Research shows that people learn better when they’re focused on personal development, not on competing with other learners.

So when you’re training employees in groups, there are certain competitive signals the trainer DOESN’T want to send, even unintentionally.

Here are four such signals to avoid:

1. Using “better” or “worse” language in individual critiques. It’s not that you have to shy away from feedback, but rather that you should watch the words you use. After someone has contributed a response or idea, for instance, your first impulse might be to say, “Can somebody improve on this?” Don’t. Instead, ask, “Can anyone suggest another approach?”

2. Rewarding correct answers. Giving out rewards is likely to get at least some people’s competitive juices flowing. But the most effective learning isn’t a competition.

3. Keeping score. Here we’re talking about things like leaderboards and scorecards. These are fine for a golf tournament, but could damage the motivation of low scorers if they’re compared to other learners. A better approach might be to benchmark each learner’s progress against their own baseline.

4. Announcing the results of assessments. It may be entirely appropriate to give trainees a quiz to evaluate and reinforce learning, but making public who got what grade — even just the top result — is dubious practice.

Source: Pekrun, R. (2014). The power of anticipated feedback: Effects on students’ achievement goals and achievement emotions. Learning and Instruction 29, 115-124.

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