How can we make the most of our training opportunities? This month, I'd like to explain seven research-based principles to consider when you have the opportunity to teach, whether one-on-one or in a group setting.

1) Explain why

There is a distinction between education and training. Education targets thinking or thought processes and usually includes the theory or rationale behind a particular lesson. In contrast, training targets behavior, and includes steps to assure the learner knows what to do to satisfy certain performance criteria.

With this first principle, I'm saying that effective training should include education. The entire learning process is facilitated when people realize up-front the potential benefits to be gained from their learning. Tell people what positive consequences they could gain and/or negative consequences they could avoid from a training program, and they will be more motivated to learn.

2) Specify objectives

It's critical to clarify what the learner will be able to do as a result of the training session. The focus here is on behavior, not understanding or thinking. Explain the relevance of the behavior for obtaining the benefits outlined in Principle 1.

State learning objectives from the perspective of the learner. For example, "You will be able to complete a behavioral checklist" rather than "I will show you how to complete a behavioral checklist." And state objectives in behavioral terms. For example, "You will be able to conduct the four essential steps of a behavior-based coaching session" rather than "You will understand how to implement a behavioral coaching process".

3) Provide memory aids

Learning can be enhanced with a memory aid. My colleagues and I use acronyms to facilitate behavior-based safety training. For example, we use "DO IT" to teach the four steps of a BBS process (define critical behaviors, observe these behaviors, intervene to influence these behaviors, and then test for intervention impact). We also use the letters of COACH to review the consecutive steps of a behavioral coaching process - Care, Observe, Analyze, Communicate, and Help.

4) Inspire action & reaction

Learners must see a meaningful connection between their mental or behavioral activity and the lesson. The best activities stimulate the learner to relate the information to their own life events and to create personal links between such experiences and specific training principles or procedures.

There are many ways to provoke mindful or active learning. You can relate real-world events to the information you're presenting; you can pose questions that stimulate meaningful overt or covert reaction from the audience; or you can facilitate a group discussion or exercise that exemplifies certain points of a lesson.

5) Provide feedback

When learners contribute overtly in a training session, effective teachers provide constructive feedback. You should provide specific information to show whether a verbal response or a skit is relevant or off the mark. Confirming feedback tells an individual or group certain principles or procedures of a lesson are understood; corrective feedback points out a discrepancy between an overt reaction and a particular learning objective.

When giving corrective feedback, don't make the learner feel like a failure. Maintain the mindset that observing an off-target reaction says more about teaching than learning. It gives you information you can use on-the-spot to explain miscommunication or misunderstanding.

6) Reward on-target reactions

Confirming feedback tells learners they understand certain essentials of a lesson. This bolsters a sense of personal accomplishment. Of course, the more important a learner perceives a lesson to be, the more rewarding is the confirming feedback. Recall Principle 1 - Begin instruction by explaining the value or rationale of a lesson.

Use more than confirming feedback to reward your learners. Emphasize the significance of the information you are teaching, and express delight whenever someone in the group shows evidence of learning. Sometimes extrinsic rewards like points, trinkets, or recognition credits can keep people motivated and facilitate learning. But it's critical to focus on natural rewards or positive consequences inherent to the learning process.

7) Always evaluate

The term "evaluation" is a turn-off to most participants in a training session, including the teacher. Evaluation implies a "test," and most people dislike tests. Teachers don't like developing and scoring them, and learners don't like taking them. As a result, many adult education/training sessions, from professional development sessions at conferences to special on-site industrial programs, do not include an end-of-session evaluation.

But let's be frank. Wouldn't knowledge that a test will be administered at the end of a training session make you more mindful from the start? If learners don't understand a concept they think they could be held accountable for knowing, they are likely to ask relevant questions. They hold the teacher accountable for explaining material they could be tested on later. And for many people, such mindful learning increases even when they are not required to put their name on the test. Such an anonymous evaluation is invaluable for the teacher.