Planning the Training
Dana M. Seguin
EDU 500: Adult Learning Theory
Dr. Derrick Barbee
The California wine industry has been rapidly growing for a number of years. For small, family-run wineries to compete, they must exceed the expectations of their guests. However, many have struggled to implement effective training programs for their tasting room staff. One small Bay Area winery has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success since they opened their hospitality center a few years back; although recently there has been a decline in sales per person. The decline can be attributed to their current, ineffective training program; therefore, a new comprehensive training will be developed and implemented. The major assumptions of adult learning as defined by Malcolm Knowles’ andragogy will provide the theoretical framework for the new program, which will take advantage of enhancements in technology to create an online learning center that promotes self-directed learning, practical experience, and collaboration.
The new tasting room training program will focus on two major elements: the customer experience and wine education. While these may appear to be extremely straightforward, both elements are multi-faceted. The customer experience includes customer service skills, relationship building, brand loyalty as well as sales techniques while wine education focuses on basic wine comprehension, knowledge of the estate wines and vineyard partners as well as the story of the winery and the history of the facility. This is a significant amount of information to cover; therefore, it is imperative that the course is designed to keep the staff engaged in the learningprocess. Thus, Malcolm Knowles’ adult learning theory, andragogy, will lay the theoretical framework for the program. As Caruth (2014) states in Meeting the Needs of Older Students in Higher Education,
Educators are also encouraged to consider adopting and applying andragogical methods that create a more engaging learningenvironment to prepare students to compete in the 21st-century workplace. Adult learners need a more active role in the planning and learning processes; they need to apply the learning in their everyday lives (p. 26).
Andragogy’s emphasis on self-directed learning, student experiencesand useful and applicable information will be consistently integratedinto the program.
The majority of the training that focuses on the customer experience will be self-directed. As new concepts are introduced, students will apply them in the tasting room. To ensure mastery of each concept, senior staff members will be assigned as mentors to new employees. Thus for the duration of the training program, students will work with the mentor at all timeswhen on the tasting room floor. Mentors will provide feedback and make suggestions as students work on new skills, such as relationship building or a new sales technique. Caruth (2014) explains the power of mentor relationships in a community college classroom though this can easily be transferred to other settings. She says, “Administrators should take advantage of the knowledge and experiences of nontraditional students in the classrooms. Mentoring relationships should be established to benefit traditional and nontraditional older students mutually” (p. 10).Both the mentors and the students will be encouraged to share their experiences with one another on a regular basis. These discussions will prove beneficial to both the new and the more experienced staff members. “Discussions are the prototypic teaching method for active learning. They aresuperior to lectures in adult learners’ information retention; transfer of knowledge to new situations; problem solving, thinking, or attitude change; and motivation for further learning” . In addition, the training program will feature a self-directed learning project that will require students to view a tasting room experience from the eyes of the customer. Students willresearch mystery shopping independently and develop a mystery shopping questionnaire; after which they will use the questionnaire to mystery shop one of the other small wineries in the area. The last step will ask students to reflect on the experience; thereby providing valuable insight for both the learner and the instructor. Additionally, the independent nature of this project shifts the responsibility of learning onto the student and creates an “adult” classroom,” which is defined in Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning: Pillars of Adult Learning Theory as, “In an ‘adult’ classroom, adults feel accepted, respected, and supported, further, there exists a spirit of mutuality between teachers and students as joint inquirers” (as cited in Merriam, 2001, p. 5).
The wine education portion of the training will be ongoing, and all staff members will be required to participate. Wine tastings and wine games will be used to engage staff in activities that will allow them to share their knowledge, preferences and experiences.
Students who actively engage with what they are studying tend to understand more, learn more, remember more, enjoy it more and be more able to appreciate the relevance of what they have learned, than students who passively receive what we teach them .
Additionally, when educational opportunities present themselves, such as during harvest, the staff will be invited to engage in hands-on activities in the cellars. As Caruth (2014) explains, “educators and educational institutions globally are encouraged to make opportunities available to all learners to be involved in learner-centered educational experiences” (p. 21). Furthermore, the winery will organize trips to the vineyards, trips to other wine regions as well as owner guided winery tours. Lastly, students will keep a wine tasting journal, so that they can write about any other wine related experiences, such as the discovery of a new winery or wine or wine tasting trips that they organized on their own time. Researchers have found “that students’ insights became more profound as their journals progressed, and the nature and quality of thinking and reflection, as well as their influence on practice, also developed” .These activities also support the principles of andragogy as they encourage learning that is self-directed and provides opportunities for students to learn from their experiences as well as their coworkers experiences. Instructors will gain insight into the depth of staff’s knowledge by participating in tasting discussions as well as the winery organized trips.
