4 Ways to Engage the Distracted Learner

How many times were you distracted today? What is your daily screen time average? How many times did you pick up your mobile device today? With our heavy use of digital media and mobile devices, we are rapidly switching between different screens. It could be said that we have taken multitasking to new heights. For trainers, this typically translates into our need for ways to engage the distracted learner.

A 2015 study released by Deloitte found that on average, people in the United States across all age groups checked their phones 46 times per day. According to new research, that number has increased to 80 times per day. Clearly, we are in a distraction crisis. In fact, in 2018 both Facebook and Instagram announced they were developing new tools designed to limit usage in response to claims that excessive social media use can have a negative impact on mental health.

Interestingly, companies regularly roll out new technologies and tools intended to help employees become more efficient, productive, and collaborative, but what was designed to help can be a source of distraction. How do these distractions impact our job performance? In 2018, Udemy set out to measure how distracted employees are during work hours, how they’re responding to distractions, and what it all means for employers and the American economy at large. Is it getting more difficult for employees to focus and work smart?

Udemy’s in-depth 2018 Workplace Distraction Report revealed many interesting findings on this topic, but one really stood out to me as a trainer. This constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal, to which we have adapted with ease, but the downside is that interruptions and distractions have eroded our ability to concentrate. When we don’t have them, it feels like we are transitioning from the Autobahn highway, to a 15 MPH construction zone. It is a huge adjustment!

Great trainers understand the difficult transition from the chaotic leasing office to the quiet, controlled and contained apartment sales training room. They also understand their time together is short and that how they transfer knowledge and engage the learner is critical to everyone’s success.

Here are four ways to engage the distracted learner.

1.  Discard & Delay Distractions. The first day of multifamily training can be a difficult transition for onsite employees who are used to running in different directions at warp speed. I find it effective to just address the elephant in the room. We know they aren’t used to sitting down very often during the day. We know they don’t normally focus on one task at a time. We know they are thinking about all the loose ends that they need to tie up when they return to the office. Try one of the following activities to help get learners focused on your message and the training goals.

  • Place a trash can at the front of the apartment sales training room. Hand out a blank piece of paper and ask each person to take a few minutes to write down their mental to-do and ‘worry’ list. This will allow them to visually see all the distractions that are floating around in their mind. When they are done, ask them to crumple it up in a ball and throw it in the trash can. This is a fun but enlightening activity.
  • We all know that things happen while we are in a multifamily training class and there are times when we have to communicate back to the leasing office, yet having easy access to your phone or smart watch can be very disruptive. Consider setting aside a 5 minute “Distraction Time” at the top of each hour. While some issues cannot wait, most can. This is a great lesson in how to properly manage disruptions in the workplace too.

2.  Enlist Participation-Seeking Activities. Engagement encourages increased participation. When someone participates in a discussion or activity, a mental anchor is formed with the material.

  • Role-Playing: It always amazes me how this simple word can cause so much fear, worry, and anxiety, especially in a apartment sales training class. Aren’t they just practicing what they are doing on a daily basis with real customers? Interestingly, as they reflect on the day, it is often one of their favorite parts of the training class because it works. I always tell them that it is better to practice in a place where they can fine tune their skills and make adjustments, rather than simply practicing with their customers. Our peers are much more forgiving. Role-playing forces employees to give their full attention because they are either practicing with one another or standing in front of the room. Either way, they know they will be next, so they are very attentive. A few years ago, I wrote a blog titled, Role-Playing: Riding the Ginormous Elephant in the Training Room, and I would encourage you to read it and share it. John Maxwell, established author on leadership skills, provides us with five effective coaching steps to use during role-playing that will help your employees master a task, equip others, and grow leaders, and stay engaged in the classroom.
    • Step 1: I do it (competence).
    • Step 2: I do it, and you are with me (demonstration).
    • Step 3: You do it, and I am with you (coaching).
    • Step 4: You do it (empowerment).
    • Step 5: You do it, and someone else is with you (reproduction).

