Are You Breaking Learners’ Trust? – Tip #133

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Trust is a basic instinct. We are born with a propensity for it. Even 18-month-old children know who they can or can’t trust. When we trust someone, we are willing to take risks. Even if we aren’t good swimmers, we’re willing to dive from a cliff into the sea with someone we trust.

Why is Trust Important?

Trust is the essence of relationships which in turn define the essence of success.

As educators, it is very important that we ask the questions: Do learners trust us? Are they not skeptical about our lessons?

Learners’ trust is essential because “If they don’t trust you, your ideas are just dead in the water”.

Trust and eLearning   In elearning, it is assumed that content is accurate. However, many learners who are burned out by lecture-type and meaningless lessons become skeptical.  

In a meta-analysis of 225 studies of undergraduate STEM teaching methods, Freeman and colleagues concluded that teaching approaches which engaged learners as active participants rather than passive listeners “reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation.”  

Learners are also critical of content that is unexciting, difficult to understand or irrelevant and meaningless.   The skepticism may not be apparent, but it is manifested in their lack of enthusiasm and interest, and an unwillingness to push further to find answers; instead, they are in a hurry to complete the lessons.   As learning professionals, we have a contract with our learners. We want to help them be better at what they do.    

How Do We Build Trust?        

Be honest, sincere and caring   When we are honest, we gain credibility and integrity. When we are genuinely sincere, we do what we promise to do.    

“Do they care about me?”

When you truly care for somebody, you put your ego aside and focus on the other person. According to Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years spent trying to get people interested in you.”


In a learning environment—and in fact, any relationship—there needs to be a two-way trust. Learners trust learning professionals to share with them something valuable and useful. On the other hand, learning professionals entrust their learners to absorb the lessons and bring their learning back to their workplace to improve themselves and their work.  

Entrusting employees could mean making them feel free to disagree with others and learning from mistakes, as well as an assurance that they would not be punished for failure. This creates an environment where learners are engaged. This makes them feel empowered and motivated to learn and ask questions.  


In the digital world, where security breaches are common, it is important to create designs and interfaces that can be trusted by users. They should be clear, transparent, credible, understandable and easy to use.  

A survey of 1,358 consumers found that trust eroded when designs do not offer services relevant to their needs.   Tribes

Humans have a fundamentally tribal nature. In the past, tribal communities were held together by kinship and shared history.

Today, a tribe’s critical bond goes beyond biology, demography or faith.  

Because of a shared interest or purpose, tribe members find it easier to trust each other than individuals or groups outside the tribe.

For instance, parents will trust advice from other parents more than they would accept suggestions from their single workmate.


Trust is vital in the learning process. It is therefore imperative that as learning professionals we build learners’ perception of our trustworthiness.

Amy Cuddy. Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. Huffington Post. Updated March 13, 2013 Aleszu Bajak. Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds. Science. May 12, 2014 Dale Carnegie. How to Build Trust and Relationships. Learning Heroes. December 12, 2014 Charles H. Green. The Trusted Advisor. Touchstone. October 9, 2011 Bruce Beairsto and Pekka Ruohotie. Empowering Professionals as Lifelong Learners. Professional learning and leadership. 2003 Carrie Cousins. How to Create a UI That Users Can Trustk. Design Shack. April 18, 2016 Ilana Westerman. Designing to Build Trust. UX Magazine. October 31, 2012 Joel Kotkin. Tribes and Trust. Forbes. July 21, 2010 Tip #86 – Is your content out of context or in context?

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”