different such as having participants determine what is most important in a scenario or how to approach a problem in a case study. This is even more effective if the scenario or case study is dramatic and full of urgency through giving the consequences of failure and imposing tight deadlines. Help agents see the consequences to their customers by telling customer stories, or help supervisors see the consequences to their direct reports by presenting from the direct reports’ viewpoint.

Showing participants how the learning can be used through simulations, games, case studies, role plays, videos, stories, and lots of other application activities is even more effective then telling people the information is important. Just be sure to mix up the application activity rather than doing the same thing all the time. Role playing is a great activity but like any other activity, it gets tiring and less effective if it is done too often. Mix things up and use a variety of training delivery methods to keep participants engaged.

In summary of the series, here are the training techniques we have reviewed that are research-proven techniques for improving training results.

As we finish up 2016, what new thing do you want to try to improve your training effectiveness in 2017?