Teaching to Busy Professionals

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stock-illustration-set-of-keys-next-to-b-113416Out with old, in with the new

I read an article recently on Facilitating Adult Learning. There was no date on the article, but it cited references from 2002 thru 2008. In 2008 I probably would have agreed with this article. But this is 2016, and many things have changed. Not only hairstyles and attitudes (shout out to Timbuk 3 fans), but also learning styles.

The article stated to “stop every 15‐30 minutes and engage learners in an activity to reinforce learning.” Based on my experience if you wait even 15 minutes for learners to do an activity, at least half will have already forgotten what you are talking about. It is best if you reinforce with an activity every 5 to 10 minutes at most. Keep in mind that even with this reinforcement, the knowledge is likely to go into short-term memory. To promote the topic to long-term memory, there must be additional follow-up. This could be in the form of a case study, coaching, or additional activities.

Time is not on your side

The article then went on to enumerate a large variety of learning activities that could be used. While I agree that sometimes it’s nice to shake things up in a course to prevent boredom and staleness, you have to balance that with you are taking their time away from their “real” work. Most of us think that our job is very important. Learners, and often managers of learners, want quick hit training so that it does not impact their existing productivity. Yes, we trainers know that the goal of training is to make them more productive in the long run. So you need to be consciously aware of the ROI for the time allocated to the activity. A good example of this is a group activity. If the training is not related to a topic that would always be executed in a group setting, then having multiple time-consuming group activities is not a worthwhile allocation of time. One or maybe two group activities to discuss key concepts is useful. Several of those activities are not.

This is hard for trainers. We want to make sure that the learner walks away with solidified knowledge in all of the topics we teach, and the only way to do that is reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. The time needed for all of that reinforcement is often countered by those who just can’t spend that much time in training due to having to answer so many emails and put out fires.

What can you do?

Since traditional learning and teaching styles are increasingly less effective for the busy professional, what can you do? The best approach is by using “Staged Learning.” This is a combination of classroom training, eLearning, Social learning, coaching, and collaborative learning. This approach still gets to the heart of reinforce, reinforce, reinforce, but does so spread out over time instead of one fell swoop. It also has the advantages of doing the training using different modalities which engage different areas of the brain, interconnecting past experiences. In upcoming posts, I will delve into these different modalities.

Don’t be a servant to the past

The adage: What got you where you are today, may not get you where you want to go tomorrow is never so true as it is in the ever-changing learning and teaching field.