Bad Warning Labels

bad warning labels - do not ironI was looking at a warning label recently that said: “Do not iron while wearing shirt”. Warnings like this make me think either someone has indeed attempted to iron their shirt while wearing it, or the team making this warning label was concerned that someone may forget a very basic rule of operating an iron.  Admittedly, I rarely iron.

Maybe when you iron frequently, you become complacent about setting up the proper equipment and save time by ironing after you put on your shirt.

bad warning label - blow dryerWe are surrounded by warning labels of this nature. My blow dryer warns me to not use it while I am in the bath or sleeping. My chainsaw uses pictures to demonstrate not placing my fingers in the wrong end, and I have several plastic bags that warn they should not be placed over a baby’s head.

I understand companies protect themselves from legal ramifications by placing these labels on their products. However, when I look at an owner’s manual that states “This wheelbarrow is not intended for highway use” the instructions quickly lose credibility to me and I discontinue reading because it is probably a waste of my time. But what if something critical comes right after bad warning labels that warn me not to hot rod my wheelbarrow?

Is Basic Information Like Bad Warning Labels?

I have read hundreds of procedures and training manuals that start with extremely basic steps like “Log in to the system using your username and password” or warnings like “You must be connected to the network to access the system”. Does these sound like bad warning labels to you? Is the first step of these training sessions distracting, or worse, discrediting?  When writing a getting started guide, it is important to write very basic procedural steps. However, when writing a more advanced module, basic procedures may be insulting.

I have seen this issue become worse in the age of video. I don’t understand why trainers think the people watching their videos have absolutely no recollection of learning prior to hitting play. Videos should be short, according to Wistia, most videos need to be under two minutes. Spending time explaining something overly simple is not a good use of time when you only have two minutes!

But wait, aren’t we supposed to ground our participants before we throw too much at them? Yes absolutely, but there are other ways to approach this without excessively stating the basics. Here are a few ways to avoid being warning label level unnecessary and discrediting your training before you even start.

Don’t Retrain Foundation Skills; Reference Them

References are a fantastic way to engage participants and give them something to review when they leave. This doesn’t mean saying things like “As you know…”. You have no idea if your learners know something. A good reference would be something like “The getting started guide, found in your resources, showed us how to set up our accounts. Now let’s start working in the tool and see what it can do!” Doing this gives all levels of learners what they need without patronizing your more advanced learners.

L&D professionals are not there to provide all of the answers. We are not Wikipedia for goodness sake! We are there to make a change in our learners, and change won’t happen if our participants are spoon fed information. Learners like to be autonomous and in charge of their own learning. Have confidence in your learners, it is okay to make them be resourceful.

Pair Learners of Different Skill Levels

It’s possible that you have learners who need more support, including more basic information. Pair them with learners who are stronger. When you do group activities, more experienced participants will benefit from teaching and your less experienced will have someone to ask beginner questions.

It is possible coffee cups will always warn us that hot beverages may be hot and egg cartons warn us that they contain eggs. Training, however, shouldn’t come with bad warning labels. How do you avoid unnecessary content in your training sessions? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

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