THE VALUE OF TRAINING COMES FROM WHAT THEY REMEMBER. We need to design training that maximises time spent on memorable experiences, and minimises time spent on things that are easily forgotten. Following the steps below will ensure your training becomes an unforgettable experience.
You can’t walk into a room if the door is closed. Likewise, your trainees can’t take anything in if they are not engaged. Pay attention to their heads, because the head is the gateway to the brain. Where the head goes, the brain goes. If they are looking down at the table, or playing with their phones, then they are not paying attention to you. The same counts during an activity; if their heads are not focused on the activity, then they are not focused on the activity. The first step of a memorable experience is for the trainees themselves to actually be focused on the experience. If they are not focused, then I suggest you read here to find out how to re-engage them. But if they are focused, then great! Now you can move on to the next step.
Our memory works by association. For example, when we learn new languages, we have to first translate words into our mother language to know what they mean. We can’t just be given a foreign text and expect to understand it! Another example is the ancients. They were great at teaching because they used a lot of stories, analogies and metaphors to demonstrate important points. These were very easy to grasp because they related to things people had already experienced. I call this Bridging.
Bridging simply means linking new information to existing information. Bridging achieves understanding, and without understanding there is no remembering. Bridging is a vital entry point for anything you are about to train.
Bridging simply means linking new information to existing information. Bridging achieves understanding, and without understanding there is no remembering.
If you are training presentation skills and want trainees to learn good body language, then you can start off by getting them to think of gorillas! Gorillas have super confident body language; they take up lots of space and keep their arms wide open. If you are training root cause analysis, then you can talk about how taking painkillers when you have a headache solves the problem for only a few hours, but to get rid of the headache permanently you might have to go to the doctors to find out that the root cause is stress. If you tackle the problem from the root cause (ie. the stress) only then will the problem disappear permanently.
Bridging can be done through use of stories, analogies and metaphors. Case studies are also great for bridging, especially if you get them from the trainees themselves as this helps them relate to their own work experiences. Pictures and videos are also very useful. Try to have a separate bridge for every point that you cover in the training, just like I am doing in this blog post. And try to keep it simple. There is no need to go into huge amounts of detail for the bridge, only enough to ensure they get the point.
What if your tour guide said to you “you stay at the hotel today, I’ll go and check out the sites for you!”. That would be pretty silly wouldn’t it? Instead the guide takes you there and lets you experience for yourself. This is exactly what you should be doing. You should not be doing the learning for them; you should be letting them learn for themselves. This means that instead of you telling the trainees key points, you should guide them to the key points by asking them questions and letting them arrive there by themselves. This requires a lot of thinking on their part, which is exactly what you want! The more thinking they are doing, the more chance there is of them finding their own meaning out of all of this information.
instead of you telling the trainees key points, you should guide them to the key points by asking them questions and letting them arrive there by themselves.
This is quite scary for some trainers, because it inevitably means a period of silence and silence can be terrifying! But an experienced trainer, or facilitator more like, knows that silence is an indicator of thinking, and thinking is an indicator of learning. But there is more to silence than just learning. There is also a period of several seconds after the thinking where trainees are building up the courage to speak out. This all takes time, and to learn more about how best to do this read here.
I used to have a pet hamster who loved stuffing peanuts into his cheeks! He was so greedy though, that he would sometimes try to stuff more in than he could fit. He never quite learnt that his cheeks had a limit! Our short-term memory is in many ways just like the hamster’s cheeks! We can only stuff so much information in there at once! This means a significant part of your job is to manage the amount of information trainees are processing.
A way of calculating whether or not you have too much information is to write down all of the key points for your training, and all of the guiding questions you will be doing for each key point. As a rule of thumb, you should allow 10 seconds of trainee thinking time per question, and another 5-10 seconds of trainee answering time per question. When you start to analyse this, you may think that you could save much more time if you just told them everything instead! But the exact opposite of that is true. The less thinking they are doing, the less learning they are doing, and the less they are going to remember. Saving 10 minutes of time by just telling them everything could very well be 10 minutes that they forget straight away.