To accomplish all of the elements of the new tasting room training program, multiple instructional settings will be used. Since the majority of the staff members are part-time employees, who also have full-time jobs, the primary setting for the training program will be online. A learning management system will be used to create an online learning center; wherein staff can access modules, participate in discussions, as well as access resources such as upcoming educational activities, wine informational sheets and the employee handbook. Kim’s (2010) recent dissertation study at the Claremont Graduate University found that “study participants greatly benefited from an online tool that empowered them to actively interact and collaborate with others, tracked various course- related tasks, and measured milestones as a means to provide a self-monitoring mechanism to achieve learning goals” (p. 3). Thus, the online learning center will not only eliminate the current scheduling issues, for students will be able to access the course material when it is most convenient for them, but it also is consistent with andragogy’s emphasis on self-directed learning. Students will access the training program to learn about new concepts. Also in the learning center, a discussion forum will be created; in which mentors and students will participate in discussions related to the new staff member’s experiences in the tasting room. Furthermore, a discussion group will exist for all staff members to share experiences, recommend wines, celebrate successes as well as ask questions. These forums support Knowles’ assumption that the adult learner “has accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that is a rich resource for learning” , andthe more experiences that are shared, the more useful these discussion groups will be as resources for future learning.Additionally, as Saxena (2013) explains in How Technology Supports Self-Directed Learning, “the context of self-directed learning has now changed with online learning, greater access to technology, personalized learning experiences, and access to information sources that were not available earlier.” The training program will rely on other settings as well. A more traditional classroom setting will be used for wine educational activities, and the tasting room as well as off-site locations,will be used as extensions to the online learning center. In the tasting room, staff will apply new concepts; thereby supporting another one of Knowles’ assumption which calls for the immediate application of knowledge. Lastly, both the wine educational tastings as well as the hands-on activities will further engage staff into the learning process.
The tasting room training program is extensive; thus numerous instructional activities will be incorporated. The customer experience content in its entirety will be delivered utilizing the following four instructional strategies: readings, online presentations, practical experiences and finally online discussions. These steps will be repeated for each of the four topics, which are customer service skills, relationship building, brand loyalty and sales techniques. Students will find a section in the online learning center that will contain desired learning outcomes, required readings, a presentation as well as a practical experience activity that will be completed while working in the tasting room. Once the knowledge has been applied in the tasting room, then both the student and mentor will participate in an online discussion forum that will allow both parties to share their experiences with other participants. The readings will all come from the Disney Institute’sBe Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service, which has been used to train hospitality and retail personnel at companies all around the world for more than a decade. Disney’s emphasis on creating experiences as well as their popularity, makes it well-suited for this program. Tom Stagg, a Disney cast member, puts it best when he says,” I believe that one of the things that most sets Disney apart is our cast – and it’s their specialized, individualized and unscripted interactions with guests that create the most memorable Disney moments” (Disney Institute, 2001, p. ii).The first section of this module will cover customer service skills and will have the following learning outcomes (a) to create a customer experience that exceeds expectations, (b) to differentiate between customer service and customer experience, (c) to recognize the needs and wants of customers, (d) to create a memorable customer experience. The required readings will be Chapter 2: the Magic of Service, Chapter 3: the Magic of Cast and Chapter 4: the Magic of Setting. A brief online presentation will review the major concepts from the readings. Students will then be asked to apply what they have learned during their next tasting room shift; specifically, they are to walk in the footsteps of the customers, create memorable experiences in which they will make an effort to determine the needs and wants of customers as well as use preferential questions to engage guests. Throughout the shift, their mentor will provide guidance and then both will write about their success, any challenges that they encountered and any new information that was gained. They will be encouraged to use specific examples and ask questions. Mentors and students alike should also ask for feedback as well as make suggestions to other students. While structured, this activity still promotes self-directed learning, for students will be able to complete it when it is convenient for them. Additionally, the practical experience activity willactively engage the learner as well as demonstrate the relevance of the new information by applying it in real-life situations. More importantly, mentors and students will be able to share past and present experiences, which will greatly increase the potential learning opportunities.
