The Key Stages in Training

If you follow my blog regularly, you’ll know the last several entries have to do with training. We talked about why training fails and then we covered mastermind-style training that really gets results. Today, I’m talking about some of the nuts-and-bolts behind those styles of training.

If we’re going to train professionally, we must understand two things: why people learn and how people learn.

The “why” is certainly the more important aspect of the two, and it’s also the more complicated piece. How adults really learn can be broken down into 3 general stages.

How people learn

First, we must give the adult learner the context for the job or the task they’re being trained on. We must show the trainee how what we’re training them on fits into the big picture.

Adults don’t do well with theory. Of course, theory has its place in introducing the topic, but we must quickly get into the context of how this is going to impact them on a daily basis.

People need to see the big picture and what their piece of the big picture is. Another bonus to trainees in seeing the bigger picture is that once they understand the small pieces and see how they fit into the big picture, they’re able to make suggestions for improvement.

I don’t see teaching necessarily as process so much as story: here’s why the job must be done, what we’re learning and how it fits into the job, and the trainee’s role and responsibility. This allows adults to truly understand what’s happening and why.

The next step is one that, sadly, a lot of trainers ignore: breaking training down into digestible chunks. In last week’s mastermind-style training post, we talked about introducing one topic at a time so trainees have time to really learn the one skill before adding on to it.

In just about any situation we would train on, we can find natural phases in the sequence of skills needed. Where there’s a pause, there’s our digestible chunk.

By breaking training down into easily digestible chunks, the trainee can master each chunk before we add on additional skillsets.

The third piece is that trainees must practice each skillset along the way. Best case scenario, they’re practicing and mastering each skillset before we teach them something new. That’s why mastermind training is so effective in getting skills — especially soft skills — delivered in a format that creates lasting results.

When you give trainees small chunks, it’s much easier to practice. For instance, a professional golfer will oftentimes get trained by a golf coach who will break down individual parts of their swing. They’ll work on different parts of the swing before putting the whole swing together. This is learning in chunks and practicing before turning to the whole job process.

What am I going to teach?

As a trainer, we must prepare before we think about any of those 3 stages of how people learn. It sounds obvious, but for me when I think about preparing, I think about two questions I ask myself about any client situation: What am I going to teach? Who am I teaching it to?

For me, this means outlining the training points I need to cover and more importantly, arranging them in order to help the trainees learn the skill quickly and easily. The difficulty here is in deciding what to say and what order to say it in. The answer comes from how familiar the trainer is with the situation.

Often when training on something that is second nature to us, we overlook basic things trainees need to know.

We also must think about the materials we need. Not just a PowerPoint presentation, but do we need handouts? Group exercises? Role plays? Have we designed these, and do they mirror the kinds of situations this particular group of trainees will not only identify with but are faced with on regular basis?

At this stage, I even think about audiovisual equipment and what happens if a projector bulb blows. Do I still have a way to deliver content? What if the hot link to a video doesn’t work? We must have back up things in place for any audiovisual equipment.

If we don’t get that piece of prep correct, we run the risk of having a chaotic presentation resulting in confused or disinterested trainees. They’ll think what you were training on really wasn’t that important.

Who are your trainees?

Are they new hires or experienced employees? What generation are they in? From a workplace culture standpoint, are they resisting change or eager to learn?

Regardless of how you answer these questions, we have to make sure we check in with trainees’ previous knowledge and skills so we can adapt our approach to meet their needs.

The last piece to consider is the barriers that may exist to training. These could be a lack of desire to learn on the part of the trainees, noise distractions, or maybe trying to cram too much information into too short a time period. I see this quite regularly, where prospective clients ask me to do a training in an hour that takes 2-3 hours to do well. My typical response is that it can’t be done, and it can’t be done effectively.

If we make the financial investment and the time to train, we have to have enough time to do it properly to actually derive the results we want.

Why adults learn

Even if we do everything I mentioned above in putting a basic training program together, if there’s no desire to learn on the part of the trainee the information is not going to be retained.

Trainee motivation and desire to learn are vital factors in the entire training process. Desire varies person to person, and can be conditioned by age, sense of responsibility to the organization, peer interactions, and other factors.

I think it breaks down into 3 simple areas: incentives, encouragement, and rewards.

With incentives, we often rely on the desire to win as a key motivator. If we can harness in our trainees’ the desire to win, the chances of the training being successful increase dramatically. Part of painting a bigger picture is telling trainees what’s in it for them to learn this skill, whatever it is: fun, money, status, opportunities for advancement, or something else.

Encouragement, or what some people may call feedback, has to happen not only during the training but following it. We want to emphasize what they’re doing right and provide an open, friendly atmosphere to learn, rather than harping on mistakes trainees make during training.

The rewards piece is easy. We simply have to ask our people what types of rewards they want for exhibiting the skillsets we’re asking for. Do they want status, money, a chance for promotion, or something else?

We have to work that in during the training and then into the follow-up, because the job of the trainer isn’t over when the training session is over. It’s over when the trainee has consistently, over time, exhibited the skill we’ve trained them on.

Ultimately, the sign of good training is simply whether or not the learner continues to perform the task correctly. Only then can we sit back as a trainer and pat ourselves on the back, saying job well done.

Looking for someone to help you implement effective, results-based training in your organization? Contact me at 717-674-3468 or and let’s chat.