Rewards, recognition, and celebrations can add a bit of festivity
and fun to your training sessions and can also reinforce learning.
Many adult learners enjoy having their knowledge and efforts
recognized or finishing an activity with some form of celebration
or ritual. Such acknowledgement and reward can be as simple as a
verbal compliment or feedback on performance. It can also take a
more tangible form, such as a small prize or group celebration with
gifts. When recognition occurs in a safe environment where threats
and negative stress are minimal or eliminated, creativity, problem
solving, interaction, and knowledge transfer often result.
But according to some researchers and educators, rewards (also
known as bribes) do not work well to reinforce learning for younger
people. In contrast, these researchers say that rewards merely
reinforce rote behavior or mindless compliance to the teacher or
trainer and may actually inhibit learning. While small or
short-term rewards can encourage and stimulate action, long-term
behavior - such as learning and memory - can actually be impeded.
Even so, adults have already formed their basic behavior and
values, which means you can use rewards and incentives to encourage
them in a lighthearted manner.
The key is to use rewards in a manner that promotes a slight
diversion and to make sure they do not become a goal of the
program. Some trainers use so many games, gimmicks, and rewards
that learners forget why they are in the classroom - for learning.
Instead, learners get caught up in competition and the resulting
prize, no matter how small.
Anything that you use to inspire, encourage, or compensate a
learner can be considered an incentive, but in general, such
rewards should meet the following criteria.
Value. Learners need to recognize the item you are
giving as having positive value. Examples of such rewards include
candy, stickers, toys, food, prizes, or gifts. The dollar value is
irrelevant, since each learner places importance and desirability
based upon his own experience and need.
Predictability. Give rewards in a predictable
fashion. For example, use small prizes, such as candy, cookies, or
other incentives as a reward for group accomplishment following a
Purpose. If your goal in giving or withdrawing
something is to change participant behavior or to influence them to
be more motivated, then it is a reward.
You should use rewards in a well-planned manner, and they should
never distract from learning activities. Like training aids, they
should reinforce learning and tie into the session theme rather
than appearing arbitrary. According to Pierce Howard in his book,
The Owner's Manual for the Brain, research indicates that
"rewards for effort are more encouraging in the long run than
rewards for success. Research suggests that no one general rule
defines the best way to encourage creative excellence. People are
different. Do what works. To encourage creativity in a person,
match her personality and its attendant values. Reward extroverts
with a part, introverts with a good book!" Pierce also stresses
that you should emphasize verbal encouragement and time that
encouragement for occasions of special effort and achievement.
ASTD Field Editor Robert W. Lucas is president of Creative
Presentation Resources, a creative training and presentation
products company in Casselberry, Florida. He has more than three
decades of experience training adults. He was the president of the
Central Florida Chapter of ASTD in 1995 and is the chapter's 2010
president-elect. Lucas has written and contributed to 29 books,
including Training Workshop Essentials; The Big Books
of Flip Charts; Creative Learning: Activities and Games That REALLY
Engage People; and People Strategies for Trainers: 176
Tips and Techniques for Dealing with Difficult Classroom
Situations. He is also listed in Who's Who in the World,
Who's Who in America, and Who's Who in the South and
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