Designing a Training Course: Part 2

In part one of “designing a training course” we looked at three things you need to consider before starting designing materials for your training course. In this blog we look at how people learn. This information is vital if the training you design is going to make a difference.

How we learn things has interested people throughout history. The Greek philosophers, Socrates (469 –399 B.C.), Plato (427 – 347 B.C.), and Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C) all wrote extensively about the subject. Since then much research has been undertaken and many learning theories have been developed.

What is learning?

Learning is the process of drawing connections between what you already know or understand and new information. Learning therefore involves the encoding and storing of new information in our memory. The human brain processes, categorises and groups information. Learning allows us to later retrieve this information and apply it at an appropriate time for a given situation. So for true learning to occur, facts, concepts and ideas must be stored by the brain, connected to other facts, concepts, and ideas, and built upon. Thus, whenever we learn something the physical structure of our brain is actually changed.

What influences learning?

There are five main things to consider:
1. More learning occurs in environments that are rich with stimuli.
2. People learn in different ways. Visual learners find it easier to take in information that the read. Aural learners prefer the spoken word, and kinaesthetic learners need to touch and handle things to understand them.
3. The ways in which new information is presented, the trainer’s and delegates’ roles, and how opportunities for people to work together when learning are designed will all influence a delegate’s learning.
4. Emotions shape the learning process. Delegates who are fearful, anxious or distracted cannot focus to process the information presented and learning is, as a result, decreased.
5. The nature of feedback from significant others (e.g. the trainer, other delegates, line managers etc.) affects learning. Feedback from significant others can stimulate delegates to greater efforts or undermine their attempts to apply their learning.

Impact on Effective Training Design

Contemporary learning theory recognises that both experience and reflection play a role in the development of ideas and skills in the adult learner. The professional trainer therefore incorporates a variety of training techniques into their training courses and includes a variety of methods to present information (not just using a powerpoint presentation).

Group activities are stimulus rich and so much learning occurs where delegates undertake a particular task or exercise together. Effective trainers include many opportunities for group work to improve the learning experienced by their delegates.

Knowing in advance what the big ideas or back ground theories are and how these ideas and theories relate to each other helps delegates to make sense of new information and to remember and use it more flexibly. Trainers should ensure delegates understand the key concepts before focusing on developing the delegates’ skills so they can use these concepts.

Effective training occurs when the trainer creates an emotionally safe training environment, one that encourages collaborative learning. One way to do this is for delegates share experiences and “teach” other delegates.

Opportunities to provide feedback need to be built in to your training design. Supportive coaching and constructive feedback are core skills for effective trainers and essential for true learning to occur in your delegates.