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/

Leadership and Kipling: 7-Kipling Quotes to Consider

The following is a reflection on life lessons learned at the feet of a great writer, Rudyard Kipling. Below is the quote; then the life lesson. While not a post intended to be read alone or all at once, this message is designed for pondering, thinking about how these words impact your current life, how they echo deep in your mind, and relate to others the personal meaning. Consider this a week-long journey of thinking and pondering, a mental exercise and an imaginative journey.

 1.  Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. – Kipling

  • I first came across this quote during a difficult period where my choices and reliance upon words and phrases was creating the problems experienced. Long had the lessons of my youth regarding proper English, pronunciation, annunciation, and word choice were giving me problems socially, but I could not understand why. The words we choose become addictive. The experience of using those words to achieve communication provides a positive feedback loop sustaining word choice, and very carefully the mind closes, the heart congeals, and we begin to attract those just like us. Breaking the cycle requires choosing different words, expressions, and raising our consciousness to the power of expression. Make the choice to choose words more carefully and specifically, and then see where that choice takes you.

2.  We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse. – Kipling

  • I had a football coach in Altamont, UT who said something very similar. When I discovered this quote several years later, I remembered that coach. More importantly, the lessons of working, striving, achieving, and failure came to mind as well. Failure is to be expected, anticipated, and even appreciated. Not for the excuses, but for the lessons, failure can either be a teacher and builder or ultimate destroyer. The choice to build or destroy remains lodged in the one person who can choose; you. Choose wisely!

3.  For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack. – Kipling

  • This could be the ultimate team quote, but I refuse to think of this quote that way. This is the ultimate society quote, as society must always remain cognizant of the power of the individual and the collective fit that individual has in society. As my injury and disability has grown year-over-year, the realization of this statement from Kipling drives ever more powerfully home. I have had the pleasure of working with some amazingly talented disabled people, who have been shunted to the side, abandoned, forgotten, but their power to impact lives was not diminished. I firmly belief our society or “wolf pack” is stronger for those struggling with disabilities. Embracing the philosophy that all can contribute empowers, supports, strengthens, and builds the wolf pack.

4.  Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run. – Kipling

  • The best leaders I have ever been privileged to know never inspire people to engage in long tasks, but short bursts of power. Consider the movie “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson. In this movie is a scene where he asks the militia forces under his command not to fight for the whole day or even fire three shots, but simply fire two shots, implying the need to stand and act just long enough. This is the essence of the action discussed by Kipling. Large events hinge upon small acts, small efforts that were made by people filling 60-seconds of life with full effort and purpose. Leaders must remember to only ask enough and no more; enough is most often simply filling 60-seconds of life full to the brim.

5.  Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade. – Kipling

  • Acknowledging the “Power of Work” and the “Law of the Harvest,” which are two powers that change the world one engaged person at a time. Hard work is the investment upon which harvest is born. How often does a person refuse to do the work and then cries about harvesting bitter and useless fields? We see this in a lot of different places, people engaged in sowing hate, envy, strife, and discontent, then complaining that their harvest of bitter crops is too great to bear and wants a new harvest of honey and milk. Leaders must exemplify the need for hard work and the patience required to harvest fields of good crops to their followers. In training, the answer to understanding work comes and delivers its own lessons to be appreciated.

6.  I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble. – Kipling

  • Do we understand the power and conviction of this choice? Choosing to believe the best in another requires preparation and a desire to have the best in us be trusted, believed, and seen. Leaders, who personify the quote as internal characteristics, form the backbone of change, the foundation of good society, and reflect the courage needed in difficult times to thrive and build. The time for choosing is today, the need for choosing apparent, and with this single choice, America will never be stronger.

7.  If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. – Kipling

  • The human condition is a condition of storytellers. Through stories, we teach, learn, and relate. The choice of words we use in telling the stories teaches values, ideals, and heritage in a most influential way, and most importantly our culture is relayed. Historical events are stories, Hollywood tells stories, books tell stories. Through these stories memories are kept, attraction to or detraction from the storyteller occurs, and language is preserved.

James Allen reports in “As a Man Thinketh” (1903) about thought and purpose claiming, “Until thought is linked with purpose there is no intelligent accomplishment.” Continuing to further claim, “They who have no central purpose in their life fall an easy prey to petty worries, fears, troubles, and self-pitying’s.” History provides the link between thought and purpose; stories of history are the mold the character of a person is poured into. Hence, both the need to learn history and the requirement to tell history as a story for others to learn requires serious consideration.

Why undertake a week-long mental exercise, the answer lies in the words of James Allen:

“Mind is the master power that moulds and makes,
And man is mind, and evermore he takes
The tool of thought, and, shaping what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills: –
He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:
Environment is but his looking glass.”

Contained in these words is understanding, leadership in the current world requires both understanding thought and a commitment to preserving thought in those who follow. Consider and ponder upon these gems of intelligence. The power of these words from Kipling to guide, mentor, and build others cannot be understated. There is great need for leaders in America; leadership continues to be a choice. If we keep this in mind, the world would be a much better place!

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved