Monday, June 17, 2013

The Most Frequently Asked Question At My Alpaca Clicker Training Workshops

I get one question that I can almost guarantee I will get asked at one point during one of my alpaca training workshops or when someone asks me how clicker training works.  I get asked if clicker training will work on their husbands, kids or employees.  I smile as if I never have heard that question before and say of course it works.  After all, clicker training is based on positive reinforcement techniques.  The click just marks the behavior that we are striving for and then when the alpaca hears the click, they know that they are going to get a treat.  They would like another treat or goodie so they work on figuring out what it was that they did that made that click that then led to the treat.  Once the alpaca has figured out what they did to create the click, you can see their eyes light up and the repeat of the behavior happens more quickly.  So how would this work in humans?  Some coaches have discovered how clicker training can be very effective in training young athletes the correct techniques for their sport.  An organization called TAGTEACH uses the clicker and has developed a methodology that is utilizes positive reinforcement in training mostly kids in sports as well as for school subjects.  It is a fantastic method that has shown real potential in working with autistic children, ADD children as well as many other issues.  I took a TAGTEACH workshop many years ago and came away wondering why more coaches and schools don't implement such a great method for educating and training our youth.

Answering Questions at an Alpaca Training Workshop

 TAGTEACH uses a method that breaks down the series of tasks needed to be learned into a single task that can be focused on.  For example, if you were trying to teach someone to tie their shoe lace, it would be rather complicated to just explain the entire process.  If you were going to clicker train someone to tie their shoe lace, you would break each step down from one taking one lace under the other.  That piece would get practiced and clicked each time the student did that much correctly.  Then the next step would be to take the other lace and loop it and you'd click that.  After each step was shown and clicked, you could try putting two or three steps together as one task and click if they get all those steps done correctly before receiving a click.  If you see they are still struggling over a step, you go back and break down those steps.  There is no shame or blame if it isn't done correctly.  It is more on the coach or teacher to figure out how small a step is required to get the student proficient.  If you see one step not being done correctly, then the teacher knows that step needs to become a task to be focused on with the click. 

In another example, if a gymnast is having a hard time understanding the coach in how to place their arms over their head at the completion of a routine then the coach will tell the youth to listen for the click and the coach will click when the arms are in the correct position.  If the gymnast doesn't hear the click, they know their arms aren't in the correct position yet and work to get them where the coach wants them.  When they hear the click, they get it.  A few repeats and the muscles and body now understand where to go.  It removes the communication issues.  The gymnast gets frustrated because they think they have their arms in the correct position and the coach gets irritated because they have to keep repeating the same correction with no success.  Enter the clicker and within a few clicks, the gymnast has the correct form.  I watched videos and saw how quickly students and athletes learned techniques. 

How could something like this be implemented in the workplace?  When I worked as an engineering supervisor, we were tasked to improve the low morale in our employees.  The only recommendation most supervisors could come up with was monetary rewards but there was very limited funds for financial rewards and they usually take so long to get approved.  For positive reinforcement to be as effective as possible, it should occur as close to the behavior that we want as possible.  That is why timing our click is so important.  I suggested something very simple.  How about we just acknowledge and thank an employee when they have done something really well.  A personal note or going up to an employee to thank them is always appreciated.  I know I like it when my hard work is appreciated.  I was shocked when another supervisor's response was so negative to that idea.  He stated that the employee's paycheck was all the thanks they were going to get from him.  However, I noticed how quick this supervisor was to find fault and let an employee know when they made a mistake.  At first I thought he was joking but as we discussed the topic, he was so against being positive.  I thought that to be very sad indeed and was very glad I wasn't one of his staff! 

 Did I use a click as a supervisor?  No, but I used the same philosophy.  I rewarded the behavior I wanted to get.  And because I did that, I got offered more desirable behavior without asking and having to micro-manage to get it.  By shifting my attitude to be more about positive reinforcement, I found myself looking for what was right and not what was wrong.  Sure, there were still mistakes but because I had shown so much appreciation for what was done correctly, employees were more likely to take responsibility to correct the mistake or admit the mistake before I discovered it.  And, I found employees wanting to get the reward by showing me what they were doing.  I knew more what was going on in my group because my staff was now eager to share what they were doing with me.  They weren't afraid of having their effort being discounted or find fault with.  They knew it would be appreciated for the hard work they put into it.  Who doesn't want to be appreciated for their work? 

I look forward to being asked this most often question of "Does Clicker Training work with...?"  I get to get on my soapbox and make it a teachable moment and share how amazing positive reinforcement works.   Read more about my clicker training experiences in my upcoming book, Alpacas Don't Do That due out this summer!

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to read it, Cindy. You taught me that Yes, alpacas DO do a lot of things I wouldn't have thought they could. :-)