Learning: One size does not fit all
A friend recently asked me how I approached learning new systems. Having just learned a new system herself, she was feeling a little overwhelmed. I talked her through my approach of not expecting to learn and retain everything in the initial session and how I mentally approached it, by trying to visualise processes. As our conversation went on, I got the impression that the feelings she had were born more from the trainer's approach and style rather than the system itself.
As adults, we seem to have retained the illusion from school days that 'teacher knows best' and that someone training us must know best and if we don’t ‘get it’, then it must be out fault!
I disagree. During my career I have been trained by, trained with and observed many different people with a variety of styles and skills. Some of them have been great communicators and have really inspired the trainees to learn, but just because someone is training you, don’t take it for granted that it is your fault if you don’t ‘get it’.
A ‘one-size fits all’ approach is often used, but I do not believe that it works in all situations. I could run through a training session covering all content and timings outlined in the agenda. Being the 'system expert', I can do my job delivering the content, which is not difficult or challenging, but how would that benefit the participants? It could result in some team members leaving the room feeling overwhelmed and confused. Others may know what buttons they have to push, but may have no understanding of why. The end result could be that not everyone would leave the session confident enough to move forward.
Sadly, I have experienced too many trainers taking this approach. People who become system experts who are sent out as a trainers are not always the best people to share their knowledge. I fear that too many times a trainee is on the receiving end of a trainer, who, instead of helping them understand by explaining in a different way, takes the approach of ‘A Brit Abroad’ and just repeats what they have said in a louder voice in the hope that the recipient will understand!
Observation and communication skills are crucial. Very early on in every session, I quickly assess the team in the room and prepare to adapt the training to meet their needs. Occasionally, this results in changes to the outlined agenda, but I believe that this is vital to the success of the participants and their confidence as I pass my knowledge onto them.
I had five members of the same team in a session recently, that could be outlined as the following:
A graduate who was ultra fast on computers, but new to the industry.
Team manager, great on computers with knowledge of the industry and their role.
A mature lady who had a wealth of experience, but panics when faced with new systems.
A gentleman who is comfortable with computers and systems and knows his role and industry well, having worked in it for about 20 years.
Another team member who was sent on the training as ‘back up’, who had no interest in being trained and would rather have spent the time replying to emails than do practicals.
It is my responsibility, to ensure that all the participants leave the room at the end of the training course with the minimum level of system knowledge, so that they can use and adopt the system, in order to be successful and confident in their jobs without feeling overwhelmed or nervous.
So my advice to my friend for future training was this:
It is the trainer's responsibility to successfully share their knowledge.
If you don’t understand something, ask the trainer to go over it again – it could be the way they are explaining it.
Ignore the agenda! Agendas and timings should be used as a guide – there is absolutely no point in moving on to new and additional features if you are not sure of the first steps. Building good foundations are vital when learning.
Make your own hand written notes alongside any resources the trainer has provided. The physical act of writing something down is one of the best ways to remember what you are being taught.
It is your learning opportunity, not the trainer's. The trainer is with you to ensure you learn, not to complete a task on their 'to do' list!
Remember also, that the person leading the session didn’t become a trainer and expert straight after the initial training – so give yourself time.
While your trainer is keeping an eye on everyone in the room and trying to recognise their learning styles, keep the group together and motivated, I would like to recommend you try the following:
Put your mobile phone on silent in your bag/out of sight and only check it at breaks.
If you finish the practical, see if you can help someone else – this reaffirms your learning and helps others too.
Don’t allow others to interrupt your training unless it is an emergency. Trainers have a hard enough task keeping everyone together and creating a great learning environment – don’t let others disrespect your learning time.
Go in with a can-do approach – everyone had to start somewhere and learn from scratch at some point in their lives!