Why reality matters in team training

As trainers, we’ve heard people ask questions like “Why do I need to know about the history of medicine?” or “How does knowing about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs help me now?”. These questions are typical of learners who struggle to see the relevance of what they’re being taught.

The importance of relevant learning

At the core of effective learning is the need to understand how knowledge and skills can be applied in day-to-day experiences. We are exceptionally good at finding ways to get around problems, achieve desired outcomes, and make a positive impact on our lives. The harder it is for us to see the benefits of learning, the less likely we are to engage in it.

This is the dilemma that we face as trainers and coaches. The ‘types’ of work that people do in the workplace is often unique, complicated, and requires interactions with others to succeed. These interactions may involve colleagues, bosses, team members, customers, clients, buyers, or friends and family.

Key questions for successful learning

The current context of work raises two key questions:

  1. How can we create conditions that help people prepare or learn to succeed in this reality?
  2. Is a training program going to deliver what is needed?

Four key provisions for successful learning

 To successfully answer these questions, there are four key provisions that, if in place, can dramatically increase the likelihood of success:

  • Do ALL learning on the job. This means having access to people who know everything there is to know, have the training and coaching skills to share and develop what is needed and have systems and processes in place for people to fail often and fail quickly with little impact. It is incredibly rare for this reality to exist.
  • Scaffolding. It’s important to make it as easy as possible for the knowledge and skills being developed to be taken and applied in each person’s reality. This means providing a structure or framework to support the learning process, so learners can understand how the new information or skills fit into their current roles and responsibilities.
  • Opportunities to practice. This involves creating opportunities for people to experience and engage with the new information or skills in a hands-on way. People need to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch how it feels to do what needs to be developed. They need help to think the thoughts and feel the feelings that are needed to develop the skills. This way, when it comes to each person’s reality there is a foundation to build (the scaffolding) from.
  • Coaching and feedback. Supporting the learning process(es) through regular reviews and assessments is critical. This helps to identify what’s working, what can be replicated, what can be learned, and what actions should be taken in the future.

While it’s impossible to create ideal conditions for all learners, we can always strive to provide scaffolding, opportunities to practice, and coaching and feedback to help learners get an experience that’s as close to reality as possible.