I was recently asked to contribute ideas to a training of trainers in IT.  Was a super interesting challenge considering I had to bring my Psychology background into play and mix it well with my more recent experience in Knowledge Management and Knowledge Sharing. So great! Give me more please. 🙂

The result was a set of ideas covering the span of learning styles, action learning, use of scenarios, learning from feedback and world cafe.  Each of these ideas follows below. As you will see, each of these ideas is a suggestion for how to sensitise trainers in IT to personalities and system dynamics of learning. I wish to do more such work in the future.

1/ learning style overview and discussion

Useful links:
Online Learning Style Survey

Purpose: Explain trainers that research has shown people have a variety of preferences in which they like to learn and also a variety of abilities in which they can learn. In this way, sensitise them to individual differences.

I. You could start with explaining the following classification:

II. Then ask people to discuss in pairs their learning styles. (The trainers of trainers/facilitators could do this for a start.) Explain it to them that some people have a preference for all of the learning styles, with one preference slightly more than the rest (I am like that). Other people can have a marked preference for just one or two learning styles.
After they’ve discussed in pairs, ask for highlights and reflections. After this, point it out that the fact somebody has a learning style preference does not mean they can not also learn using the other style approaches. However, if they have to do that a lot it detracts from the quality of their learning experience and makes them less interested and therefore less effective learners.

III. If you want to take this a stage further you could explain the Kolb’s experiential learning model:

According to Kolb, learning has four stages:
Concrete Experience (feeling)
Reflective Obzervation (watching)
Abstract Conceptualization (thinking)
Active Experimentation (doing)

Based on this Kolb has put forward the following learning style types:
diverging (feeling and watching)
assimilating (watching and thinking)
converging (thinking and doing)
accommodating (doing and feeling)

Kolb’s framework’s language may not be as accessible as the one further above BUT his framework might be good to mention, still. This is not so much because of his learning style classification but rather because of his learning stages. Feeling-watching-thinking-doing and then all over again is what people, teams and organisations do in order to learn and keep learning. Understanding the different stages of the learning process is important to design trainings that really achieve the purpose of learning.

At the end, you can ask for comments and reflections. How will the trainers take Kolb’s learning framework into account in order to do better when they train people in IT?

2/ experiential learning vs conventional training

Purpose: Explain trainers the difference between action (active) and passive learning. Explain that most people like having a variety of ways on offer in which they can learn so that they can at different times pick the ones that suit their learning styles and preferences. Explain that conventional training is usually training removed from contexts in which skills and knowledge being taught can be applied and therefore often irrelevant. Explain that conventional training, sometimes in only small doses, can bring a lot of value however only when combined with lots and lots experiential learning.

A useful quote from a page on this:

”It does this because it is centred on the individual – not the training or the surrounding system. It works on the basis that people can and should be developed from the inside out, not the other way around. In merely transferring and conveying knowledge to a person we do very little to help them grow as individuals, and when we starve this need most people quickly begin to lose confidence and hopes of becoming someone special in life.” (Kolb Learning Styles)

I. You could start with the following diagram (hope it displays properly, you can also see it when you click on the above link):

conventional training

experiential learning

training-centred/focused – theoretical learner-centred/focused – really doing it
prescribed fixed design and content flexible open possibilities
for external needs (organisation, exams, etc) for internal growth and discovery
transfers/explains knowledge/skills develops knowledge/skills/emotions via experience
fixed structured delivery/facilitation not delivered, minimal facilitation, unstructured
timebound measurable components (mostly) not timebound, more difficult to measure
suitable for groups and fixed outcomes individually directed, flexible outcomes
examples: powerpoint presentations, chalk-and-talk classes, reading, attending lectures, exam study, observation, planning and hypothesising, theoretical work, unreal role-play. examples: learning a physical activity, games and exercises, drama and role-play which becomes real, actually doing the job or task, ‘outward bound’ activities, teaching others, hobbies, pastimes, passions.

II. Then you could give an example of an experiential learning cycle concept:
1. Start with action/activity – i.e., do it
2. Review the action/activity to develop understanding
3a. Identify positives and continue doing the action/activity with confidence AND
3b. Identify needs for improvement, then develop ideas to improve and overcome challenges, then select and apply the improvements
4. Keep going through the above three in a cycle, on-going
The above concept positions learning not as a linear activity (i.e., you do something and then you’ve learnt something and basta), but rather as a constantly evolving spiral combining the above three streams and building and building on top of each learning stage.

(I can almost hear you thinking the above is too abstract! 😀 Try to understand it. I think it is important to go with it though. You can bring it down to practice at the end of the exercise.)

III. Then you could bring this down to practice by giving an example from your own experience where you’ve learned about something (a programming language?) in this way. Was it that you learned best when you had to meet real demands by the way in which you program the solution? Try to think of an example, then open it up to the group for discussion.

IV. Then you could invite people to think aloud about how they would change the way they train based on the above. In general? (Perhaps they would change their approach and listen more rather than speak …?) In specific? (Perhaps they would change the way some aspect of the training is delivered …? Perhaps they would ask trainees about their needs before starting to train them?)

3/ scenarios
Have you thought of suggesting the use of scenarios as part of the training?
For example, if you want to train a person in some skill (programming language … or …?), you can think of a story to contextualise the skill. The story would have a certain set of challenges that the trainee has to overcome in order to accomplish a certain task and in this way gain the skill. You can ask the trainers to think of such stories they could themselves use as part of what they train people on over the coming days.

4/ feedback
It is very important to gather feedback from the trainers after the end of the training. Are you going to? Perhaps use a feedback form. That way you would learn from what has happened and know how to improve for next times.

5/ world cafe
Ideally, if there is a day free after the end of the trainings, you could get people to talk to each other about what worked well and what they found more difficult. You could run this as a world cafe. That way they would learn even more and better about being better trainers, after they’ve been trying to do so for some days.

Thank you!! and happy training!! 🙂