5. What works

You have learned things in your life. You probably remember the situation in which you learned them. That does not mean that this was the best way of learning. So if you’re training others, you need to let go of your previous experiences and focus on what works.

We’re not going to talk through everything you might want to know about adult learning theory, principles and their application. You should search for that if you’re interested. Watch out! There are lots of myths around learning. Look for the book “Make it Stick” for the state of the research on learning at the time of writing this. You could also look at resources here.

Here are some approaches that CARE recommends.

1) We said it before, but the first step is focusing on what the real problem is. By doing the analysis, you focus on the right thing. If you focus on the right thing, then you have a good chance of getting people to learn something they need – regardless of the particularities of the method you use.

2) Also mentioned before – be very specific about what you need people to be able to do. Re-check that if they do that, you will (help) solve the real problem you just identified. Sometimes, it really is just a matter of letting people know what they need to do. If they have to write a project code in one box of a requisition form, then they probably just need to be told where to write it, that it isn’t optional, and where to find the list of codes.

3) Make sure that people have reference information that they might need. In the example, you might find that you don’t have a list of project codes! Make that list and share it with them – that might be enough!

4) Focus on practising skills rather than transmitting knowledge. It’s not that we don’t want people to know things, but the focus is them doing their job better. If you focus on the skills they need, you are likely to create a more engaging session. Keep facts in course materials, references they refer to etc. The knowledge you need to impart is the minimum necessary to do that job task well.

5) Get people practicing the skill you’re trying to develop right away. Making mistakes is fine – as long as you give them feedback and they get a chance to correct them. Give them information after that first practice.

6) Practice elements of a task and then practice them together. Get people to practice a suitable way of introducing themselves to a survey respondent. Give them feedback (from you or a colleague). Then get them to practice explaining the point of the survey. Get them more feedback. Then asking difficult questions on the survey. THEN practice the whole process.

7) Create simulations which show realistic challenges or contexts. People remember better when the learning environment is close to the environment where something will be applied. If people need to be able to do something under stress, then get them to practice in a more stressful situation. Simulations provide a way to create those environments where people can make mistakes and learn.