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Are You Seeking Compliance Or Engagement?

What Is The Base For Your Training Program?

One of the big shifts happening in education and training is the shift from compliance toward engagement.  Students, parents, and employees are not interested in following rules simply for the sake of compliance.  They seek systems that meet their needs, make sense, and allow for more flexibility and choice.  Many innovative programs have chosen engagement over compliance and have modified curriculum and assessment programs to focus on motivating rather than shaping behavior. Yet, compliance is what some still view as what training is about.

What Are The Models?

When learning under a compliance model, key knowledge and skills (content) are identified by the organization that need to be mastered. After training there are assessments to be used as evidence of mastery of the content.  The learning objectives are discreet and do not connect to the learner – only serving as outcomes.  They are entirely based on the organizational needs.

In an engagement model, the learning objectives are based on why the learner may want to know the content. In this way, the learner will naturally connect new knowledge with the old or even challenge the old. It is centered on motivating the learner. Some call this a  “learner centered” approach. The ASCD has a well-developed comparison between these this model and older, compliance-driven models.

Linking Back to Learning Theories

Learning centered approaches came from “constructivist” and “cognitivist” theories. Many methods base on these theories were developed in public schools in Australia and New Zealand as part of the “Whole Reading” approach to literacy.

Currently in K-12 education, programs are popular to use in managing student behavior are based in behaviorism theory.  There are system-wide expectations, system-wide reinforcers and system-wide punishments (“consequences”).  This may be one reason we see so little student enthusiasm…because teachers see motivation as less a part of their job and more a student or parent responsibility. Many adult training programs have largely abandoned methods based on behavioral theories, since the can be perceived as boring or irrelevant. At times, you can see vestiges of it in the assessment formats (decontextualized.  For a fascinating and in-depth review of behaviorism, read John Statton’s article, “The New Behaviorism”.

The final word on this topic is motivation.  Of course, facing a punishment can motivate people in the short term, but it is external motivation and based on the wrong reasons: fear, inadequacy, humiliation.  The biggest advantage of a focus on engagement is shifting these negative feelings to more positive ones: satisfaction with your performance (work or scholarly), curiosity, and a sense of relevance.  Natalie Wickham has identified 14 research-based reasons why positive engagement is the “ miracle drug for workplace challenges”. Ultimately, an engagement model can help people gain more personal satisfaction and see more connection between work and personal interests.

Don Brown
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Don Brown

Education Technologist, Researcher, and Trainer.

One thought on “Are You Seeking Compliance Or Engagement?

  • Great post Don !
    It’s always so valuable to link what we do as teachers back t learning theories 🙂


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