One of the quickest and best ways to learn a skill is to do it yourself. Therefore it is essential that a training programme provides as much practical opportunity as possible. A lecture may cover a lot of ground, but much of that ground will not be cultivated. Therefore we need to work out and prioritise the key skills, processes or procedures that are fundamental to mastering any particular task or role.
When I am helping one of my children learn a new piece of music, I am aware that a couple of pages full of lots of new notes can seem a bit daunting.
Most pieces of music are built on structures, sequences and repetitions.
So often by just learning the first four bars, we find we have already mastered a significant amount of the subsequent material. Typically, those four bars are repeated after the next four, and then they come back again towards the end of the piece and maybe the section in the middle follows a similar pattern or rhythm. So having learnt the first four bars of the piece, we have in fact unlocked the key to much of what follows.
Equally, whether introducing new computer software, a new Health and Safety procedure, or teaching a new set of prepared responses for answering the most common telephone queries, by paying particular attention to the most reoccurring or fundamental actions, we can focus the students' attention on practising 2 or 3 basic actions or responses, and in the process create a solid foundation for branching out further later.
Since there is often not enough time to cover everything to full satisfaction in the time available, it is always of greater benefit to the student to cover just a few key things well, practise them and embed them securely, rather than trying to cover too much in a superficial way.
So if 'doing' is the key to learning, then an even better way of embedding a new skill is not just giving the students the opportunity to practise those skills themselves, but by having them go one stage further and teach them to someone else.
The idea is that firstly:
the trainer demonstrates to the student;
then the student tries it for themselves,
and then the student is asked to teach that new skill to another person.
What now happens is that a process that we may be able to handle in a semi-automatic, unconscious way, simply by copying the trainer, is driven to a deeper level where we have to take time and think about what we are doing in order to be able to explain it to another colleague.
One of our BTEC Training the Trainer students worked for a major retailer of spectacles and contact lenses. As part of her practical demonstration she showed us how they taught new employees to measure a customer for new glasses.
First she demonstrated how to do it;
then we had to perform the actions ourselves;
and then she asked each of us to 'teach' another student those same actions. We discovered that what we thought we understood perfectly was not quite as clear as we had believed!
By trying to teach another student, we were able to highlight for ourselves those parts of the process that we were not completely clear about.
'Each one teach one' is a very powerful teaching and learning tool.
It acknowledges that to really grasp a process it good to have hands on experience yourself; however the learning goes deeper if you are required to explain that process to another person.
This article was written by Michael Ronayne, director at the College of Public Speaking and four-time UK National Public Speaking Champion.To discover more of Michael's top training techniques, check out his professionally accredited Train the Trainer course here