Ethan Edwards

by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist

(Because of travel and Internet access complications, you'll be reading this blog a day later than intended. So please indulge me and use your time travel skills to travel back one day in time....)

Today, February 22nd, is the actual day of George Washington's birthday (none of this new-fangled Presidents Day business for me). You see, I grew up in Illinois so we were very specific about our presidential birthdays. While the rest of the country took holiday on February 22nd to honor Washington, we stalwart Illinoisans steadfastly worked away, having proudly taken our holiday 10 days earlier to honor our favorite son, Abraham Lincoln. 

Cherry Pie

But while the day off for Lincoln's birthday was great, still, Washington's birthday holds a more affectionate place in my memory...simply because that was the one day a year we were guaranteed to have cherry pie. I'm wondering if anyone else shares that memory? The cherry pie served to commemorate Washington’s chopping down of a cherry tree.  It seems we've lost those rituals nowadays; afterall, it doesn't make sense to honor ALL presidents by eating cherry pie.  And now Presidents Day is just like any other undistinguished Monday off.   But it was a good thing to be part of a specific event.  And I knew it wasn't just an Edwards family oddity; it was an event shared by everyone--the Piggly Wiggly could be relied upon to have a sale on cherry pie filling this week every year.

So why am I writing about this? It has to do with creating meaningful and memorable experiences. On those long ago holidays I learned a lot about Washington...much of which I still remember, coupled with that rich memory of delicious pie.  It had that impact not because it was so particularly fascinating, but because the content and the culture were always wrapped up in a memorable event. It was shared in the community, it didn't hesitate to involve emotions, it was multi-sensory, it was anticipated and remembered--all things that made it special; yet these are the things almost studiously avoided in approaches to our most challenging e-learning assignments.

I continuously hear complaints about the dreaded compliance training topics--both from designers who hate writing them and learners who dread taking them. I'm wondering how much more effective the task might be if we served a little cherry pie with the training. Of course I don't mean that literally, but what if we made an event of it?

Suppose you are burdened with conducting annual mandatory safety training.  You’ll need to create interactivity with the actual policy information, of course, but that need not be all of it.  Start with a video that tells a story, presents some perils, shows personal stories of particular success. Suppose instead of suggesting people do the training whenever they feel like it, promote it as something everyone should attempt to do on one particular day...a day that is promoted as Safety Day--or even name the day after some obscure safety pioneer in your industry.  Suppose there was scheduled a Safety Bowl quiz game broadcast through WebEx over lunch with co-workers competing. Suppose everyone who had finished could get a root beer float at 4 pm. There's any number of things you could do to create meaning and memories around this training, that too often are presented as (and thus guaranteed to be) unbearably tedious. 

These sorts of efforts would really cost very little to implement, and I warrant, would make this annual event, so frequently dreaded, into something highly anticipated, and more important, resulting in highly memorable learning. Make the training more engaging and it would be even better.

Impact is so often created by tapping into the emotions, into the affective elements that color our approach to challenges. When planning for user buy-in, we can't ignore these things. If you are faced with this sort of annual hurdle and are tired of being the brunt of complaints, I challenge you to think about creating a training holiday. You may be surprised how quickly the response might change. Just don't forget the cherry pie!