Saturday, 19 April 2008

Placebo effect - confidence in learning

I've been thinking about a short commentary by Simon Caulkin in the The Observer last weekend on the power of the placebo effect in the business world.

He picked out an interesting example which relates to the world of training and learning:

Consider, for example, the experiment in an Israeli army boot camp recounted in Bob Sutton's quirky book Weird Ideas That Work. Incoming recruits were randomly assigned to three undifferentiated groups. Their instructors were (falsely) informed that one group had been singled out as having 'high command potential', unlike the other two, whose potential was average or unknown. Only the instructors knew about the rankings; the soldiers had no idea they were in a trial. Yet by the end of the 15-week course, the 'high potential' group were objectively better shots, better navigators and better judges of tactics than the other groups. The placebo had worked. The evidence of this and many other studies is incontrovertible: that confidence, even if misplaced, makes people perform better.

Here, the confidence and perceptions of the trainers affects the learning capability of the learner and their eventual performance. We all have good days and bad days, and this suggests that the motivation and morale levels of your trainers, and how they perceive the people they train, will have a greater influence on the effectiveness of a learning experience than the content design itself.

Just as importantly, the perceptions and confidence levels of the learners will also impact the effectiveness of the sessions they attend. So if, as we anecdotally hear on a day to day basis, many (if not most?) people attending the vast majority of typical corporate training sessions are doing so reluctantly, with low levels personal confidence and perhaps cynicism for their own organisation, then not much learning is likely to happen, and even less chance of a positive performance change occuring back in the job situation from which they came.

So what about e-learning? This takes one side of the equation out - no good days or bad days in terms of the delivery and presentation of the content. But clearly learners come to an e-learning experience with their own perceptions and levels of confidence with regard to the subject and the use of technology itself.

So perhaps we should concentrating much more on managing attitudes to e-learning, giving people real confidence to master the technology and to believe they really do have the control and ability to learn new skills and behaviour to improve their performance. By successfully managing these perceptions, the real value and impact of e-learning will rise. I wonder if there have been many controlled trials/research here?

Maybe LCMS should really stand for Learning Confidence Management System - without the right mindset and outlook at the outset, our carefully crafted learning content has little chance of being paid the right attention to have the intended effect.

1 comment:

sinead said...

does anyone have a proposition on how to effectively manage attitudes? Our attitudes are deep seated and developed over years of unique experience. I dont think they can be managed directly, people will have their own attitudes, you cannot rig them. My observations in a small business find that people will only change their behaviour as a last resort when it is in their best interest to do so, and even then their attitude may be reluctant. So, I await a real solution for this....