Shut up. I’m trying to learn.

  • SumoMe

I’m a bit of an attention whore. So when I was learning about training in school and first heard the phrase, ‘guide on the side, not sage on the stage’ I was a little disappointed.  I wanted to have a career where I could be the centre of attention.  Since I’m not musically gifted, I landed on training.  The more I learned about the profession, the more I realized that it’s not about me.  It wasn’t about me at all.  When a training experience is learner centred, the trainer shouldn’t be up there, chatting away entertaining him or herself. It should be as focused on the learners experience, both in the past and in the classroom as possible.

But how much can we remove the trainers’ self from the learning experience?

As trainers we should be doing as much as we can to engage learners but there are some obvious limitations to having a session be exclusively learner focused.  The biggest being content knowledge.  We need the learners to relate their experience to the material that we are presenting to them on some level.  Adult learners bring all of their experience and knowledge to the training room and we need to pull that out of them.  Even young learners can build on their limited experience.  Toys, games and sports provide lots of experience.  How many stories/movies have you read/watched where the hero eventually discovers that they were already able to accomplish a task they previously thought impossible? “The power (knowledge) was in you the whole time!”  Classic stuff!  I recently watch ‘Over the Top’, the Sly Stallone flick from the 80’s and was steeped in this idea.  But, alas, heroes and learners both may not have all of the answers.At some point we need to take some sort of a SME role by providing entirely new content. The odds of most folks being entirely without a frame of reference is unlikely but possible.  That’s where we need to get creative and engaging.  Here it can be a little bit about us because we are the ones who need to illustrate an idea or process.

While we need to share some of ourselves to engage and provide context, for some it becomes a slippery slope back to being the sage on the stage.  As soon as the training becomes stories that are irrelevant to the content, you’ve sunk the ship.  The issue is that amusing anecdotes become a crutch for unengaging content.  Sessions can’t all be winners but we have to do, at the very least, our due diligence to make the lessons engaging.

How do you quickly spruce up unengaging material? Here’s a few ideas to try.

  • Use a fill-in-the-blank sheet for content that’s important.  Go over it at the beginning so that learners are looking for answers. Acronyms are good for this.
  • If using slides, ask learners to read them on occasion.  This gives you a break from talking and gives them a break from you.
  • Get as much practice actually using a new skill as possible.
  • Create a knowledge gap.  Present a (relevant) mystery at the beginning of the session and be able to solve it with the new content.

I’m not saying that trainers aren’t important but I am saying that they are the ones who are there to learn.  Get the learners to the centre of the lesson by removing yourself from the centre of attention.

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