Knowing your audience is key when it comes to training. You must know what they know and what they don’t know, said irrigation consultant Kurt Thompson at the 2017 Irrigation Show, hosted by the Irrigation Association.
Begin by dividing information into the categories of must-know, should-know and could-know. Then, “start with all of the must-knows and almost forget everything else,” said Thompson, owner of Thompson & Associates, an irrigation training and consulting company. “You don’t want to run out of time to get all of the must-know information.”
Say you’re teaching how to size pipe to a technician. Rather than giving the trainee a whole chart of pipe, give them the maximum flow rate. Or, tell them what nozzle size they need and then ask them to call their supervisor if they have questions. In this case, teaching them how to calculate or use a chart is more could-know information.
“You’re going to be able to trim this down and give them time to get this practiced because when they leave your training, they must know how to do this,” Thompson said.
The right approach.
In the receptive form of learning, trainees are told information. Lecturing is used to deliver concepts or introduce. This form is easy but has the lowest retention level, so don’t overuse it, Thompson said.
He recommends teaching in an active environment. “Adult learners want to do it and not just hear about it,” he said.
Individual reading, case studies, brainstorming, discussion, demonstration and practice are all good options.
Other approaches include showing a trainee how to do a job, on-the-job coaching and monitored independent study. “You probably have to use all of these with your people since you can’t just send them off to training for five weeks,” Thompson said.
5 steps to running a course
Establish your credentials, and keep it relevant to your material. Trainees want to know they’re being taught by someone who has experience and expertise, Thompson said.
“That’s what war stories are great for,” he said. “Once you start to reveal that you relate to your own fallibility.” That lowers the tension and establishes credibility.
Adults bring certain expectations to the course. How the class begins is key to meeting these expectations, he said.
Trainees want to know, “What’s in it for me?” or WIIFM. Explain how the course will fill a need. You want to set the motivation and explain the value of the information they’re about to receive.
“You’re looking for feedback from them, so you might ask them to build their own WIIFM,” Thompson said.
Give your trainees the big picture before you start teaching. “Adult learners want to know where this is all going,” he said. “Don’t tell me what to do and tell me what to do next. If I don’t know where I’m going to go, maybe I’m not even going to want to start.”
An effective way to do this is through use of an agenda and a written objective so that trainees know the end goal.
“It’s like playing catch with a kid,” Thompson said. You don’t want to throw the ball farther than the kid can throw it back. “You want them to be able to communicate with you back and forth,” he said.
So, teach in the order that the task will be used and don’t give information too quickly. He said if you’re running short on time, there are a lot of things you can skip, but practice isn’t one of them.
“Never get rid of practice sessions, ever, even if you have to walk them through practices along the way,” he said.
5. Evaluation and feedback
Always be evaluating, Thompson said. Your trainees want to know that they’ve made progress and you need to know where they are in the learning process. Thompson recommends asking lots of questions and giving lots of feedback.
“You want to get them thinking so constantly be asking questions,” he said.
But make sure the questions fit the learning level of the topic at hand. A good sequence to follow is: remember, understand and apply. “If you’re teaching a kid how to hit a baseball, you want to put a bat in his hand. Then you can start giving him the correct feedback,” Thompson said.
Then you can ask trainees to analyze, evaluate and create based on what they’ve learned.
“Make them explain it,” he said. “Have them show you, answer questions and teach their peers.”