Learning is What They Do, Not What You Teach

Published on 2013-07-07


ANY TRAINING WORKSHOP YOU ATTEND will have a trainer, a set of materials, and a set curriculum. All 3 combine to beam a standardised message into the heads of the trainees. At the end of the workshop, you can rest assured that they all leave knowing exactly the same thing!
With so many trainers, workshops, e-learning platforms, videos and books to choose from, it can sometimes be quite easy to forget that learning happens within the individual. It cannot be controlled, it can only be guided. Lecturing does not mean learning.
Think of it as a fishing net being thrown into the sea. The larger the net is, the more likely you are to catch some fish. The more you lecture, the more likely some of what you say will sink in with some of the people in the audience. But a large net doesn’t make any difference if you throw it in the wrong place at the wrong time! Sometimes you can pull it out and there won’t be a single fish in there.
A far more effective way is to use bait and let the fish come to you. Let them do the work, not you! This is what training should be like.
Trainers grow to love the sound of their own voice! I know because it’s happened to me before. When I first started training, I said as much as I needed to and no more. Gradually though, I had more and more great stories, examples and theories to add into the training. I felt so excited about them that I just had to use them! But after a while I realised I had begun to talk way too much. After telling my fifth story in a row I would see heads start to drop down and mobile phones appear in hands. I knew I had to finish the story up as quickly as possible and get straight into the next activity!
But I gradually changed this habit. I decided that I would no longer say what could otherwise be drawn out through questioning. Instead of explaining in detail what I thought they needed to know, I would divide my talk into separate points and formulate a series of questions that could draw out those points from the trainees’ themselves.
This had many benefits. This most obvious is engagement level. When one person talks, engagement gradually drops off after about 10 minutes. Yet when they are talking, they are engaged. When their friends are talking, they are engaged. When new people are talking, they are engaged. Not only this, but questions get them thinking. When they are thinking, they are engaged. And when they are anticipating feedback on their answers, they are still engaged!
Another benefit was realtime feedback about their understanding. Questions generate answers, and answers reflect what they think. By hearing what they think, you know very clearly if they are on the right track. This helps you decide if you can move on to the next point now, or if you need to focus more on this point.
One final benefit is that you might learn something yourself! I frequently find that different trainees have slightly different ways of viewing things and sometimes come up with something I’d never thought of before. Multiple perspectives make training more enjoyable for them, and also for you!