Why your L&D budget should be focused on unconscious vs conscious training to drive behavioural change

Delivering training that results in demonstrable, impact heavy change, is few and far between

Why your L&D budget should be focused on unconscious vs conscious training to drive behavioural change

The traditional approach to training focuses mainly on delivering the right content. However, research has shown that unless the training experience drives behavioural change in the learner, it’s unlikely to be effective.

There are a number of reasons behind training failing to drive real change, but the standout reason is usually twofold: 

  1. The training is mainly focused on conscious impact, versus subconscious impact where new habits and behaviours are created.
  2. The training hasn’t been set up in a way that embeds change over a period of time, more often than not being delivered in more of a tick box “subject covered” process. 

Quite simply – the reason most training fails is that it doesn’t target the subconscious mind which is ultimately responsible for changes in behaviour. To put this into a practical example – if you deliver management training with the aim of creating better managers – you need behavioural change to happen for improvements to take place. 

Let’s first look at the difference between conscious and subconscious learning. Conscious learning refers to the traditional methods of training, such as theory-based training sessions, group discussions, watching videos, or reading books or manuals. The main aim is imparting knowledge and technical skills through a proven model or methodology. Training that focuses on conscious learning alone means that while learners may understand the material they have been taught, they are unlikely to be able to apply the lessons in a real-life business context. 

Subconscious learning, on the other hand, also known as tacit knowledge or experiential learning, is more about allowing learners to explore their environment and draw connections between experiences, better connecting the dots that they can then apply to future situations. Another benefit of subconscious learning is that it can help learners retain information for longer periods of time. Traditional training often involves a lot of memorisation, which fades quickly after the training has ended. Because learners are encouraged to take the topics and draw on their own past experiences, versus static examples in course material, subconsciously they create better connections and recall information more quickly when needed in the future.

Experiential and immersive training is a great approach for subconscious learning. This type of training creates scenarios that mimic real-life situations and facilitates learning from them firsthand. For example, an organisation can undertake role-playing exercises to enhance customer service skills instead of simply reading about them or looking at service models. This kind of training will not only equip learners with knowledge but also shape future behaviour because of the subconscious training. 

Another important technique to drive real behavioural change is to include follow-up sessions that are run a few weeks after initial training to reinforce and consolidate the topics that have been covered. This model of experience recall, future behavioural role-play and then retrospective review of the concepts in real-world scenarios, is extremely valuable in creating long-lasting changes in behaviour.

By focusing on subconscious tools to support conscious training tools, and then prioritising experiential and immersive training, you will not only deliver great content, but also drive behavioural change that will last way beyond the training session. Ultimately leading to demonstrable increases in both performance and productivity. 

Laura Weaving
Laura Weaving

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