3.  Invoke Complex Conversations. Most people attend multifamily training to equip themselves with new knowledge or improve performance in a particular area. This is not accomplished by listening to a talking head for hours. As with any problem, it takes a conversation to uncover issues and create solutions and a collaborative effort to make change happen. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to design a conversation which leaves no one in the room out.

  • Tune in Those Who Tune Out: Let’s face it, some of your participants don’t want to be there, others are happy to be in a different environment, some think they know more than you do, and others just want to go home. I begin with acknowledging these facts, and that often opens the door to some laughter and greater transparency. “How many of you want to be here? Who would rather be doing something else?” One of my favorite ways to start a conversation is to throw out a problem and a goal and ask the groups to determine the causes and solutions which will help the company achieve the goal. It is very important that each group represents a mixture of experience – leasing professionals, property managers, etc. An activity notebook is placed at every table for the ideas to be listed. At the end of the apartment sales training class, I collect these books and send them back to the coordinator so the books can be dispersed and followed up on. Example:  Problem: Our regional closing ratio is X. Goal: We need it to be X by next quarter. Causes: What is getting in our way? Solutions: How can we remove these obstacles to achieve the goal? What is working? What is not working? What can we do differently?
  • Affinity Table Mapping: This stimulating visual conversation activity works best with round tables. Clear the tables, and provide each group with a stack of sticky notes. Present an obstacle or challenge that needs to be overcome. It should be one that is likely to result in lots of different ideas. They should write it down and place it in the center of the table. Examples: How do you lease the apartment that faces the main road and the trash dumpster? How do you overcome a leasing slump? How do you stay motivated when your community is at full occupancy?
  • Have students generate responses by writing ideas on post-it notes (one idea per note) and placing them randomly around the question on the table. There should be no discussion at this point. Once lots of ideas have been generated, have students begin grouping them into similar categories, then label the categories and discuss why the ideas fit within them, how the categories relate to one another, and so on. These ideas often bring clarity to the challenge and result in a variety of solutions.
  • The Noun Problem-Solver: Place a random book at each table and ask each group leader to turn to a page and pick one noun off the page. The next step is to present a common challenge that is related to your training subject matter. As the participants use that noun to come up with ways to overcome the problem, it forces critical thinking and engages everyone because it is not easy. Additionally, each table will be working with a different noun, so the opportunities are endless. This is a great problem-solving tool they can take back with them to their leasing office.

4.  Inject Humor. I don’t know about you, but nothing is worse to me than sitting in a boring apartment sales training class with a boring trainer. Injecting humor throughout your training can be a great way to engage distracted learners. Do you know that humor can improve retention in students of all ages? Interestingly, it activates the brain’s dopamine reward system, stimulating goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory. Avoid sarcasm and inappropriate jokes, and a little humor will develop a sense of community within the participants. Here are a few ways to use humor in the classroom.

  • Share your stories: I love to share stories about my mishaps when I was a leasing consultant – the hard lessons learned that we can all reflect on and laugh at now. I like to even ask questions like, “Have you ever leased an apartment to someone who clearly hated everything about it?” I did!
  • Funny Thought Provokers: Asking a silly question, will often get you silly answers and invoke laughter. For example, “If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be?” Ask your participants to replace their last name on their name tag with their vegetable. Mine would be ‘Maria Zucchini’. As you walk around the room during activities, ask participants why they chose that vegetable. You could even select one table for vegetables, another for animals, etc. It will be a conversation starter during breaks.

Engagement in apartment sales training classrooms is critical for participant success. Maximum engagement in the classroom is often a predictor of continuing motivation and commitment as well as overall performance. We must become more vigilant in removing distractions from the classroom and engaging learners to maximize participation. To ensure success, trainers must create an engaging learning experience that is designed for today’s distracted learner.

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

Edge2Learn is an eLearning company whose focus is the Property Management Industry and specializes in property management training and multifamily education. With over 30 years of experience and a commitment to increase industry excellence, we are passionate about engaging learners to maximize benefits for both companies and employees. Aligned with a well-respected industry leader, Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions, the Edge2Learn platform provides a turnkey solution for clearly identified needs and opportunities. We prepare learners to deliver a superior customer experience and also reduce corporate liability risks and overall employee turnover.