Secondly, as previously mentioned, students will participate in an independent, self-directed mystery shopping activity. Unlike the last instructional strategy, this project will allow students to take a more active role in the decision-making process; thereby giving learners more responsibility. According to Knowles (1980), a critical interpretation of self-directed learning includes the following defining characteristic, “self-direction as the continuous exercise by the learner of authentic control over all decisions having to do with learning” (p. 21). The mystery shopping activity offers less structure than other self-directed activities in the program, which will enable learners to be more independent and more actively involved in the planning process. The activity instructions are as follows: For decades, the retail industry has used mystery shoppers to evaluate the customer experience. Many believe that it is the most effective way for a business to see their strengths and weaknesses from the customer perspective, what do you think? To help answer this question, you will become a mystery shopper and prepare to mystery shop at a local winery of your choosing. The guidelines for this activity are, (a) tools of the trade – develop a questionnaire to assist you in evaluating the customer experience, (b) mystery shoppers are actors – remember to view the experience as a customer and act accordingly while at the winery, (c) remember, it’s a mystery – you cannot mystery shop at a winery where you may know someone (d) clean slate – evaluate the winery on the experience that you have while mystery shopping, don’t judge them on previous experiences or experiences of others. After your visit to the winery, use the questionnaire that you developed to evaluate your experience, explain what most impressed you and make suggestions as to what the winery could have done differently to improve the customer experience. Lastly, reflect on the overall activity and write a short paper in which you share your thoughts on the original question posed and the learning process. The desired learning outcomes will be for students to demonstrate their (a) comprehension of the customer experience, (b)ability to evaluate the customer experience for its strengths and weakness, (c) exhibit capacity for self-directed learning.
In addition to making students responsible for more aspects of the learning process, the mystery shopping project provides them with an opportunity to experience the concepts introduced in the program in a different setting as well as reflect on the learning process. Thus, this activity supports one of andragogy’s most important principles, which is the need for learners to build upon knowledge and past experiences. Furthermore, it creates a bridge between the classroom and the real world. As Gitterman (2004) states, “An essential teaching task is to develop connections between the ‘abstract world’ of concepts with the ‘real world’ of personal experiences. These connections are more likely to be actualized when students are engaged in active learning processes” (p. 96).
While the wine education portion of the training program consists of multiple instructional activities, such as wine tastings, vineyard trips and winery tours, they all are designed to actively involve the student and provide hands-on and authentic learning opportunities. This portion of the training will primarily be ongoing and not necessarily limited to new employees, which aligns with the idea that “the main purpose of education is to acquire the ability to inquire and to go on acquiring new knowledge throughout life” .Moreover, staff will be encouraged to share experiences and preferences with one another. The staff’s shared love of wine will create a safe environment, in which less experienced staff members will feel comfortable talking about wine. Finally, the ongoing journal activity, in which students reflect on these activities as well as any other wine related experiences, will further stress that learning is a lifelong activity as well as embolden students to reflect freely. “Journaling is so effective for it engages the learner in reflective conversation with himself. It allows him to create new solutions without penalty, criticize without retribution, experiment without failure and celebrate without guilt” .
In addition to supporting the theoretical framework upon which the training program will be built upon, all of the instructional strategies discussed are also particularly well-suited for this audience. As Caruth (2014) explains, “In order for learning to be effective, the focus of learning must be on the adult learner gaining self-confidence. This self-confidence will subsequently motivate the learner to continue learning and build on past knowledge and experiences” . Since most of the employees will work a limited number of hours each week, their confidence on the sales floor will, at first, be minimal. However, by consistently reinforcing the new concepts and by providing a place to learn about their coworkers’ experiences, they will begin to feel more comfortable in their role at a much quicker pace than those without such opportunities.
Since the learning center, which serves as the hub for all educational activities and resources, will reside online, it will be important to ensure that all students feel comfortable accessing and navigating the platform. This need is further exemplified by the fact that most of the training is self-directed. While a great deal of the staff is technologically inclined; there are some older staff members who will be hesitant at first to participate in this medium. Thus, an orientation will be designed to introduce the learning center. A conventional classroom format will be used, but staff will be encouraged to bring in their laptops. The orientation will provide a live demonstration of the online center, after which students will be able to explore it independently and ask any questions. In addition, an easy, step by step manual will be provided to those students who request it. A copy will also be included in the resource section located on the learning platform. “In consideration of computer learning, Knight (1999) found that learning and confidence increase when adult learners are provided opportunities for hands-on computer learning. Allowing students to maintain control of the mouse and the computer keyboard also increased learning outcomes” ( as cited in Caruth, 2014, December, p. 28). Once again, the learner is actively engaged in a hands-on activity wherein he can apply the new information immediately. Furthermore, the majority of the staff may actively contribute to Facebook and other social media program; however, very few will have ever participated in an online educational environment. Therefore, as Waterhouse and Rogers (2004) state in the Importance of Policies in E-Learning Instruction,
In any learning environment, students should have a clear understanding of what the instructor expects from them, as well as what they can expect from the instructor. This need is more urgent for e-learning students than for traditional students because e-learning activities are typically technology-based and self-directed.
