Re-Engaging the 3 Types of Lost Learners

Published on 2013-07-14


A LOST LEARNER IS SOMEONE who started with good intentions, but gradually drifted off. They must be focussed in order to learn, and so it is our job as facilitators to bring them back. There are 3 types of Lost Learner, and here I’ll show you how to bring each one back.
1. Disengaged
Trainees become disengaged when they have been doing nothing for too long. This normally happens when they have been sitting down for more than 20 minutes, doing nothing but listening. No matter how interesting your presentation is, after about 20 minutes they’re going to drift off.
There are several ways to counter this. First of all, mix it up. At the very least, mix the sound of your voice up, sometimes speak fast, then slow, change the volume from LOUD to quiet, use pauses. The more dramatic you are the better. Secondly, remember to get them involved. Instead of you speaking, try asking questions, get them contributing. Instead of you telling a story, get them to share their stories. This will normally shake them out of a daydream, but it’s still not enough if they are going to be sitting down for longer than 20 minutes.
One of the original meanings of the word ‘engage’ was to involve oneself in an activity. If you think of it like that, you realise that trainees become disengaged because they are not involved! How can you be involved if you’re just sitting there listening? Instead they need to be doing. This ideally should mean they are involving their whole body. Instead of sitting down to have a discussion, get them to stand around a flip chart for the discussion and write down their main points on the paper. Instead of getting them to draw a flowchart on a piece of paper, get them to cut out the individual pieces of the flowchart and then organise them on the floor!
One other point to remember about engagement is that the energy level of activities should go from low to high. If you have a discussion activity, and another activity that involves them moving around, then aim to have the discussion first before going into the moving activity. If you start off with the moving activity, then as soon as you come to the discussion activity they are going to be too excited to sit down and calmly discuss, and with all that extra energy it’s going to very quickly translate into people walking out of the room for a bathroom break or a glass of water just to walk it all off. If you do need to have a lower energy level activity immediately after the high energy activity, then aim to first have a break for 5-10 minutes. This gives them a chance to calm down and come back in a more suitable state for a lower energy activity.
2. Disinterested
Trainees lose interest for 2 reasons:

  • They don’t understand
  • They don’t see the point

If they don’t understand, it’s normally because your explanations have not been clear enough, but sometimes it’s also because for whatever reason certain trainees just weren’t paying attention. First of all, check to see if anyone else understands, and then get those people to explain to the ones that don’t understand. Remember, the key to engaging people is getting them involved, so don’t do for them what they can do for themselves; don’t explain something if someone else could do an equally good job.
When introducing a concept, or giving instructions, split it down into several key points. Order the key points in terms of simplicity, and let them build on top of each other. After you’ve introduced one key point, test them by asking questions to make sure they understand that point. If you structure your presentations like this then you can be certain that they understand because they will prove it to you!
If they don’t see the point, it’s because you haven’t shown the value. I wrote here that during your training needs analysis, one of the questions you need to ask is Why. Why do the trainees need to do this? Why would the trainees want to do this? And knowing the answers to these questions, will help you answer this question; Why should they be interested?
Think about something the trainees themselves want to experience, or something they don’t want to experience, and how the training will help them with those experiences. Take some time during your introduction phase to get the trainees to share what they want or don’t want, and then show them how this will help them. Share your own stories of how this has helped you. Share other examples, show videos, pictures, or even allow the trainees to experience for themselves the benefit of this. Once they see the benefit, their focus will return.
3. Distracted
They can’t help being distracted. A lot of training takes place on a working day, during office hours. At these times, the trainees’ colleagues are still working, their bosses are still chasing deadlines, their customers are still expecting responses and their suppliers still need pushing. Furthermore, all sorts of personal issues may be on their mind; their child is sick, they have a bill to pay and so on. This is all beyond your control.
What is within your control though is how distracted trainees impact on the class. Distraction is like a cancer, it spreads, and if one person is distracted they can very easily distract others. If one person answers the phone during class, their voice may prevent others from hearing clearly what you are saying. Furthermore, if they see others answering the phone in class then they will feel it’s OK to do that and eventually end up doing it themselves. Same goes if two people are chatting amongst themselves. It’s up to you as the trainer to control this, remind them of the rules and crack down on them when they do start to misbehave.
This does not mean you have to be strict though. A simple friendly reminder is normally more than enough. Ask them politely if they could take the call outside of the training room, or pause to make any chatting trainees feel uncomfortable as they suddenly become the centre of attention.