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Active Learning vs. Passive Learning for Customer-Facing Agents

Active Learning Vs. Passive Learning for Contact Centers

Imagine that, tomorrow, you have to appear for some reason on The Great British Baking Show and bake a cake, something you’ve never done before. Needless to say, you are going to want to spend the day learning how. You’re given two options:

  1. Read and memorize the ingredients and recipe
  2. Use the recipe to practice baking the cake a few times

Most people would choose Option 2. After all, if you’ve never made the cake before, it’s pretty difficult to understand exactly what the measurements mean, how to balance them, the right time to whisk, the desired thickness of the frosting, etc. Simply reading how to bake a cake is no substitute for actually doing it.

That, at its essence, is the difference between passive learning and active learning. It’s the difference between knowing something in theory and actually doing it. And that can be key for onboarding, training, and upskilling customer-facing agents.

Practicing active learning for contact center agents isn’t always easy, but it can be done in a risk-free and immersive manner with an AI coaching platform. And that kind of hands-on, active learning for agents can have delicious results.

The Science Behind Passive Learning vs Active Learning

To start, let’s look at the definitions of each type of learning

Passive learning: This is focused on the instructor. Think of a college professor lecturing the class. This lecture can be brilliant and insightful, and the students can learn a lot from it. They are just engaging with it in a passive way.

This of course can be taken outside the school, for example when you are onboarding a new agent. The “instructor” here can be a manager, and can also be materials like scripts, training videos, handbooks, and more.

It’s important to note that there is nothing wrong with passive learning in and of itself, and indeed it is often needed.

Active learning: This kind of learning is focused on the “student, who could be a trainee at a new company or someone learning a new skill at the job. According to research done by Johns Hopkins, the student will “internalize the material through hands-on and interactive engagement.” They will also use “active review and repetitive rehearsal for storing information in long-term memory.”

One thing that is interesting about active learning is that it is perceived as more difficult, and in a way it can be. It ispretty easy to sit and listen, it is harder to actively engage and participate. That led to some unusual findings in a Harvard study.



The study, published Sept. 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that, though students felt as if they learned more through traditional lectures,they actually learned more when taking part in classrooms that employed so-called active-learning strategies.

What does this mean? A majority of studentswho had classes using the passive learning method felt they learned a “great deal” and that the instructor “was effective at teaching.” Students who had active learning teachers also felt that they learned and that the instructor was effective, but at lower rates. (Interestingly, the test used the same scoring methodology as CSAT scores)

But when it came to tests? The students who had an “Active learning” teaching got better scores.

Active learning works for those who put in the work.

So how does this translate to customer contact centers?

Passive Learning vs. Active Learning in Call Centers

Call centers, by necessity, use both kinds of learning. There are situations where one works better than the others. Let’s take a look where.

Where Passive Learning Works in Contact Centers

There are a lot of areas in onboarding and training where passive learning is the way to go. For example, human resources training. These kind of things – company policies, HR guidelines, employee relation manuals – that are fine to do in the form of pamphlets or videos. Those aren’t as in-depth.

Passive learning is also useful in early stages of training. After all, there are scripts for different circumstances, training for new product/service rollouts, and things along those lines. When everybody – every student, such as it was – needs to learn the same thing, then having a manager lecture about it or have online videos is a perfect start.

But it is just that – a start. Because as we all know, it’s great to have a script for customer interactions. The problem is that the customers aren’t required to follow the script.

Where Active Learning is Best for Contact Centers

When thinking about active learning, think about the technology that your employees are going to be using. They might use a Customer Management System, they will probably use a phone queue, they might have more complicated programs to handle requests or file issues. Many will be using text boxes.

They’ll be shown this tech in manuals. But until they are using it they won’t really understand how it is used.

The same is true for customer interactions. Manager training and scripts are great – thoughtful, thorough, and with an end goal in mind. But actual customers meander. They ask unexpected questions. They get frustrated. And those are things that can’t be scripted. When a trainee is first made comfortable with a script, they can get thrown off and made uncomfortable when the contact goes an unexpected way. That can make for a bad customer experience and hurt the morale of the employee – and negatively impact your attrition rate.

Active learning tries to bridge the gap between training and actual customer contact. Often this is done by sitting in a room with a colleague or manager who knows how to go off-script. This is much better than passive learning, because the manager can see how an employee reacts and guide them down a more fruitful path.

The only problem with this is that there is still artifice – the person running the training might have been the same person who just explained where the lunchroom was. And anyway, it never really feels like a customer. It is better than passive, but still missing a step.

How Immersive AI Coaching Can Make Active Learning More Lifelike

Reducing the artifice of active learning in call centers is a key to boosting employee confidence. The immersive AI coaching platform from Zenarate can give employees a realistic-seeming customer contact, either through voice or text.

The platform, which uses natural language processing, can perfectly imitate a call and respond to the agent’s response. It can run through an incredible amount of scenarios and adjust on the fly. It is unpredictable, much in the way that humans are. And because the trainee is on the phone or typing on a screen, as they would in their regular job, it feels exactly like a customer call. It is immersive learning at its best.

The platform can also provide feedback to managers on how well they followed the script, time of call, and even soft skills such as empathy. That way the manager can better train their employee.

Active learning is the best way for contact center agents to feel confident when they encounter real customers with unpredictable problems. The AI coaching platform from Zenarate gives them the power they need to be actively good agents.

Contact our team today to schedule a demo to learn more about how you can incorporate Zenarate AI Coach into your agent training program. We will answer your questions and show you how you can help your organization develop confidently prepared agents while delivering exceptional experiences to the ones that matter most – your customers.

"As an innovative marketing specialist with 5+ years of driving brands to the next level, I am committed to bringing Immersive learning to the forefront of employee training programs across contact centers globally."

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