As soon as the RNC packed up and left town I decided it would be a great time to visit a good friend of mine in Cleveland. After an obligatory stop at the West Side Market we somehow found ourselves on a 1-hour trolley tour of Cleveland. Not a typical weekend activity for me, and I must admit my expectations were pretty low. I mean, Cleveland doesn’t exactly scream “amazing landmarks to view from a trolley!” Well, until Jim grabbed the trolley microphone and literally shouted those exact words into the universe.
As a lifelong Clevelander, Jim is spending his golden years driving tourists around his hometown in a bright red, open-air trolley. And he’s seriously amazing at it. I went from skeptic to active participant within the first ten minutes of the tour. Thirty minutes in and I was trying to sing along to some Cleveland sports songs I had never heard before, and by the end of the tour I was voluntarily agreeing to an extra 20 minutes on board so he could show us a log cabin on the east bank of the Cuyahoga river. I had fun, learned a lot about Cleveland, and was genuinely surprised at how infectious Jim’s passion was.
I was impressed and surprised and this reaction got me thinking about how hard Jim’s job really is. He has to maneuver this giant trolley around twisted, pot-holed Cleveland roads while talking non-stop into a microphone and engaging a hugely diverse audience that includes kids, seniors, visitors from other countries, and skeptical hobos like myself. Jim had expertly mastered his many hats as a driver, passionate entertainer, and educator, and these three skill-sets just happen to be what makes for a great learning experience in general. Coincidence? Nah.
Be a Driver
I don’t take a lot of guided tours anywhere I travel. Jim made me realize there’s a huge benefit to taking a guided tour: I can focus on what I’m seeing and learning without having to worry about the mechanics of navigation and direction. The same is true for e-learning. Learners often want a guided experience so they can focus on what matters: the content itself.
We usually want to give learners a lot of control in courses, and that can be really great. But sometimes learners want to sit back and not spend 20 minutes mapping out a route and figuring out all the twists and turns. And not a single car honked at us for lingering outside the Browns stadium as he rung his bell for a nearby wedding party.
Be an Entertainer
Jim didn’t care if a joke fell flat. He wasn’t phased when people didn’t respond to his questions or raise their hands. When it started to rain he told us we were probably enjoying the cool reprieve, and we believed him. One thing was immediately clear: Jim is passionate about Cleveland and he doesn’t care what I think, and that kind of passion commands attention and respect. Plus, passion and humor are infectious and win people over.
In any kind of learning environment, you always have skeptics in the crowd. Don’t cater to them, don’t dumb down your pitch, don’t roll your eyes and say, “yeah we all know this is silly and pointless.” Win them over with your genuine passion. Entertain them and you’ll be rewarded.
Be an Educator
Jim is a deep well of Cleveland knowledge. I learned everything from how Moses Cleveland first landed in the area to which church James Garfield used to preach at for five dollars a week. I also saw LeBron James’ favorite steakhouse and learned which apartment buildings are home to current Cavalier players. I loved this about Jim. He didn’t decide for me what information was more important or more interesting because to him, everything about Cleveland is important and interesting.
In the past, I would avoid guided tours like Jim’s because I assumed that I would have a better experience on my own, following a route tailored to my own interests. But when we do that, we miss out on opportunities to discover new interests and learn interesting facts about things we previously deemed uninteresting. That act of discovery is vital to creating an enjoyable learning process.
A Final Thought
I signed up for a one-hour tour. It ended up taking 1.5 hours and I couldn’t have been happier. In fact, I didn’t even notice until after the tour was over. If Jim hadn’t been such a great tour guide, I would have been itching to jump ship 20 minutes in. A lot of folks say their learners can’t sit for more than 30 minutes or can’t engage with training that takes more than an hour. We often hear that they just don’t have the attention span. That might be true if your training is boring. If you can capture the attention and interest of learners by driving and entertaining and educating, you’ll be surprised at how long learners are willing to be an active participant.