Solving the “Case of Technology Immunity”


By Frank Sarr

I recently spoke with a field sales person who works in an organization that has all the learning technology imaginable. Despite these abundant learning resources, the person shared that the results had been disappointing. In fact, the feeling was that it was better back in the old days of  “forced engagement” when people were obliged to attend a class and had to demonstrate that they had actually learned what they were supposed to learn.

The reason given for this observation was that with the plethora of learning technology available, it seemed that either familiarity had bred contempt on the part of the employees, or they had developed an “immunity” to it to the point where there were unaffected by its presence and no longer even looked at it.
Field management was frustrated because their employees weren‘t taking advantage of what was available. The conclusion was to put trainees into a situation where they would have to take advantage of what was available, even if it meant reverting to the “forced engagement” of traditional classroom training.

A similar conversation with another field person brought up the issue of “webcast immunity.” In this case, she said that so many webcasts were being conducted in her company that many people who were supposedly “participating” actually paid little or no attention to what was being presented. Instead, during the webcast they would put their phones on mute and use the time to read and respond to emails. She felt that a possible reason for this disconnect was that over time the webcasts seemed to become more informational than educational.

Forced engagement… Hanging your hat on self-paced learning as a primary training resource is a risk that you might not want to take. The click-and-certify approach doesn‘t correlate to a learner‘s ability to apply what they are supposed to have learned. Without an expectation to show up – on time and prepared – learning is no longer a priority; it moves down the ‘to do’ list as other things move up. So it‘s critical that the learner know that (1) there is a finite time-frame in which their learning is to take place, and (2) there will be a time and place in which they will have to demonstrate what they have learned.

Technology immunity… It is said that ―If it is not clear in our minds, it will sound worse when we speak it. “The eLearning technology (such as a webcast) associated with a blended learning experience should be the vehicle by which every participant get a chance to ―speak it” during 5-10 minutes of voice time in which they demonstrate their ability to apply the information and techniques they‘ve just covered. Using a webcast to replay material that they should already have learned is a waste of time. It also makes “eLearning” a misnomer, because the vital “Learning” element is lost and only the “e” technological component remains. They might get an “A” but what they really end up with is an “E” — as in “empty.”

A true blended learning experience… Our team routinely integrates forced engagement and active participation in facilitation sessions administered by toll-free conferencing. We recently asked a group of account executives and account managers how this experience differs from other training experiences. Here‘s what they told us:

It was different because it required me to take the information and utilize it during the training.

The concept of preparedness, i.e., the need to be ready each Monday and for a final exam, and ready to respond verbally.

It made you actively participate with accountability in checkpoint discussions.

I have never done a phone type of training, usually face to face with a group. But I do feel that it was an effective way to train when tasked with such a large group that is essentially all over the country.

This training program was different from others in which I participated in because it forced you to internalize a lot of the material and make it your own. With the oral assessment each week, it helped me try and build my  resentation skills, rather than just sitting through an online training program like I have done in the past.

This training program was different because it was extremely interactive. Each learner had a part to play and all were given equal time and positive reinforcement.

The weekly session which tested your knowledge of the training module was unique. I really thought it was helpful in mastering the content.

This training program was more structured than others in which I have participated. Set materials and times helped me schedule my “homework.” The meetings held us accountable for learning the materials, and I liked that.

If you notice, technology was never mentioned; yet we know that these people had online resources available 24/7 and spent anywhere from 1-2 hours of log-in time preparing for each facilitation session. All the responses reflect that the technology was a means to an end, rather than the end in itself. The real differentiator was not the little “e” but rather the big “L” as in “learning.”

Frank Sarr, CLU, is president of Training Implementation Services, a company founded in 1990 to develop performance systems for sales and other positions that impact on bottom-line results.