Practical Techniques for Training Adults: Page 2


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

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Posted November 25, 2009

Rob England

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Tips and techniques

OK you are IT people – you’ve had enough theory and planning, bring on the simple instructions to get the job done!  Of course anything to do with humans is never that simple.   There are no secret formulas for effective training or any guaranteed techniques.  The training is as good as the instructor, pure and simple.

Nevertheless, you can use tips and techniques to make yourself a better instructor and your course a better course.  Here are 15 to be going on with.   Make sure you collect more.  Keep some notes somewhere of all of them so you can call on them when you make a lesson plan.

1. Set homework before the course.  Ask for questions/problems/case studies the learners have prepared.  Assign other prior preparation: “deliver day one beforehand”.

2. Create a group learning contract as an icebreaker.  Agree what is in it for each party, what each must put in, what is acceptable behavior, rules.

3. Remember adults want some control.  Let them make choices about their learning: are there areas of control you could pass over to the students?  What skills to they need to make those decisions?

4. Recall also that students must understand what their needs are and see the relevance to those.  Start by drawing out a clear understanding of what they need.

5. Give mind-maps.  You have the whole lesson in your head.   The trainees are “exploring at night”, slowly building up the whole picture.  Provide high-level schematics of how the topic and the lesson all fit together.   People are either narrative-thinkers or visual-thinkers, so give them both kinds of mind-maps: a story and a picture, words and drawings.  Keep referring back to the mind-map as you go: “now we are here”.

6. Adapt to the learning styles of the individuals.  There are simple profiling tools you can use to understand your trainees.  I like DISC®.

7. Focus on the learner not the material. “I don’t teach IT, I teach students.”

8. Pause for note taking.  It is not about getting through as much material as you can – once – in the time allotted.  Give people time to assimilate, or organize, to get their heads around it. 

9. Allow review time at the end.  When you get to the end they won’t all have got all of it.  You must review with them to fill gaps and fix misconceptions.

10. Provide incomplete handouts.  If you give people immaculate photocopied notes they don’t have to engage with your teaching; they can get mentally lazy and just listen along.   People who have to fill in the notes are really listening and thinking about what you say. 

11. Provide follow-up activities.  If they walk away and never engage with the material again they will forget it.  Assign exercises to be returned to you.  Provide self-learning materials and references for those who want to develop further.

12. Have thinking breaks.  Everyone stops doing everything and just thinks about the material so far – insist on silence and of course no electronics.  Just think.  Note: many people have trouble with this nowadays.  They can’t stand the silence.  They giggle and make noise.  If it doesn’t work, give up.

13. Buzz groups.  These are small groups (three or four people) formed to quickly and informally discuss and brainstorm: either all groups on the same topic or each group on some aspect of the topic.  After a short fixed interval, one member of each group reports back to everyone.

14. Pyramid groups.  First each individual notes their thoughts on a topic, then they discuss it in pairs for a set interval, then the pairs join up into fours to discuss, then the fours join into groups of eight etc.  At each step they at least try to get a consensus view to take to the next level.

15. Expert panel.  Sometimes the trainees know as much or more than you do.  If so, find the experts and form a panel at the front of the class to teach by interviewing them.  You can also try asking the trainees to prepare questions with a neighbor.

If you want to be as professional about delivering training as you are about everything else you do in IT: (1) learn the theory (2) understand how adult training works  (3) know  how to deliver it (4) make a plan (5) have as big a bag of tricks as you can.  You will deliver better training and you will enjoy the experience. 

Rob England is an IT industry commentator and consultant, best known for his blog The IT Skeptic. 

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Tags: IT, education, IT career, tips, training

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