Social Studies

For most adult learners, the presence and support of others enhances and supports the ability to learn.

On one of my trips to Indonesia, leading corporate trainers were interested in making a fundamental shift in how training is delivered. As they position their organizations for the future, they’re preparing to meet ISO 9001 and other quality standards demanded by their international clients and partners. These standards demand worker involvement. The instructor-led, participant centered processes I’ve developed and taught people to use helped them to achieve this goal in the classroom—both live and virtual.

The goal is to help the individual (and, thus, the organization) to get better results, faster, from training—and to be able to demonstrate and document the results. Another important consideration: For most adult learners, learning includes a strong social element. The presence and support of others enhances and supports the ability to learn. It is also a strong part of the transfer process.

In the early part of the 20th century, the predominant management theory was Taylor’s scientific method of management. The theory assumed that everything could be timed, measured, streamlined, and, thus, improved. Workers were cogs in a process. The processes themselves were the keys.

However, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, a landmark study at Western Electric’s Hawthorne, IL, plant cast a shadow on Taylorism. (During the time of this study, quality improvement gurus-to-be Deming and Juran, pioneers of the quality movement, both worked at the Hawthorne plant—though they were not involved with the experiment.)

The initial study examined the effect of light levels on productivity. Researchers monitored a group of workers in a workspace with improved lighting. Not surprisingly, production went up.

But what happened when workers went to work in a space with diminished lighting? Production went up again.

This is the so-called Hawthorne Effect: The very fact that workers knew they were receiving attention caused them to try to improve, even when conditions were against them. This, the beginning of the human relations theory of management, showed the strong connection social interaction among workers has on performance.


For many participants (but not all), the social element is very important. People learn best when they are involved with the skills and knowledge they are acquiring, and when they are participating with and have the support of others in the learning process.

Think about this the next time you design or deliver instruction: How can I best involve this person or group to enhance the learning process? Here are three of my Top 10 ideas:

1. Use small groups. The ideal size is five to seven people. Less than five, and a domineering person can take over. More than seven, and shy people get lost.

2. Rotate group leaders. Always have someone in the group responsible, but rotate the responsibility, so no one “owns” the group.

3. Develop learning partners. Have each person pair up with someone else in the class from a different group. Periodically, the learning partners meet and do an activity together.

Send me one of your ways to involve people in the learning process, and I’ll give you five more. Send your idea to with the subject line, “Learner Involvement.”

Until next month, continue to add value and make a difference.

Bob Pike, CSP, CPLP FELLOW, CPAE-Speakers Hall of Fame, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” and his newest book, “The Master Trainer’s Handbook.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.