Whenever I go to a buffet, I have to pace myself. I will eat until I’m full, then rest for a little while giving the food a chance to digest. Then eat a bit more, then rest for a little while. Allowing my stomach some time to digest the food gives me a bit more room to take in more food! But what happens if I continue eating without pausing? I’ll let you think about that…
As I mentioned in the last section, our short-term memory has a limit. If we put in too much information, then just like our stomachs taking in too much food, some room will have to be made by getting rid of something! This is why we need to give the trainees a chance to digest information.
Give them plenty of breaks throughout the day. A general rule of thumb that I follow is a 10 minute break every 90 minutes. Most training is normally done for 3 hours in the morning, with one 10 minute break, followed by a 1 hour lunch break, and then 4 hours in the afternoon with about two 10 minute breaks. So long as you are covering just the right amount, this schedule works very well for a one day training.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!
Our brain is essentially a muscle. The more we use it, the stronger it gets. And the more we use a certain part of it, the stronger that certain part gets. So the more we repeat something, the easier we will find it to remember. If we want our trainees to remember something, repetition is essential.
But this doesn’t just mean saying or doing something over and over and over again. It means repeating at spaced intervals. Aim to have a recap after each break, at the start of the day (if there is more than 1 day) and at the end of the day. But don’t stop the recaps there!
Our brain is essentially a muscle. The more we use it, the stronger it gets. And the more we use a certain part of it, the stronger that certain part gets. So the more we repeat something, the easier we will find it to remember.
Schedule recap sessions after the training as well. Have recaps several days after the training, then several weeks after the training, then several months after the training. These can be done through simple emails, phone calls or meetings. But aim to make them interactive. If you just send them an email, or tell them some things they learnt over the phone, then again this doesn’t mean they are learning. They need to be thinking in order to be learning, so give some questions, a challenge, or ask them to summarise their experience so far, or summarise a key point in their own words. Having their line manager or supervisor conduct these recaps adds both pressure and motivation, which really helps them pay attention.
This post-training repetition is one very powerful way of making training stick.
Whenever his car is low on fuel, my dad always puts a yellow cloth around the steering wheel. This means that whenever he gets in the car, he notices the yellow cloth and remembers straight away that he needs to buy petrol. This is called a trigger, something that triggers your memory as soon as you notice it.
Triggers are really effective at making training stick. And they can be so simple to produce as well. A list of key points from the training, written on a piece of paper and hung up on a notice board can be enough. Other times you may want something a bit more special.
Triggers are really effective at making training stick. And they can be so simple to produce as well.
If you are training presentation skills, and you want them to remember a certain structure for preparing their presentations, then give them PPT or PDF templates which they can save on their computer and open up whenever they want to prepare a presentation. If you are training health & safety for people who work at construction sites, then you could create a sticker to stick on the inside of their helmet so that every time they put it on they are reminded. You can have a lot of fun with triggers!
One of the more effective triggers though is the people around them. When they see their colleagues trying to use these skills, not only does this act as a reminder, but it also adds peer pressure! Peer pressure is a highly effective motivator for practicing new behaviour. A good way to build this in is to offer incentives and recognition to anyone who uses the skills learnt in training.
The final thing, as I talked about here, is don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. This means that firstly, you should guide instead of lecture, secondly you should make it active instead of passive, and thirdly let them do the hard work!
Instead of you taking the time to design a quiz to test them on what they remember, get them to design the quiz! Instead of you designing and printing out triggers, get them to make the triggers! Instead of you running the recap session, get them to design it and run it! Instead of just you telling a story, get them to stand up and act it out as you tell it!
Remember, your job is to guide, not to do. If you are short on time because you’ve spent so long putting together this PPT, or if your voice is too tired because you’ve spent too much time talking, then you are most likely working too hard. Training is a rare type of job where the harder you work the worse you do. You should be making them work! When they are working, they are engaged, and when they are engaged they are having an unforgettable experience!