The Why and What in Training

People learn more when they know why the topic is important, what to expect and how the process will run. Common sense. Inspirational training is about creating a memorable experience for people – no matter how it is done, trainers need to first cover the Why and the What.



As reasonable as it may seem, if the learner knows “why” he or she is supposed to learn something and the reason makes sense to—is valued by—the learner, the probability of learning increases. The trainer’s job is to make the learner ready to take in new information. The key is to show what’s in it for the learner.

Research in which different learner groups received instruction with and without a meaningful “why” produced different learning results. In the research studies, “why” is frequently represented by the terms “expectancy value” or “task value,” referring to what the learners perceive investing in the learning effort offers them. Groups with strong rationales that convincingly explained how the learners would benefit from the instruction paid closer attention and retained what they had learned more accurately. This appeared to be true regardless of the type of learner. The clearer and more meaningful the “why” offered, the better and more long lasting the learning.



“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else.” This is true also of learning. Have you ever been in a class in which the presenter wandered aimlessly through the material? You sat there trying to figure out where this person was heading, and felt lost. Research on learning demonstrates the value of clarifying to the learners what it is they will be able to do by the end of the lesson, module, or course. Such early information acts as a set of guideposts or a map. The clearer and more meaningful it is for the learners, the higher the probability they will learn it.

However, this should not be confused with provision of specific instructional objectives at the front end of a course when the objectives may be meaningless to the learners. Studies done on “specific instructional objectives,” their use, and their placement in instruction had confusing and contradictory results.

Adapted from Telling Ain’t Training, from, which just launched a second edition.

Stimulating Ideas & Building Futures