Distant Learning – Adult Education Strategies for the Call Center (Part 1 of 2)

Chinese CrisisThe reality of Adult Education in the majority of call centers can be described as desperate, at best!  Why, because the model has been Bloom’s Taxonomy, mix in some ADDIE, add a sprinkle of desperation, and a load of “This is how it’s done here,” and you have the template for many corporate training programs.  Then remote training was forced upon the call centers due to COVID-19 related government mandates, and the model that barely worked before is fully inadequate to the present and future.  Yet, this unyielding model, is being forced into the new reality, like a square plug into a star shaped hole.  Stuffing this model into the new reality creates two things, waste, and confusion.  When we the call center leaders admit and face this reality head on, innovative solutions to the training problems can be derived.

Let’s admit this reality as well, Bloom’s Taxonomy does not work!  I am not advocating throwing it completely out the window, but Bloom’s Taxonomy hardly works in academia to barely describe a small subset of the population.  This is a reality that never seems to be communicated to people looking for training assistance.

ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate) as a learning model is useless.  This is another reality that must be acknowledged.  The most dedicated ADDIE enthusiasts add their own additional levels to the Basic ADDIE Model, to produce an “ADDIE inspired training program.”  The problem with adapting the ADDIE model to a single training environment, is the ever-changing student in adult education.  The model cannot adapt, does not have a basic return and report, and frankly, fails when students change from training group to training group.

Experience teaches that a standard training model built upon the basic four steps becomes the eventual template for training in the call center:

  1. Gathering Information
  2. Design
  3. Build Content
  4. Evaluation

Not that this is the best method, but because it is a method that is inexpensive, quick, and by hammering these four items success can be observed, provided standards for education are set very low.  Setting standards low serves nobody, but this is the fallback position when ADDIE and Bloom’s Taxonomy fail, which in reality they will always fail, but the very select few in any given population.

GearsSome call centers will occasionally find success using Merrill’s Principles of Instruction, and if your call center is a series of tasks that are called “customer service” then your call center can find success using Merrill’s Principles:

          1. Task-Centered
          2. Activation
          3. Demonstration
          4. Application
          5. Integration

Important to understanding, Merrill’s Principles of Instruction are scalable, flexible, holistic, but are limited to one specific type of learning task-centered.  Merrill’s principles of instruction can be attached to any other adult education theory, including Bloom’s Taxonomy and improve the performance of training, if that training is to learn by route memory a task that must be performed.

Call Center Agent - MaleDuring my youth, I worked for a call center, a national brand, winner of generous amounts of accolades and industry awards.  Their model of approaching customer service was to give the customer what they wanted.  Providing a soft-spoken voice to the customer and giving the customer what they wanted.  The company was bought before the 2000 business shift, and is not remembered, because they did not supply the customer service the customer found valuable.  But this organization makes an excellent example of Merrill’s Principles of Instruction for task-centered adult education.  Teach the new hire how to give a bill credit.  Teach the new hire how to speak softly during confrontational situations.  Teach the new hire how to approach a customer to sell upgrades, new services, or plan improvements.  Never teach the new hire anything more than tasks that need completed.  Never allow the new hire to exceed the bounds of tasks and call this excellence in customer service.  Eventually losing the company to your competition!

The glaring holes in adult education, found in call centers currently, originate from three core areas:

  1. Failing to decide what type of company is desired.
  2. Failing to set high standards for learners.
  3. Failing to understand adult education.

In addressing what type of company is desired, Myron Tribus asked, “What type of company do we aspire to be?”  Tribus claimed there are only two answers for this question, a money tap, or a learning organization.  If your call center is simply a front for a money tap organization, continue using Bloom’s Taxonomy and ADDIE, change nothing, and you can cease reading at this point.  Your competition wishes you the best of luck!

Andragogy - The PuzzleIf, your company is a “learning organization,” please allow me to aid you in discovering a better way to educate your adult learners.  Adult education, also known academically as Andragogy, is specifically designed for the adult learner to discover new content.  Important to understand, adults learn through events, not through hierarchical learning, which separates pedagogy from andragogy.  The events an adult learns from will include the environment the learning was delivered in, include feelings and emotions, and will be understood through the lens of earlier experiences, including previous success and failures in formal education, as well as attitudes, and socially accepted behaviors.  In Europe pedagogy (child learning) and andragogy (adult learning) are often confused and without a clear distinction.  For this article, training adults (post-secondary school aged people) is andragogy, and the training is a formal event in a new hire’s schedule; the best thing a business can do for adults in formal learning environments is to set high levels of performance.

If your organization is going to set exacting standards of performance, and expect those standards to be met, then your first job is to improve who instructs, and how they instruct.  How are your trainers and mentors trained?  What are their standards of performance?  Who trained them?  Formal and informal education has value, who set the standards for the trainers to meet?  Where can an aspiring trainer find the standards to be met to earn the title “trainer” or “mentor?”

Which is where an adult educational model that works, is needed, and applied, “Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction.”  Interestingly, with minimal wording changes, the same nine events of adult education are applicable as a standard for face-to-face, online real-time, and online student led delivery modalities.  Here are the basic nine events as established by Gagné.

  1. Gain Attention
  2. Inform Objectives
  3. Stimulate Recall
  4. Present New Materials
  5. Provide Guidance
  6. Elicit Performance
  7. Provide Feedback
  8. Assess Performance
  9. Enhance Retention to Transfer to the Job.

These events represent episodes, or steps, for powering adult education and adapted for both task-centered and non-task-centered educational events.  More importantly, these nine events of instruction open the door to declare the standards desired, how those standards are met, and how the adoption of those high standards are evaluated.  Evaluation should not be a single faceted event, such as a written test; but should be reflected in the changed behaviors, attitudes, and mental functioning of the individuals.  Except to evaluate in this manner, the objectives must specifically identify what a successful candidate of that learning event shall reflect.

Stated more simply, does the trainer know what a successfully trained candidate looks like, and are they modelling that successful candidate in every student interaction?  If the answer is no, how do you the business leader know that successful training can occur?  Training is evaluated for the following reasons, to validate training, justify costs, improve design of training, and improve selection of training methods.  Thus, the importance of evaluating training programs. The five levels of measurement are (in order) reactions (Happy Sheets; where an emotion measures the training program), learning (new or improved skills which are observed), application (behavior changes which can be observed), business results (behavior changes leading to improved results), and return on investment (ROI; monetary return over a specified time, after training occurs.  Yet, a simple truth prevails in training, even without formal training improvements can occur in behavior, unless the evaluation of training is an event and retention of knowledge as transferred to the job is measured instead of all the other training evaluation methods.

Andragogy - Trainer FailureTraining in the call center must change, adapt, and be understood through Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, and Gagnè’s Instructional Design model, which helps to take strategic goals and tactical actions, blended together in the training events, and observed through ROI improvements.  If training does not lead to a changed individual, why spend the money to train?  If the trainer is not exemplifying the behaviors of a successfully trained person, how can any other employee be held accountable for not learning?  It is imperative that how training is evaluated changes as the current models do not measure training, do not explain the resources invested, and does not justify what training is or what a trainer does.

Part 2 more fully explores Gagné’s Instructional Design Model and the Nine Events of Instruction in more detail.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein. The pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.
All rights reserved. For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/