If You Had to Weave a Hammock, How Would You Learn?

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Aug 24, 2018

Let’s say you were tasked with learning how to weave a hammock. Which way would you prefer to learn? An in-person classroom setting, a podcast that explains weaving steps, an instructional video so you can see what’s happening, or a self-led approach (just let me try it and see what happens)? The subject and the goal are the same, but the nature of our brains determines how we absorb this new information.

Think of options for employee training much like options for learning how to weave a hammock. In the business world, sometimes employee training can be burdensome, too task-oriented or just downright boring. But it doesn’t have to be! If you can embrace the idea that your training program can be diverse and address the needs of the modern learner, then you have a better chance of helping your company achieve its goals.

It’s becoming more common for companies to seek improvement of their employee training programs’ ROI — particularly for revenue-generating departments like sales — but they are unsure how to engage the modern learner. Some of us are athletes, some of us are mathematicians and some of us are artists, but only a lucky few have intuitive skills across all of those inclinations. So the question is, can you accommodate the needs of each individual, maintain the integrity of your content and not break the bank?

Start with the senses. Training programs based on a “See, Hear, Do, Say” model replaces the passive “watch this video” or “take this test” model. In order for people to truly understand something, they need to see, hear, feel, touch and talk about it; all students, from medical school to line workers, absorb information this way.

Experiential learning can yield a retention rate of up to 90%, far better than alternate approaches, so why not take advantage of that with your next training program? Here are some strategies to consider for your next employee training project:

Offer choice

Self-direction and freedom of choice in education are what led to great models like Montessori. To apply that idea, think about how you can integrate self-led learning into your training. For one of our clients, we created an immersive training experience where participants learned about the typical patient’s journey from diagnosis to treatment by traveling through a museum-like gallery. Participants were free to explore different “artifacts” and move throughout the staged area in whichever order they pleased. Audio clips, accessed through smart phones or tablets, helped deliver key insights and information.

Another company opted for an “Exploratorium” training environment to provide a multi-sensory experience. This arcade-style learning event included a combination of presentations, interactive applications, testimonial booths and activity areas. Post-event, participants demonstrated their proficiency in the form of  pop-up quizzes on their iPads.

We have seen that matching a highly sensory and immersive experience with practical application and interactive exercises is successful not just in knowledge transfer, but with employee satisfaction. The choice approach empowers the learners to make decisions about what they are most interested in, while also having to complete the same training as everyone else.

Incorporate “Purposeful Play”

In our experience, the most important thing from a  training perspective is “purposeful play,” which, simply put, is interactive fun. In order for an educational tactic to be effective, it has to stick quickly. To do that, we found that companies really need to make training entertaining. Use of “up on your feet” activities or interactive teach back sessions can help solidify knowledge transfer.

For example, one client sought participants’ retention of key information that was being delivered at a rapid pace within a live classroom setting. To ensure participants could adequately absorb and digest the content, we had them engage in various “talent competitions” covering  different subject areas. Each table had an “imagination box” with relevant props, and participants had to create and deliver a one-minute performance showcasing their recall of key points. Each group created a commercial, song, or excerpt from a play, and then presented them to the room, constantly reinforcing the relevant information — while keeping everyone entertained!

Human resources knows its company’s mission and standards well, and should help guide the creation of training content, but don’t be afraid to break the status quo. At first glance, “play” may seem like “just fun,” but when done the right way, it enhances your training program and helps you get to the end goal faster.


Customizing training for employees is easier than you might think. But first, it’s essential that this customization takes form at the start of the project’s conception. There is no one-size-fits-all template for companies. Sit down with leadership and figure out the basics: what are your end goals? What do you need to convey to get there? How might your company culture influence your training? How much time and budget do you have?

This discovery phase, which should involve key stakeholders, will help you build the training objectives before diving into specific tactics. You can also use tools like a needs assessment survey to determine baseline knowledge of your audience in advance of building your program. You can structure questions to better understand which employees or departments have different needs, which then guides you towards the level of customization you might need to apply. For example, say your company is introducing new corporate values—how those values apply or show up in action may look different for a sales associate vs. a customer service associate vs. an HR associate.

Consider innovative technology

Immersive technology, like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), seem ideal because they incorporate multiple senses. People will retain more information about a situation if it has happened to them vs. being an observer.

Here’s a suggestion on how you might want to leverage this technology: You are training employees on crowd control during an emergency situation. A large portion of the information you need them to retain can be delivered via self-led learning, workshops, etc., but to fully prepare someone for what it will feel like when the crowd pushes against them, or how to spot and flee to an emergency exit, that’s where VR or AR can really enhance your training and prepare your employees for a real-life situation. The sensory experience immerses the trainee into the situation instead of a hypothetical discussion on “what would you do?”

AR and VR have a valuable place in training, but they are most effective when you have no other way to demonstrate or convey a key piece of information through other means. So don’t run out to rent fancy AR/VR headsets for the glitz factor — do it with intent. It’s fine to blend the old school with the new school, but it must help you achieve your training objectives.

Back to the original question: Can you have a hammock weaving class that uses all of the different approaches? Yes, you can! The culmination of these approaches yields a surprisingly fresh and different approach to learning, and when something is memorable, it’s absorbed. As we uncover more about how our brains process and acquire information, as well as understand how to best use technological innovations, the opportunity is there to make training effective and entertaining–even on a smaller budget.

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