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
BY DAVID PETERS
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
- 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
- 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
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.