“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” It’s sound advice for every trainer and presenter. If your learners don’t have an opportunity in the training room to practice what they’ve learned, they may not retain what you’ve tried to teach them.
The training design model I’ve come to embrace includes four steps:
Application (defined here as providing an opportunity to practice new skills in a safe environment) moves your lesson from the theoretical to the concrete and allows learners to actually see and feel how your presentation can impact their job performance.
Application Idea #1: Case Study
One of the simplest ways to allow learners to apply what you’ve just taught is to introduce a case study. Through the lens of their newfound knowledge and skills, learners can analyze and discuss true-to-life instances of your content in action. More skilled facilitators may wish to move beyond the straight forward analyze-and-discuss case study and deliver a more interactive experience through a live-action case study. Giving learners a portion of the case study to begin, then challenging them to decide what (if any) additional information they would need to proceed can move the lesson from a “this is what I would have done in this case study” discussion to more of a “this is what I will do when put into this situation” activity.
Application Idea #2: Role Play
I’ve never heard two words that garner more groans and eye rolls than “role play.” I think there are two reasons for this: 1) role playing means learners must go outside of their comfort zone to demonstrate new skills (they can’t just sit back and say: in this situation, I would hypothetically do x; they have to say the words that they would actually speak in a given situation), and 2) when two people with limited proficiency in a skill or concept are paired together, the role play often ends quickly and comes to an idealistic, everyone-is-happy-in-the-end ending. In order to make the role play more realistic, I’ve seen several examples where outside actors are paired with learners to add an element of reality. And if your learners groan at the words “role play”, then change the name to something like “simulation”.
Application Idea #3: Design & Create
When I facilitate a train-the-trainer session and introduce a lesson planning tool, I insist my learners break up into groups and actually design a lesson plan. It’s eye opening to see learners, who just moments earlier were perfectly able to answer theoretical questions about what a sound learning objective should be, struggle the first time that they’re asked to put their new knowledge into practice.
Application Idea #4: Evaluate and Provide Feedback
It’s one thing to design and create something like a lesson plan. It’s another thing altogether to see if learners can offer (accurate) peer feedback on what their fellow classmates have designed and created. A facilitator can tell a lot about whether or not concepts are being correctly applied by giving learners an opportunity to evaluate, provide feedback and justify their opinions.
Application Idea #5: Just Do It
When I was asked to design a training for a new IT system, I realized the end-users didn’t need to know as much about how the system was laid out as they needed to know how to simply use the system. Instead of explaining the features of the system, learners were oriented to the purpose of the system, then given sample data to begin inputting into a practice web site that had been set up specifically for training purposes. When pinched for time, I think the philosophy of less talk from the presenter and more opportunity for the learners to “just do it” is a winning strategy for everyone.
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