Thus, course guidelines will also be introduced at the orientation as well as posted online. The primary focus will be on appropriateness. Students will be reminded to be respectful at all times, use professional language and be mindful of the way their writing may be interpreted in electronic communications.
To provide enough time for students to complete the customer experience activities and to ensure that there will be enough participants for the discussion groups, the tasting room will have to hire new staff in waves. Since the busiest seasons are summer and the holidays, it makes sense to hire in the Spring and the Fall. This leaves enough time for the new staff members to participate in the training and it also ensures that they have a strong team on the floor for those peak times. The new staff training program will take place over the course of eight weeks, which means that staff will have two weeks to work on each customer experience topic. The four-step instructional activity requires students to apply knowledge on their next shift. However, many staff members work limited schedules, so two weeks will ensure that everyone can apply the knowledge in the tasting room and participate in weekly discussions. Over this eight-week periods, new staff members will also need to complete the self-directed mystery shopping activity as well as attend four wine educational activities. The educational activities will include an introduction to wine tasting and serving etiquette, an owner guided winery tour, a current release wine tasting with the winemaker and the last activity will be a blind tasting or wine game in which the entire tasting room staff will participate. This final activity will provide an opportunity to welcome the new staff and congratulate them for completing the training.. Ongoing wine educational activities will be scheduled on a monthly basis. While the entire staff will be encouraged to attend as many of these activities as possible, it would not be realistic to expect this. Thus, staff will need to attend a minimum of six per year. The online learning center will need to be developed during March and April sothat new staff members can be hired in April. The new hires will start the training program in May. However, the online center will be the educational hub for the winery; therefore, resources and new programs will be able to be added at anytime. Just as learning is ongoing, so will be the development of the online platform.
Lastly, the tasting room training program will have to be regularly evaluated to determine its effectiveness. During the development stage, senoir tasting room staff members will be asked to consult, for their first-hand experiences will provide valuable insight. Ideally, a small group of experienced staff members will complete the training in its entirety, for this will provide an opportunity to revise any areas that the staff found confusing as well as add anything that the tasting room staff felt was missing. Not only will this process make current staff feel valued, but they will also gain awareness into the learning process. Furthermore, this will reinforce the theoretical foundation andpromote student motivation. As Blondy (2007) explains,
Andragogy requires learners to participate in all aspects of learning, from directing the learning process to incorporating past experiences. Andragogy advances a mutual relationship between the learner and educator in managing the learning process and it furthers a two-way, equally dependent interaction of mutuality and reciprocity aimed at joint development (p. 120).
Another consideration will be the fact that the tasting room staff is almost always multigenerational; thus, staff members will have different ideas about learning from the start. To better understand each student, the instructor will meet with him or herbefore the training program begins to discuss the learner’s goals as well as determine how he or she will perform in a self-directed environment. This information will provide insight as to how much guidance the instructor will offer to individual students.As the instructor works with students throughout the training program, they will be able to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of the course and make any changes before the next session. For instance, he may find that there needs to be more structure in the program,or he may find that he need to allow learners to be more involved in the planning process. “Online facilitators must encourage learners to become as self-directed as possible, allowing them to be creative with assignments and projects, encouraging their input and suggestions, while remaining available for consultation to provide guidance when needed” (Blondy, 2007, p.118). Lastly, the facilitator will be able to evaluate the program by reviewing the quantitative sales data from the tasting room. One of the primary indicators that the tasting room needed to revamp their training program was the decrease in sales per person. Thus, this data will be monitored along with individual sales numbers . The individual sales figures will provide further insight into the staff’s future training and development needs.
In conclusion, andragogy’s fundamental principles will lay the foundation for the new tasting room training program. Self-directed learning, past experiences as well as the importance of the immediate application of knowledge will be used to reinforce the learning experience in the online learning center. This comprehensive training program will emphasize the ongoing nature of learning as well as demonstrate how essential learning is to the success of businesses.
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