Home » Articles and blogs » Engaging the Glass-Half-Empty Learner

Engaging the Glass-Half-Empty Learner

You’re probably familiar with the idea of the partly filled glass identifying someone’s self-esteem. Some people see the glass as being half full; they’re positive and upbeat types with confidence and high levels of self-esteem. The ‘half empty’ types may be negative, lacking in confidence and more likely to possess low self-esteem.

The impact of low self-esteem on any learner can be enormous, so it’s something not to be overlooked. Yet when designing learning/training materials, it’s easy to do just that.

I speak as a teacher of more than thirty years, a time spent training adults too. You soon identify such people and address your teaching/instruction to consider their needs, failure to do so can lead to problems for both you and your learners.

Research has found learners with low self-esteem are likely to be:

  1. Insecure
  2. Underachievers
  3. Negative in their attitudes toward most things
  4. Showing anger and hostility
  5. Unmotivated
  6. Poor communicators and socially inept
  7. Negative about their self-image
  8. Unhappy about being held accountable

These factors affect learning in many ways:

  1. Feedback, even when couched in positive terms, may be received negatively.
  2. Any learning or training is experienced with high levels of anxiety, the perception is they will fail at it, perhaps in front of others.
  3. Learning is associated with automatic failure. This is likely to be triggered by negative experiences within their own education. Therefore it is resented, seen as irrelevant, unnecessary; factors which provide excuses for anticipated failure.
  4. Personal development is seen as irrelevant, even if it influences their promotion prospects or opportunities to take on a new challenge. Low self-esteem often causes an unwillingness to deal with change.
  5. Engagement with learning will be more about ticking necessary boxes, they will want it to be over quickly and give it little thought.
  6. Accountability is resented because it’s perceived as based on unfair criteria.

Engaging learners who have low self-esteem is not always easy, but there are ways that can offer a positive impact.

Keep everything upbeat
This goes beyond simple praise for getting a question right (over-doing the praise often has a negative effect, it may be seen as demeaning or patronising). Content needs to be couched in light, non-threatening and informal terms; don’t make it sound like instruction.

Maintain consistent recognition of achievement
People with low self-esteem will easily give up or lose interest, therefore systems are needed to stop this from happening.

  1. Try having regular methods of communication where the learner is informed of a successful accomplishment, they receive positive reinforcement (not idle praise!).
  2. Develop systems that can offer reminders, not just of deadlines but also reasons for the training. These systems can take the form of regular (brief) and informal emails (which you can automate from triggers you place in the system).
  3. Send helpful emails, ‘Don’t forget to complete…’, ‘Great! You’ve almost completed…’ – which keep reinforcing positive messages without sounding like you’re nagging them. Key message: personalise the messages, keep them light and informal.

Don’t make it look like learning
The format of a course can be daunting. As soon as formality rears its ugly head, the importance of the course (to the individual or to the organisation), it places additional stress on the learner. Use lots of light-hearted visuals, even animation. Use video so the learner doesn’t have to rely on a lot of reading (too much text is a turn-off).

Develop a learning culture in the organisation
Not always easy! But try to make it clear that everyone is part of your learning organisation. Learner engagement works best when people feel they belong.

  1. You can achieve this on your courses with some motivational statements that reflect your organisation.
  2. Involve everyone in the elearning process, make them feel it belongs to them.
  3. Try asking your CEO or a senior manager to make a short video to explain the importance of training.

Avoid competition with others
People with low self-esteem already feel they’ve failed. If there’s a chance of being compared to others, then that perception is reinforced. That said, they can compete with themselves, this is often a good thing, they can set themselves targets and see how they’re making improvements, which keeps things positive.

If you’ve been successful in your own education, if you enjoy learning – which is likely if you’re involved in training – it may be difficult to understand someone who doesn’t feel this way. When you’re hurrying to put together a course, learners’ self-esteem can be at the bottom of your priority list. You might find all kinds of positives if you put it nearer the top!

We at Nimble are always interested to hear about how YOU are engaging your learners. We might be able to feature you in subsequent newsletters. No matter how trivial the idea, it may engage one person and that makes the idea worthwhile. So please get in touch!

Phil Parker, Learning and Development Consultant, Nimble Elearning