The Human Touch

February 1, 2005
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In an average training class size of 30 the instructor might ask, “How many of you remember the topic of your last safety presentation?”

Normally, we’re lucky to get a one-person response. We then ask, “How many remember their last training via video or computer?” The number of responses increases slightly, but typically the responders are vague about the details. This is followed by the question, “How many remember how to use a fire extinguisher?” Invariably, all hands go up (assuming they’ve received such training).

Why is this? In the words of two great educators centuries ago: “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I will remember. Involve me, and I will understand.” Attributed to Confucius, 500 B.C., and Aristotle, 350 B.C.

Understanding is a key goal in training in any subject, especially safety and job training. It seems easy to insert a CD/DVD, sit someone in front of a terminal and think that training is accomplished. Little manpower time spent, perceived lower costs, pressure to keep up with technology, and OSHA training requirements all play into the trend of training entirely by man/machine interface.

While technology in training is a wonderful thing and should be utilized, human interface and interaction should not be abandoned. Selecting, coordinating and delivering training is a challenge to all companies, large and small. An important factor in organizational training is that we are dealing with “adult learning.”

Principles of adult learning

Adults come to training with years of experience and an abundance of information. We need to focus not only on the gaps of knowledge but the strengths trainees bring to class. Opportunity for dialogue in a training session presents a major source of enhancement by tapping trainees’ experiences.

Most adults prefer interactive learning as opposed to straight lecture. They learn best by utilizing a variety of teaching methods — visual, tactile and participatory. Using strategies such as small group problem-solving and open discussion are very effective in adult learning. Opportunities for discussion and asking questions are more likely to keep adults’ attention. Breaks in training are also important to retain their focus.

Values, beliefs and opinions are established in adult learners. The level of acceptance of the training is affected by these elements. Without the ability to debate and challenge ideas, information and opinions, many adults will reject new concepts and not fully utilize information imparted to them. Adults tend to have a need to be self-directing. We need to avoid merely transmitting information or expecting total agreement. Training should be a process of mutual inquiry.

Adults seek relevancy in training. They must see a reason for learning something. To be of value to adult learners, training needs to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities. They relate the new to what was previously learned and to their personal experiences. Good training focuses on application of concepts to relevant practical situations.

Self-esteem and ego are very important to adults. Thus, reinforcement is a key tool in training. Acknowledge their participation.

Technology-based vs. instructor-led

Once employers decide to train, they face the quandary of whether to utilize technology-based training (TBT) or instructor-led training/classroom instruction (ILT). Timing, relevance and costs are key factors. Which is the best choice? There are advantages and disadvantages to both:

  • Some employees prefer learning independently, which TBT allows for.

  • Implementation costs tend to be less for technology-based training while development costs are higher.

  • TBT can be used anytime, anywhere including outside of the work environment. Many employees, however, do not want to do training on their own time.

  • To date, the interaction and feedback available from peers and instructors is difficult to duplicate on the Web. Interactivity is an important tool to engage the student.

  • Self-motivation and strong attentiveness is required for TBT. Not all trainees are able to summon up this self-discipline.

  • TBT tends to be good for teaching theories and principles as well as basic steps in a process. It does not, however, do much for changing behaviors.

  • Student tracking is fairly easy with TBT, but tracking retention of subject matter is often overlooked.

  • Content is normally easily updated in TBT.

  • ILT provides human contact, which greatly impacts learning. TBT does not have the impact of live, activity-based training.

  • There is still a lack of multimedia, such as audio and video with interactive capabilities, in many technology-based programs.

  • TBT provides little or no opportunity to discuss or debate the subject, a key element for the acceptance of concepts being presented. TBT falls short in the “convincing” arena, especially when dealing with changing behaviors.

  • It is hard to measure a trainee’s attentiveness. A good instructor can recognize when attentiveness is waning.

  • Since most employees have spent at least 12 years learning in a classroom, familiarity with the classroom setting tends to make instructor-led training the first choice of trainees.

  • Clarification of subject matter is difficult with technology-based training.

  • Instructor-led training offers problem-solving opportunities.

  • The classroom provides the opportunity for team building and organizational sharing.

  • Many managers are more comfortable sending an employee to a training session rather than to sit in front of a computer to engage learning.

  • Some employees prefer to be engaged/involved in the training.

    This all known, where does the direction of training go?

    Blending together

    A great deal of attention is being given to the concept of “blended” training. The dictionary defines “blended” as “mixed together to produce the desired flavor.” Essentially, this is what we want from our training programs: “mixed together to produce the desired level of learning.” (See COALESCENCE sidebar.)

    No single method is ideal for all types of training. Electronic content can be blended with interactive group exercises, work examples, feedback and performance support. Classroom training is not obsolete but needs to be at its best: less straight lecturing, more open discussion, activities, team problem-solving, an environment for practicing.

    TBT used alone puts the responsibility of learning squarely on the trainee. Someone who is motivated to learn can do well with self-study methods. Others need more stimulation to learn. TBT can provide a good basis for “knowing about,” and ILT can provide the element of “knowing how to.” Blending “knowing about” and “knowing how to” in training can produce a high-level skill performance.

    Make no mistake, the advances in the technology of training are to be applauded. However, training methods involving human interaction, involvement and participation should not be eliminated from the training curriculum. Saving time and money on training cannot come at the expense of sacrificing quality of training.

    SIDEBAR: Blended training: Can you spell COALESCENCE?

    When trying to achieve the right blend of technology-based training and instructor-led training, consider the word “COALESCENCE”:

    C – Combine technology-based instruction of principles with classroom practice of principles.

    O – Ongoing evaluation of the trainee population and their needs.

    A – Assessment/Measurement/Analysis of results of all instructional methods used on a periodic basis.

    L – Learning styles taken into consideration.

    E – Employee involvement in review and choices of training.

    S – Specific to the facility.

    C – Coaching provided throughout all training media used.

    E – Element of fun included in training.

    N – Non-punishing environment; provide for positive reinforcement in learning.

    C – Communicate training plans to employees; explain how training is to be accomplished.

    E – Employee experience drawn upon.

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