Do You Pay Attention to the Airline Safety Demonstration When You Fly?

The one element we all take for granted when we fly is the safety demonstration. Flight after flight, we become immune to these well-meaning and smiling flight attendants that simply want to ensure our safety in the event of an emergency.

Naturally, our eyes glaze over and we go about playing with our electronic devices. But what you may not realize is that the airline is providing us with a complimentary, instructor-led session, and at times, an e-learning course for flights equipped with seat-back video, about safety procedures (no prerequisites required).

This is not meant as an interactive course. They’re not asking for our participation. Either you get it or you don’t. Chances are you get it and, if something happens, you should be able to act accordingly. The problem? You and the airline really don’t know if this is true. The airline never tests how much you retain from this brief learning interaction.

One immediate observation (and a reminder for learning professionals) is that not all learning must be interactive. Too often, learning professionals insist on interactivity. We are so adamant about “getting interactive” that we forget learning can occur through other means.

Plane Speaking

But what does the safety demonstration on a plane have in common with learning retention and application? Let’s assess this learning interaction from the four levels of evaluation.

First, the flight attendants didn’t evaluate your satisfaction with the instruction (Level 1). If you did a “smile sheet” or course evaluation on any flight, please share it because we haven’t seen one yet. The flight attendants also don’t know whether passengers actually retain any of the learning from the safety demonstration (Level 2). Again, if a quiz was given before take off, we haven’t taken one. And finally, the attendants can’t prove if passengers can apply the safety skills (Level 3). The only thing for sure an airline can attest is fulfilling a mandated course.

We didn’t address business impact. It’s obvious, that if passengers don’t learn the safety demonstration (Level 2) and an emergency occurs, they wouldn’t be able to apply the safety skills (Level 3). Obviously, this would have significant consequences on business performance (Level 4).

Flying Lessons

What can you take away from this comparison?

Training participants want to learn new skills just like the passengers as long as it’s timely and relevant. While the safety demonstration is relevant for regulatory requirements, it becomes irrelevant for passengers after a few viewings.

The takeaway: Make your learning efforts relevant for employees and timely to business needs.

While many believe there is value in “course/ participant feedback,” the reality is that it’s not done well and usually a time waster. Ask yourself, “What did I do with the last set of smile sheets/course evaluations?”

The takeaway: Level 1 evaluations are not critical for every learning effort since feedback isn’t a measure for learning.

Not every learning effort needs a “test” (Level 2), but learners (e.g., employees) must be able to apply the learning (Level 3). If they can’t, then you wasted valuable resources (time, money, and effort) on irrelevant learning that didn’t make any business impact (your business leaders’ sole preoccupation).

The takeaway: Recognize that learning retention’s primary objective (Level 2) is identifying specific employee skills gaps leading to improving employee job performance (Level 3). Just like the airline, if people don’t retain the right knowledge to apply at the right time, then it’ll ultimately adversely impact the business.

Relevant learning efforts ensure that employees act accordingly just as passengers on a plane. More importantly, focus learning on what employees must improve and will make them more effective in their roles. Finally, build your business leader’s confidence that in good times or bad, employees can apply the learning.

The next time you fly somewhere take the time to learn from your instructors – the flight attendants. They’re providing more than a safety demonstration. They are trying to ensure that, if the time comes, you can perform in the event any changes occur during the flight. Do the same for your organization’s employees when changes occur. Just fasten their seatbelts first.