One way to engage learners is to make content immediately relevant. People naturally pay more attention to information they can use right away than information they “might need someday.” So, how do you get learners to use information right away? One approach is to use scenarios that are realistic and relevant to their work and give them a chance to apply the information.
Create a sense of immediacy
Several years ago, I attended a webinar by Julie Dirksen on the Science of Attention and Engagement. One of her tips to promote learner engagement was about making learning immediately relevant.
It’s easiest to pay attention to content that you can use right away. Use strategies like test-then-tell, scenarios or problem-based learning to create an immediate use for the learning content.-Julie Dirksen
What does the research say?
If someone offered you $10 today or $11 one year from now, what would you choose? Most people would choose the $10 today. A reward is worth the most in the present moment; the perceived value of the reward drops if you won’t get it until some date in the future. This is known as hyperbolic discounting.
For example, the reward for exercising is generally long-term. You have to do a lot of work over weeks or maybe months before you start seeing results. That makes it hard to stay motivated.
However, if you can make exercise immediately rewarding, it’s easier to stay motivated. People with diabetes can test their blood sugar before and after exercise to see an immediate change. If a 20-minute walk drops your blood sugar from 150 to 120, it’s easy to see the value in that activity.
Immediately relevant training
Similarly, the rewards for learning are often long in the future. We often train people on principles that we say will be important, but they might not get to apply that new knowledge for weeks or months.
You can create that sense of immediacy in learning by giving people a scenario where they apply it right away. By doing so, you create an immediate reward for learning. That helps learners stay motivated and engaged with your training.
Before (traditional training)
Reasonable Accommodation: What Managers Need to Know
It’s important to remember these 5 factors when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation…
After (scenario-based training)
You’re working with your team to keep everything running smoothly. You have an aggressive schedule for the next month with an upcoming product launch.
Rosa just asked if she can take a two-day training on how to use her new assistive technology more effectively.
What should you do? Do you approve the request for training, or do you tell Rosa she can’t take the training until after her upcoming deadline?
Which is more motivating?
What feels more important to you, the traditional or scenario-based version? Which version would you find more motivating? Using scenarios to create a sense of immediacy shows how learning is relevant and useful.
Originally published 10/30/2018. Updated 12/21/2023.