How to Become a Learner-Centered Trainer
Sep 13, 2010 Teacher Training 2413 Views
Many years ago, in a crock pot cookbook the author asked a simple but profound question, "When you get mad because your spouse is late for the dinner you cooked, ask yourself, do I want a spouse for my dinner or is my intent a dinner for my spouse?"
I think we can ask the same question about our motivation for and approach to teaching and training. Do we want an audience for our content and expertise or do we want to create the best possible learning environment to support learners in meeting their self-identified needs in light of the training outcome?
Training is not about us as trainers or even the content we have to deliver. Instead it is about creating the environment and guiding the process that facilitates gaining a skill, changing an attitude, or enhancing a professional or personal sense of efficacy around our trainee's self-identified challenges under the umbrella of the larger outcome.
What about the content?
What about improved performance?
What about the skills they need to succeed?
What about delivering the evidence based intervention?
These of course are important and the what and why for offering training, but I would suggest that how we offer it is a huge determinant of learning success or failure. It simply does not matter how much experience we have, charisma we possess, or to what degree science supports our content, if we don't put the learner first and design and deliver that content to take into account his context and needs, we won't be effective in facilitating transformation in his life, enhanced performance in his work, or better relationships at home.
As instructional designers we have three critical tasks for optimizing the chances for learning success:
1) Connect with our learners and gain their buy-in.
2) Make it easy to learn the important content.
3) Give them time to practice and reflect upon applying the content to their situation at work or home.
To connect with our learners we need to engage them with a provocative buy-in, and find out where their point of need, frustration, desire or hope around the outcome is. If we fail to do this and just launch into a lecture with the expectation that they should pay attention to what we have to offer, we will miss an opportunity to engage his internal motivation, and without that, we have just another roomful of frustrated learners assigned to sit in on training while using the time to make their grocery list or return text messages.
The second thing we need to do is make the content easy and interesting to learn. In Telling Ain't Training, authors Stolovitch and Keeps illustrate this with the following scenario. They present the reader with a series of numbers: 73200239410124566. They ask us to study the numbers for 60 seconds, cover them, then write them down. I failed miserably at that (I wasn't motivated and I saw no order so it felt hopeless). But in the next paragraph they offer a story to help me learn the numbers.
"The 7 dwarfs met the 3 little pigs in 2202, 39 steps from a 4-way cross-road. Suddenly 101 dalmatians attacked..." and so on. (p. 4)
You get the idea. Well, I remembered more of the numbers the second time because they chunked (scaffolded) the information and attached it to a sense-making story. This facilitated my learning of the content. There are many ways to deliver content that helps trainees learn what's important. There are books and websites devoted to learner-centered, cooperative learning activities that make training and teaching interactive, interesting and memorable for adult learners.
The third thing we need to do is build in time for reflection, application and practice with feedback. We can't expect to fire hose learners with content and send them on their way. Without time to think about how to apply the content in their personal or work situation and then to practice doing it, at best the training is entertaining for a time, and at worst it is a complete waste of time. Less is more and there is research to back this up. When designing training, we will be much more learner centered if we choose less content and save time for practice, feedback and application to real-life contexts in which the trainees will be expected to use their new knowledge and skills.