3 Considerations for Contextual Learning


In almost every situation, context is key – that’s why we learn about context clues early in life! Context provides the framework for conversations, relationships, and general interactions in our professional and personal lives. Contextual cues determine how we handle a situation – the way we talk to a coworker, for instance, is different than how we would speak to our managers.

Context extends to how we learn, as well. A group of 20 new employees may approach onboarding with a sliding scale of previous knowledge or experience. No two learners will take in a lesson the same way, and it’s up to trainers and facilitators to create learning experiences that help support all types of learners.

L&D teams must consider various elements to create learning programs and training that meets the needs of a variety of employees. By incorporating context-based learning, we can bridge the gap between what the entire group needs to know and the best information to equip individual learners. Learn more about the 3 top considerations for making contextual learning a part of your training solution.

Physical Environment

Environmental factors are essential for companies aiming to train groups in different geographic areas. Providing learning in the appropriate physical environment can help learners translate training to real-world work. For example, sales training for an industry that operates outdoors may include different techniques for a cold climate than for warmer weather. 

The physical environment considerations can be woven in through role-play scenarios within training topics. L&D leaders may consider interviewing subject matter experts in different areas to help develop additional context-based learning modifications.

Emotional Cues

Emotion is the most challenging context to replicate. The emotional context while learning to interact with an angry customer, employee, or manager is often very different from applying it on the job. For example, a non-emotionally-cued training scenario would go something like this:

Manager: “So, I wanted to talk to you about these areas for potential improvement…”

Sales Representative: “Sure, I can see how that could help…”

However, genuine emotion is usually much different than the practice of the scenario during training. It usually goes something like this:

Manager: “So, I have a few things… mostly, you do a great job, but, well, there are a few things we should discuss…”

Sales Representative: “Why is this the first time I’m hearing this?!? Why didn’t you bring it up before???…”

To train these skills, you may incorporate your company’s pricing, sales floor configuration, products or services, and real customer objections/complaints to pull out the same or a similar level of real-time emotion during the training. Then, to sustain the new skills over time, you can supply managers with observation checklists and coaching skills to help sales representatives learn on the job.

Behavioral Cues

Behavioral cues can be tricky to train because there’s context on both sides of the interaction: the sales representative and the customer. Each approaches the conversation with their context, beliefs, and desired outcomes. Truthfully, even the most well-trained sales representatives may struggle with negative behavioral consequences during customer interactions. The goal of context-based learning for behavioral cues is to minimize the unknown. By practicing real scenarios and learning how to respond based on negative or positive interactions, training with behavioral considerations can support desired skills and correct undesired skills and will help sales teams keep a calm, level head during each conversation. 

Contextual-based learning is an effective way to customize training and better support demographically-mixed sales teams. Prioritizing custom learning programs will help your newest team members get what they need and have access to job aids to reference later. Download our Sales Training Ride-Along infographic for a handy checklist of the ways custom, context-based learning will help your team thrive. 

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