Last time I spoke of the importance of training to learn. The next question is: how do we achieve more learning from our training? How can we maximise or accelerate the learning within the time and resources we have available? Over the last 15 years there have been massive inroads into our understanding of how we as individuals learn. So how can we implement this in our day-to-day training and development to make a positive difference?
The best training always begins with a clearly defined Why. Why is this important to the organisation, and more essentially, why is this important to the participants? Staff need to be clear on why they are doing a task or what they will gain from training. Otherwise, it makes the exercise meaningless and ineffective, because our brains require clear definition in order to know how to focus. Yet too often we leave this step out and assume it is self evident.
A simple way to achieve this is to give a short frame-up of what is going to be covered in the training, and then ask the participants what they would like to take away from it. However, be careful not to let people give you too vague an answer, such as “I’d like to be a better communicator”. In such instances, drill deeper by asking what specific aspects of communication they feel they need to improve, and how they will know when they’ve achieved this.
As cheesy as it sounds, a positive mental attitude to learning is essential. The aim of any effective training is to change behaviour. Therefore an effective learning experience must enable us to step outside our comfort zones and create new behaviours. In order for us to do this, not only do we need a positive attitude but we need to be able to overcome any fears we may have. One of the most effective ways to doing this is through having FUN. By creating an environment of playfulness, where mistakes are okay and people can feel empowered we make it okay to try new things.
In a wider sense, the environment in which the learning takes place will also have an impact. We are all aware of the usual hygiene and comfort factors when booking training venues. But some of the current theories have gone far beyond this. For example there has been considerable research into the effects of music and how introducing certain types of music can improve brain performance and perhaps even boost IQ. Whether this is the case is debatable, but we can at least be sure that music does have an effect on our moods and emotions, and can therefore have an impact on how well we learn.
By delivering the training in small sections we encourage understanding. By providing a brief break or change of focus or activity every 15 minutes or so we allow the learners to chunk the information and make it easier to absorb. Regular opportunities to review the learning, whether though group summary, discussion or even quizzes, greatly enhances recall.
We know that our brains are divided into two hemispheres, and that each area has a dominant responsibility for different functions. In general, the traditional western educational methods tend to use our left brain – reading, writing, listening, and logical activities. Now, however, the importance of involving the right brain in learning; through images, colour, music, creativity and intuition is becoming increasingly clear and has been shown to improve the brain’s overall performance.
We all have a dominant learning style. This is our preferred way to perceive, process and memorize information and it is usual for this to be one or a combination of the three main sensory receptors; visual, audio or kinesthetic (touch and feeling). Therefore, to maximize the effectiveness of any training, it should incorporate elements that engage all of these styles.
The visual element is one that most trainers feel comfortable accessing. We may use Mind-mapping, encourage staff to draw a picture to summarise their learning or note-taking. More recently the power of visualisation techniques to make the end goal “real” is being recognised. I have already highlighted the benefits of music and this also accesses the audio for some learners. More directly, we should ask staff to review aloud in their own words. And our own oral traditions show how rhythm and rhyming enhance recall.
We are multi-sensory and it is the involvement of the other senses in training that has been viewed with more scepticism. Whilst our memory of smells is the most immediate memory system some may balk at using smells, for example lavender, to anchor new learnings in their memory. However there is still a lot to be said for incorporating as many of our senses in the learning experience as possible.
The importance of role-play and practice is also well established. Interestingly, movement is believed to be very powerful in locking information into our memories. So making sure that staff are moving, dancing, and walking around throughout the training will maximise their learning. Even more powerful for me is the fact that a typical 50-minute meeting could decrease the amount of oxygen delivered to the brain by 15 per cent. Therefore getting them up and moving ensures a more thoroughly oxygenated supply of the blood to the brain, and therefore more efficient brain performance.
Finally, we can take the old adage that if you “Can’t Do – Teach” as an instruction. Older children benefit greatly from being able to teach their younger siblings. The benefits can be replicated in training by making staff accountable for someone else’s learning to ensure they pay attention and really learn the material. Ultimately, curiosity is a big driver and by ensuring that there is plenty of scope for asking questions, testing authenticity and allowing learners to be critical in their approach, we will deepen their understanding and speed their absorption of the subject.
More importantly, all of the above techniques create variety and a flexibility of approach that keeps learning fresh. And those that deliver it!
Rod Power is the Managing Director for NRS Media’s European headquarters and has worked with NRS Media for many years including roles as COO and Head of Organisational Development. Rod is renowned in the areas of Leadership Training and Human Resources Development. Before joining NRS Media, Rod consulted to various media organizations in the areas of Human Development and Sales Strategy. As an executive coach, facilitator and keynote speaker he has helped people and organizations regularly over-achieve their sales targets.