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How Trainers Can Overcome Obstacles to Learning

What is a trainer’s primary job? (Pick one)

A.    Present content

B.    Convey knowledge and skills to others

C.    Make training fun

D.    Facilitate learning activities

E.    Remove obstacles to learning

We could probably have a lot of discussion on each of these answers, but I would contend that the last choice is the correct choice. Removing obstacles to learning is the trainer’s primary job. If the trainer’s focus is primarily on conveying content, on facilitating learning activities, or on making training fun, then participants are probably only learning by chance and are not changing their behaviors significantly on the job. Removing obstacles to learning focuses the training on LEARNING and not just on training.

Continued learning

Harold Jarche, an expert on Personal Knowledge Mastery, has said, “Removing barriers should be the focus of the learning and development professional, not delivering content.” And even Albert Einstein, who was a university professor as well as a famous theorist, said, “I never teach my students. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

So how do we remove obstacles to our participants’ learning and provide the conditions in which they can learn? It begins with understanding their needs in training. What are they going to be doing on the job that they don’t know how to do or are not consistently doing correctly now? What relevant experience does each person have that they can use in learning new content or skills? Why aren’t participants doing things correctly? In a diverse group of participants, the answer could be different for each participant.

People often think that anyone can be a trainer and that everyone knows what goes into good training. After all, don’t we have years and years of schooling in our past and haven’t we seen good and bad examples of training? Unfortunately, that experience may only teach us how we each prefer to learn. It doesn’t give us the knowledge or experience to remove other people’s obstacles to learning when those obstacles are different from our own. That’s where a person needs development to become a skilled trainer who can identify and remove lots of different kinds of learning obstacles.

Some of the obstacles that trainers have to overcome include:

  • Participants who lack the context to understand a topic or situation
  • Participants experiencing cognitive difficulties in understanding the material
  • Participants without the ability, knowledge, or the skills to do a task
  • Participants who are distracted by things happening outside of training
  • Participants who are distracted by things happening within the training
  • Participants who don’t want to be in training

And the list can go on. Trainers have to remove these and other obstacles to learning by compensating for what the learners do not have, managing the learning context, and providing feedback.

Ultimately, the trainer has to make sure that every participant achieves the learning objectives; and if anyone really can’t do the job, they must bring that to the attention of their manager and the participant’s manager. This requires a lot of flexibility from trainers as they decide to spend more time on one topic, move more quickly through another topic, or change up activities to appropriately challenge the class and accommodate the time available--and even provide one-on-one coaching where necessary. In all of this, they have to know best practices and employ research-backed techniques for training.

If you require your trainers to read through policies, to read text-heavy slides, or to do anything that restricts their ability to customize the training to the participants in order to remove their specific learning obstacles, then you are undermining the training and preventing it from being effective. Good trainers know that covering content is not the same as training. They also realize that the trainer’s main responsibility is to remove participants’ obstacles. Empower your trainers to deliver great training by allowing and encouraging them to focus on removing learning obstacles.

Interested in learning more? ICMI offers a two-day Trainer Development Course. Details here.