Creating a Community of Learners

May 1999

Managing:In-Store Education

Creating a Community of Learners

Adults learn differently from children. Managers need to understand this and other basic adult learning principles before they can create a great sales training program

JewelErs of America Manager of Education Development

With the ever-increasing speed of change in retailing information and technology, you have a simple choice: continue to learn throughout your life or accept the fact that skills and knowledge spiral rapidly toward obsolescence and so will you.

Just as you keep learning, so also your sales associates need to keep learning. To meet the financial goals of your store, you must meet the educational needs of your staff.

But before teaching others, take a brief but meaningful look at basic adult learning principles. This will give you insights needed to create a community of learners in your store.

About Adult Education
Adult education is about three things.

  • Control. Adults must be given the responsibility and tools to become independent learners. No matter what topics you discuss or techniques you use, offer your associates the materials and opportunities to take control of their learning.
  • What's in it for me? Adults need to know why learning is important – not just because the "boss" says so, but because they see a personal and direct relationship between learning and how it will tangibly benefit their lives. For the majority of adults, learning is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  • Fun and nurturing. The learning experience must be enjoyable and supportive. Many adults face learning situations with fear and anxiety because they are years removed from their previous formal schooling. Also adults tend to take their shortcomings personally and are more likely to let them affect self-esteem. To allay these feelings, make learning entertaining and engaging. Offer it in a nurturing and supportive environment where risk-taking is encouraged and where a safety net protects those who stumble.

How Adults Learn
As adults, we assimilate new knowledge in a very different manner than children because we're full of past experiences and preconceived ideas. Here are some ideas to remember:

  • New knowledge must be integrated with previous knowledge if adults are going to keep and use the new information. You can link new and old by using familiar metaphors to relate important points and concepts. For example, all of your associates know what an old-fashioned record player looks like. You can help them visualize how diamonds are cut by comparing the scaife, dop and tang to the record player's spinning platform, arm and needle.
  • Describe the new knowledge or skills you want your associates to acquire within the context of everyday experiences using language that is simple and direct. When discussing product knowledge at a store meeting, for example, don't just give the facts. Tell them how you used the new information in sales presentations. This will help them relate new information to job performance.
  • To a large degree, the success of an adult learner depends on creating a crucial mental link. The more you help your staff find the proper preexisting "hooks" to hang the new knowledge on, the greater the benefits from your formal and informal training sessions. Think how difficult learning to drive a car would have been had you never learned the principles of steering in your early days on a bicycle.

Building the Right Environment
Though education can be entertaining and enjoyable, it's sometimes hard and serious work. With all your actions and interactions, you must establish certain ground rules:

  • Be precise in stating educational goals and how they will be reached. One example: "I want all sales associates to be able to show customers the many features of our new chronograph. Please read the brochure about the new watch, practice using and setting the multiple functions, write down at least five feature/benefit statements you could use in a sales presentation and role-play these features and benefits with each other."
  • Make clear to your employees their roles in helping to realize the store's shared goals. As much as possible, encourage and solicit daily discussion and participation from your staff. People often learn better when they feel they are playing an important role in the learning process. One strategy: allow your associates to suggest a weekly topic for everyone to research and discuss before the next store meeting.
  • Be very careful to treat every employee comment with consideration and respect. Actively listen to suggestions, take notes and genuinely thank them for their ideas. This will encourage others to participate more freely in the future. Also give serious consideration to what your associates have to say. Fresh visions and new ideas are often missed (and employees turned-off) because trainers don't take time to listen actively.
  • Additionally, it's very important to remember that people learn in different ways – some by reading, others by hearing, still others by doing. Create learning opportunities that offer multiple routes to the same outcome. This can be accomplished by using several basic learning techniques throughout formal and informal training events. Many of these techniques will be covered in future articles in this series.

Training and education are more important to the modern jeweler than ever. The challenges we face today are all about creating a learning environment for adults that accommodates a variety of learning needs and styles. With resources and technology expanding at a tremendous rate, the potential for creating a community of learners in your store is no longer limited by time or space. Indeed, it's an exciting time to be taking part in the education of your sales associates. Only through strong minds will strong businesses grow and prosper.

David Peters is the manager of education development for Jewelers of America Inc., where he works on the design and delivery of education and educational services to members. Peters holds a master of science degree in education from Pepperdine University, is a graduate gemologist and has more than 16 years of management experience in the retail jewelry industry. Before JA, Peters spent seven years as an instructor at the Gemological Institute of America and conducted seminars and educational programs at industry events.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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