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Lifelong Training Practices

I recently came across four lifelong teaching practices that educator Jeffrey Benson says should happen every day in every classroom. He proposes these in the context of traditional school education, but I think we should apply these to corporate training, with maybe a little different interpretation.

1.    Help them understand “why”

This is a basic principle of adult learning – we like to understand why. Why is this important to me? How will I use this? How will this make my life easier? What’s in it for me? Is this going to be on the test?

Lifelong Learning

While all these questions don’t have the word why in them, they are all about why the person needs to pay attention to the material. We should always be helping our participants understand how the training content will help them on the job and how they can use the content, but also how the content helps solve their job problems, save them time, or just make the job easier or more enjoyable.

Sometimes I tell by asking the participants. “How might you use this on the job?” Or I might get them to write an action plan for how they will apply the training back on the job. I also tell by showing. “Let’s listen to this call and see if you can identify what the agent does to help calm down this upset customer.” Using real-life examples always helps make the connection between content and “why.”

If you can’t clearly answer why certain content is important to the participant, then why are you training it? If there is no good why, it probably doesn’t belong in the training. “Because it is in the curriculum” or “because someone told me to cover it” are not good whys.

2.    Make what’s important clear and what’s clear important

Jeffrey Benson seems to be referring to directions with this practice, but I think it can expand to other circumstances. An article I read today talked about words being like helium balloons for some people; they just float away. We need to tie down those balloons so they stick around for a while.

How do we tie down words? By given written process directions that are as simple as possible. By using diagrams and pictures and videos and demonstrations to show what the words mean. By cutting through all of the words and getting to the heart of the matter, simply and directly.

You have probably heard the Einstein quote, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Definitely this is true for trainers. It is our job to simplify the complex so that people can understand it.

The trainer has to know what is important in the training and has to understand it well enough to explain it simply. And then we have to make sure that what is important is not obscured by a lot of “fun” or extraneous information. We make what is important clear and we make sure that what is clear is important.

3.    Make sure you know what it’s like to do the task

Jeffrey Benson was referring to learning activities, but I think for those of us in corporate training, it should really apply to the job tasks our participants are doing with our content. That doesn’t mean we have to do every job that we might ever do training upon. That’s probably pretty unrealistic.

We can understand job tasks without doing them ourselves. We can observe an expert doing the task, we can listen to calls, we can interview experts, and we can even bring in experts to share their experience with the training participants. We can put ourselves into other people’s shoes.

Without really knowing what it is like to do the task, trainers will miss the nuances of the task and will not be able to capitalize on storytelling to increase engagement and understanding. We will not be able to make the training as realistic as possible, and our trainees will have a difficult time transferring their learning to the job. In other words, we are spinning our wheels in training if we aren’t sure what it’s like to do in the actual job what we are training.

4.    Provide a model of a finished product done well.

Again, Jeffrey Benson was referring to the finished product of a learning activity, but I will say it is an example of the training topic done well on the job. If I can’t be that example myself, then I need to share a call or email or chat of the topic being done well in a real job situation. I might have to bring in an expert to demonstrate or a video of someone doing what I am training.

It is often easier to provide negative examples, and they provide good learning for trainees. But somewhere along the line we have to move away from what we don’t want and provide the example of what we do want.

And we have to be the role model for anything we train. If we are training empathy, we have to exhibit empathy. If we are training how to handle difficult customers, we have to handle difficult participants well. If we are training on using phone modes, we have to create the scenarios and use the phone modes correctly ourselves—even if only as part of a training exercise that is aligned to the real context of the job.

Jeffrey Benson’s four lifelong teaching practices are good training practices as well for the corporate trainer to deploy in every training session. We help our participants understand why; we make what is important clear; we gain credibility and interest by knowing what it is like to do the job tasks we are training; and we provide a good model of how to do the training topic. Every day, in every training session. That’s pretty simple—well, it sounds simple and is simple, but it takes a great deal of focused skill.

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