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The Learning Equation that Changes Everything

The Learning Equation that Changes Everything

As adults, most of us operate with a fundamental belief that we are terrible students. In fact, in many of the presentations I have delivered over the course of my career in education and public speaking have contained the following message in some form or fashion: “Let me make a prediction, most of you in this room believe you are terrible students.” And inevitably, this statement is met with head nods, cheers, and even a few “Amens.”

Think about your training experiences over the past few years. More than likely, you spent about 30-50 hours of time in ‘training,’ whether it be in keynote speeches, online training, or face-to-face seminars. Yet, you likely cannot remember more than 2 or 3 concepts that were presented during those trainings. And even less likely that you implemented more than one skill which fundamentally changed your on-the-job performance.

So, it seems true…you are a terrible student. Until you take a closer look. The problem is not you, the learner; it’s the learning experience. Read on to learn more, and register for my upcoming webinar with Blue Sky, The Learning Equation: How to Create Long Term Behavior Change, taking place for free on August 23rd!

The first thing we must understand is that learning is NOT simply a recall of facts. Learning is about producing a fundamental CHANGE IN BEHAVIOR, which hopefully leads to the desired outcome.

Learning (or behavior change) is created by fulfilling a fundamental equation:

Emotion + Experience = Learning

When an experience is highly emotional and high experiential (you are physically engaged either through discussion or physical work), you have a much higher degree of long-term behavior change which takes place.

Think about why then so many seminars and keynotes fall flat.

How Learning Takes Place

Keynotes are high in emotion but lack physical experience. We have all had the feeling of being completely jazzed after attending a keynote, thinking, “I am going to change the world!” only to revert back to your pre-keynote behavior within 15 minutes of departing.

Most in-person seminars, which present materials, such as how to operate Excel or a new work process, may be experiential, where you physically do the process but are extremely low in emotional quality. Without an emotional connection, when you want to recall the physical action that you took, your mind has no ability to re-discover that skill.

And then there’s the online learning experience, which is most often neither emotional nor experiential and the least effective of all learning experiences. Corporate training and certification programs are headed more and more often in this direction for compliance and cost-effective reasons, only to see their employees become less and less effective at producing organizational or process-oriented change.

To help give you an idea of a great learning experience, think of it this way: When was the last time that you put your hand on a hot stove or got your hand shut in a car door. It was highly EMOTIONAL and likely involved a great deal of cursing. It hurt badly…so you had a dramatic EXPERIENCE, which you can vividly remember. And for a long period of time after, your behavior changed.

Regardless of the learning opportunity, be it a keynote, seminar, or even an online learning experience, it is possible to produce a behavior change by creating a learning experience that is both highly emotional and highly experiential. Similar to having your hand shut in the car door….but in a positive way.

You see, you are not a terrible student nor are the people that you lead. Rather the opportunities that you have to learn are inherently set-up not to produce behavior change.

So, the next time you set-up a learning experience, consider for a moment:

  • How will you design the experience so that it truly pulls out emotion from the participants?
  • How will you provide the participants with an experience that allows them to practice a physical skill or a decision-making process?

Interested in learning more? Register here for our upcoming webinar on August 23rd, The Learning Equation: How to Create Long Term Behavior Change.


Dan Streeter is an award-winning educator and Principal of IMPART Learning Solutions which designs life-changing learning experiences for the non-profit and corporate world. You can learn more about Dan and IMPART at or follow Dan on Twitter at @danrstreeter.

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