Tip: Shock Learning

By Dr. Geri McArdle

Imagine a situation in which your training facilitator delivered a piece of information that entirely contradicted what you had always believed. It is almost expected that your initial response would be confusion. This deliverance of material is regarded as Shock Learning which inevitably creates a situation by providing a diverse perception into understanding different stances. It is a training delivery strategy that remains rather effective.

Recently, I read an article titled Shock Learning, published in the January 2016 edition of TD Magazine in the Intelligence Word Wiz Section. According to Brain Tracy, leadership author and speaker, the article stated that, “…shock learning occurs when we learn something that completely reverses our knowledge or understanding we tend to remember it” (Tracy 15).

Tracy further suggested that implementing this “shock” could give us valuable insights that could be later used to a great influence in training. Last week I decided to utilize the standards of Shock Learning during a training process in one of my own courses. The course was a classroom-based instructional design course consisting of senior trainers, instructional designers, and training managers. The topic the group wanted to discuss was, “how do [trainers/facilitators] provide clear directions for learning activities.”

My immediate answer was to use the Adult Learning Principles (ALP). However, quickly I remembered that Shock Learning could be used to demonstrate the ALP concept since most trainers know the ALP concept, yet fail to understand how to integrate these important concept in their training.

Excited WomanHere is how the Shock Learning design could be used to teach ALP:

First, I Introduced the Four Adult Learning Principles as a mini-lecture

 suggesting that these principles are the first steps that you must deliberate on when beginning to design all training events. These four design principles that you use when creating any training activity are:

  • a. Involve the learner.
  • b. Focus on task and not content.
  • c. Structure a design.
  • d. Create a collaborative climate.

Next, I separated the participants into two groups which became our trainers and learners. I instructed the trainers and learners to sit in chairs arranged in a back-to-back position. The instructions were then to have trainers instruct the learners to create three geometric shapes on an 8-1/2” x 11” piece of white paper. The trainers had no face-to-face contact and the learners were only allowed to ask very minimal questions.

After two minutes had passed, I called time, and asked the trainer and learner to meet in order for the learners to share their drawings; much discuss ensured. Both the trainers and learners had comments to share about how the learning experience impacted themselves.

As the exercise facilitator, I recorded the responses first from the learners and then from the trainers. The takeaway from this two-

minute negative–shock learning was that every participant will find it hard to forget the four adult learning principles that were needed as ingredients in both the training activity design. These principles were essentials tools that were a part of any training facilitator’s tool kit.

A final note from Brian Tracy: be careful with teaching the “wrong way” to make a point. Making that that where you would teach the negative training quickly and spend more time on the correct way of teaching something because it does not always facilitate learning as effectively. He also notes to remember, “… because people are generally creatures of habit, they may ignore something that contradicts what they already know, and choose not to act on information that they’re not comfortable with.” Individuals all learn differently so that is important to note when facilitating training.


About the Author

Geri McArdle has been a practitioner in the human resource field for 25 years. She has published nine books on human productivity and numerous juried research articles in professional journals... a founding member of our Chapter, an international trainer and consultant, she now spends her time in Fort Myers. 


You can read more by Dr. McArdle in our monthly chapter newsletters.


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