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12 Important Lessons on Employee Training From Rocky Balboa

Before we take a deep dive into the work of Sylvester Stallone and what it can teach employers about training, let’s warm up:

For over 40 years, Rocky has entertained and inspired audiences. On the surface, the movie tells the story of a past his prime boxer from Philadelphia, Rocky Balboa, who gets an unexpected shot at the championship belt. It’s not difficult to see the parallels between a movie about training for a boxing fight and training your employees.

The following will break down the iconic training montage, in 12 rounds, and pull out useful insights to remember when creating an employee training and learning program.

Round 1: Setting the Learning Foundation (with bricks in each hand)

The establishing montage scene places our hero, Rocky, running at a light jog on train tracks with bricks in each hand. This is a good scene to remind you that most of the learning for your organization will happen outside of the classroom/training sprint.

Just like Rocky isn’t training exclusively in a boxing gym, your training should create a foundation for employees to continue learning and adapting when the training session is complete. If you expect your employees to be experts after only two weeks of training in a classroom, you and your employees will be disappointed.

Round 2: Avoid Garbage Fires With the Cascading Information Theory

This admittedly strange encounter where Rocky catches an orange from an unknown person demonstrates a popular learning tactic called the cascading information theory.

In brief, this theory suggests that people learn better when they get just the amount of information they need to move on to the next, more complicated idea. That orange represents the information (nutrition) Rocky needs, and he gets it when he needs it to keep going.

Dropping an employee manual on a new hire and telling them to memorize it won’t prove as effective as providing information in small bits when they need it.

Round 3: Keep Your Learners on the Right Path With Knowledge in the World

Despite his long run, Rocky is staying on the right path. He may be tired, but luckily he doesn’t have the burden of thinking about where to go because he has a nice path along the water to follow.

This is a training concept called knowledge in the world, and it lessens the burden on your employee’s ability to memorize. By providing the information in the setting they will be working, employees don’t need to hold all the information on their head. They just need to know how to find it easily.

Round 4: Get Up to Speed With Pace Layering

Rocky is in rhythm pounding the speed bag over and over again. This is an example of a fast skill, something that can be taught and change quickly.

Pace layering is an idea that some things can be learned quickly (like hitting a speed bag) and others take more time. Slow skills like problem solving and adapting in real time will take longer to learn. It’s important in your training program to recognize and adjust the amount of time spent developing fast and slow skills.

Round 5: Count the Ways Employees Train on One Hand With Blended Learning

Rocky is now joined by his manager/trainer Mick, and some other guy who is counting as Rocky performs various kinds of one-handed and clap push ups.

In the training world, this is called blended learning. This is an effective way to mix elements and provide your learners with different strategies to teach the same thing. This can be useful because everyone learns in different ways, and mixing up your methods can improve retention and understanding.

Round 6: Avoid Taking Habituation Shots to Your Employees