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Developing effective training - Putting learning principles into work practice

In 2020 I started on a journey to become an expert trainer and teacher. A key area of my learning developed on my way to my masters level qualification in learning and development for adults ( PGdipE), my understanding of how we learn, what makes an effective training or teaching session and how to support desired actioning and behaviours for learners.

Learning principles are critical to helping us retain information and put that information into practice. However, it can be difficult to apply these principles in our work practice, amongst other things we all have learned behaviours, and habits that get in the way of change and new behaviours.

In this blog, I will discuss some key areas of consideration for learning and development, audits and trainers in workplaces and also suggest some tips for putting learning principles into work practice.

Firstly I would like to start by considering the difference between content expert knowledge and training or teaching expert knowledge.

All knowledge is not equal

Knowledge comes in many different forms, most experts and senior professionals in businesses are content knowledge experts - experts in their field of work and specific areas, they have developed this expertise over many years and training – however, to be a good teacher and trainer of others at least three types of knowledge are needed:

Content Knowledge – (CK) understanding of subject matter being taught, “the understanding that something is so, and further understanding of why it is so”. (Shulman 1986, p.9)

Pedagogic Knowledge - (PK) “ broad principles and strategies of training that transcend subject matter”. (Shulman 1986)

Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) “interpretations and transformations of subject-matter knowledge in the context of facilitating learning. (Shulman 1986)

A study of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) (Rohaan et al., 2008) points out that expert teachers are not born with all these knowledge skills, and that it is a process to develop the aptitudes, knowledge, experience, and skills of expert teachers/trainers.

Great trainers are made not born

It is well respected that in schools teachers must train to tech. So… Why then do we expect team leaders, heads of departments and other content experts/specialists to have the skills to effectively train their teams? Understanding how learning happens, knowing the right activities, and structures, and having the soft skills, then reflecting on and further developing aspects of training are not innate skills. Yet in the workplace, we often treat them as such.

Unlocking the Superpower of great trainers to deliver effective learning and development

Helping your team to become better trainers of others in your organisation is imperative to success, and it requires investment, trainer training and training audits can help develop the right processes. Investing in this way can help them to develop an understanding of how learning occurs and what good training looks like. Specifically, there are real benefits that can be had from training your trainers to use a reflective process or model - for example supporting them to follow Kolb’s ( Kolb 1984) model of reflection when creating and delivering training and applying such a model across planning, doing, reviewing, concluding and improving. Kolb’s model suggests that learning is a cycle and the most important learning happens when we are actually doing something ourselves - His cycle has 4 key parts that he suggests learners need to go through to effectively learn. He is focused on experiential learning and cognition across 4 stages, “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 38).

Reflecting on my journey and experiences as a trainer and teacher I can identify my own PCK learning across several areas, this has to lead to a checklist for training audits and development;

- Ensure training and training plans deliver a mix of engagement and that they follow a

reflective model, allowing for reflection and self-evaluation of all learners

- Understanding the learners being taught - know the starting point with formative tests,

questions, discussion and understanding of any neurodivergence or specific needs

- Ensuring the level of learning can be accessed by all - it offers both knowledge sharing and works to develop communication in teams

- Understanding how all your sessions link together and always reinforce previous


- Set SMART objectives and ways of measuring if learning has occurred - summative assessments, quizzes and tests

- Communicate the learning objective clearly and keep referencing these - building your training in small chunks that aim at learning and comprehension

- Understanding and developing questioning techniques to support self-learning

- Developing tools to track and aid learner comprehension

- Taking time to reflect on the success of a training session and asking for feedback on

your sessions

- Use a model like Bloom's taxonomy and include aspects of growth mindset to support learning.

Issues building the skill to train others:

That all seems simple or maybe not.... in reality training is a supplementary task to your day job for many so what are the main issues that trainers without PCK encounter - here are 6 main issues that I have seen in developing great trainers and training:

- Lack of a plan or clarity on what is required from learners, no set plan, no measures of success or follow-up after a session – trainers must be clear regarding the objectives and outcomes of training – these objectives should be action focused

- Limited explanation as to what terminology means or support for deeper understanding - terminology can be confusing and often it is assumed that everyone understands industry speak - often this is not the case – ensuring everyone understands terminology is key to facilitating learning

- Too much focus on telling people what they should do - we learn by doing, training needs to be interactive and it needs to support and encourage individuals to adopt new practices and new behaviours - linking training to real life in work scenarios and allowing the learners to have a go is key to training working

- No resources to support the training ppt – lots of training can ve death by ppt – this is not training this is torture – great training needs tie to understand how you can make it fun and engaging and offer your learners the chance to have a go - worksheets, group work, worked scenarios, quizzes, poster creation, teaching someone else and mindmaps are just a few examples of how to place the learning in the learner's hands

- Too many topic areas to cover in a short space of time – making it hard to really communicate deeper level knowledge or to check learner understanding. Training is all too often forced into small sessions or teams feel pressure when attending as they are not able to get on with their day job – this creates pressure for trainers to cover too many areas in a small space of time – this is ineffective and a much better strategy would be chunking and microlearning if time is tight

- Preconceptions and ingrained behaviours – trainers are never speaking to a blank canvas - each person is different with preconceptions, ingrained behaviours different neuro-diversity and needs. All too often these areas are on considered and no time is given to understanding where each learner is on their journey before a trainer starts to talk about an area of development – this can instantly alienate some learners and can lead to no learning taking place and future issues of resentment and exclusion.

With so many challenges to overcome where do you start to improve your in-house training?

If any of what I have written resonates with you and you have a training program, you work in HR, learning and development or training and would like to have your training, plan, material and processes or trainers reviewed against pedagogical and learning principles or you feel your trainers could benefit from training - possibly in a reflective learning model such as Kolb’s (1984) model get in touch - I am focused on developing and continuing to use reflective models, growth mindset theory ( Dweck 2008), Bloom's taxonomy of learning ( 1998) and other key principles of learning and development form the educational sector to challenge and standard in work training development and to improve the workplace learner experience. Find out more or Get in touch today

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