Workplace Learning - 29 September 2009
The young man in this photo is Shin Dong Hyuk. He was born and raised in a North Korean prison camp. When he was 14, his mother and brother tried to escape. They failed, and so Shin was forced to watch their executions. His mother was publicly hanged, while his brother was shot nine times. Shin’s indoctrination was such that he felt no pity for them whatsoever.
World-renowned psychologist, Edgar Schein, discovered that there are two types of anxiety associated with learning and development: learning anxiety and survival anxiety.
Learning anxiety is when people are too afraid to learn something new. They’re scared it might be too difficult; they’re fearful it’ll fail; and they’re worried they’ll be perceived as a traitor by the groups in which they belong. Shin was suffering from extreme learning anxiety because of the total control that the North Korean regime exerted over his whole life. That’s why he reacted so callously to his family’s executions. To change was unfathomable.
Survival anxiety is when people finally realise that, in order to make it, they have no choice but to change. By the time he was 22, Shin became the only person to ever escape from that prison camp. He’d made the decision to get out when a new inmate shared stories of what the outside world was like. Together, they ran off, and even though his mate became stuck in the electrified fence and died, Shin was able to jump over and defected to the South.
Behavioural change occurs when survival anxiety is greater than learning anxiety. There are two ways you can do this. You can increase your employees’ survival anxiety, which includes threats and intimidation to get staff to do what you want. Or the second option is to decrease their level of learning anxiety, which is the creation of a safe learning environment.
It’s difficult to get rid of learning anxiety entirely, but here's how you can reduce it:
- Credibility: The facilitator needs to be someone believable and trustworthy.
- Positive Incentives: Benefits of the training need to be articulated and understood.
- Group Support: People are more comfortable learning with their peers.
- Follow-up: Training is not enough, so include coaching and other reinforcement.
- Method: The training should be tailored to suit every learning style, and just as importantly, the major ‘attention styles’. The two are very different.
Many people are reluctant learners. They attend training not because they want to, but because they have to. By reducing their learning anxiety, you give employees one less reason to escape.
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