‘You gotta believe’ turns out to have real validity
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‘You gotta believe’ turns out to have real validity

Do your trainees believe they can master the material and skills you’re teaching them?

Research shows the answer is a predictor of whether someone will successfully learn. If you think you can learn something, you’re more likely to do so.

Scientists call it self-efficacy – the belief you can or will be able to perform the tasks assigned to you. For decades, they’ve been studying what promotes it.

You might think trainers can’t do much to influence self-efficacy – that it’s all rooted in a learner’s past learning experiences and self image. Not true; researchers have found that other attitudes play a role as well, including:

  • Commitment to the organization. There’s a surprising link between self-efficacy and how much people believe in their organization. For example, hotel managers who were highly committed to their organization were more likely to believe they’d be able to apply what they’d learned in a management seminar.
  • Perceived support. Workers who believed that the organization and their direct supervisors supported their efforts showed higher self-efficacy than those who felt they had less support.
  • Positive attitudes about the training process. For example, students who saw online access and training as an enabler instead of a hindrance were more motivated to learn and achieved better results.

Promoting self-efficacy
You may be able to boost learners’ self-efficacy – and training outcomes – by assessing and addressing these attitudes.

Specifically, you might want to:

1. Let learners know that you believe in them. If you show confidence that learners will be able to master and apply the material, they’ll be more likely to believe it themselves. And if they believe it, they’re more likely to achieve it.

Consider phrases like, “This may seem a lot to take in, but it’ll make sense as we go on.” Or, “I’m impressed. You picked up on that really quickly.”

2. Talk up the organization. Get people feeling good about where they work by tying in your training with the organization’s goals and mission.

For example, you might say: “You’re here today because the company is committed to developing your skills. We invest 20% more than the industry average on training our people, because it helps us be more competitive.” Or “What we learn here today will help us fulfill our mission, which is to provide exceptional customer service.”

3. Show that their bosses believe in them. For example, you might ask supervisors to send trainees an e-mail supporting their participation in training. Or tell participants: “Your managers selected you for this training because they believe you’ll get a lot out of it.”

4. Promote the process. Frame training processes as positive benefits. For example: “You’ll be able to access a summary on your smart phone, which will make it easy for you to go back and review what we’ve covered today.”

Klein, H. (2012). Motivation to learn and course outcomes. Personnel Psychology 59, 665-702. Salas, Eduardo, et al. (2012). The science of training and development in organizations. Psy Sci in the Public Interest 13(2), 74-101.

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