How NOT to provide guidance for learning—A fun Fable Friday!

My client, a large midwestern regional bank, asked me to develop a sales training program back when banks first started offering alternative investment products such as mutual funds and annuities. I created the program and the plan was for it to be piloted to an audience of sales managers, so they could determine if it would be effective for their salespeople. And in that one-day pilot, the strangest thing happened that I have ever encountered in all my years in this business.

But before I tell you the story, let me put it in context for you. We’re still discussing Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, and today we are up to number 5, “provide guidance for learning.” In plain English, this simply means that the instructor should help the learners to learn in the most effective way, either through instruction about how to learn—“everyone form pairs and solve these three problems” or by selecting media that is most useful for each task—“let’s watch this brief film and discuss how we might react in real life.”

One best practice approach I’ve always used is to insist that the learners be totally engaged in the learning at all times. In my mind this is the best kind of guidance of all. For example, I call on people to answer questions at random, rather than asking for volunteers to answer.

Another rule I follow is “never do anything for the learners that you can get the learners to do themselves.” I often take this to extremes. For example, if I see the training room is set up incorrectly, I ask the learners to move the tables and chairs around until we have it right. This sends the signal to them that they are responsible for the best learning environment.

So back to my pilot with the sales managers, there was a series of steps in the prospect interview. I forget them all now, but let’s say the second step was to ask the prospect about his financial objectives. I generally ask the learners to take turns reading the steps out loud and then explaining the rationale. This way I don’t have to read to them and it keeps them engaged.

Well, the first learner reads step one and explains it and now it’s the next guy’s turn, but he has been fooling around looking at his diary and doesn’t realize he’s up. Learner One whispers to him, “He wants you to read step two.” So Learner Two looks down at his text and reads step two silently to himself. Learner One whispers, “No, you have to read it out loud.” Learner Two then reads step two out loud for the class and looks up at me. Learner One then nudges him with his elbow and says, “Now you’re supposed to say why that’s important to do.”

And at this, Learner Two explodes. He jumps up from his chair and then lies down supine on the floor and shouts, “Why don’t you just jump up and down on my chest while you’re at it!” Needless to say, we were all dumbfounded by this display, but because they were all pretty tough sales managers, everyone just laughed, and after that, whenever someone didn’t know the answer to a question, he would reply “Why don’t you just jump up and down on my chest!”

I guess some people react to learning guidance differently from others.

We’ll look at Step 6, “elicit performance,” on Tuesday. Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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