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Training Basics

Published: 10th Jan 2012

Training isn’t hard to do badly, but you don’t have to have a degree in psychology and teaching to do it well. With relatively few tips you can greatly improve your training and student learning.

At the end of the day, the point is that students develop new understanding, knowledge, attitudes and/or skills that make them more effective at their jobs, and better prepares them to face the ensuing challenges.

Training provision is often seen as a cycle of continuous improvement. It can be helpful to view the process as comprising a number of stages (see figure 1). While it is always tempting to see things in neat, distinct areas, there is clearly considerable overlap between the stages, with one item informing another and some factors contributing to several stages. You also might not quite cover things in that order but, like anything free, take it for later because you might just use it.

In an ideal world, you’d start by finding out what each student already knows, understands or can demonstrate in relation to the intended training course topic. The training need (or gap) is the difference between that and what they need (or are expected) to know. This is the new stuff that they need to learn.

You then need to plan and deliver the training programme to meet those needs. During the teaching and/or at the end, the actual learning is assessed against the intended learning.

The final stage is a wider review of the whole programme. This will take into account how well students learned but also look at things from the teaching and design perspective - what went well and what needs changing for next time - resources or timings, for example. This will feed into improving the next session or course.

There are many influences on learning effectiveness. If you sit and think about what helps or hinders you, you might come up with things like (in no particular order): the teacher, the teaching methods and aids used, distractions, room layout/environment, group dynamics (size), level of feedback, student interest/motivation in the subject, fatigue (the night before) and so on.

In the rest of this article we’ll explore many of the issues you need to consider in going through that process to provide effective training. These issues are just as applicable to distance/e-learning as they are to face to face (traditional classroom) training. I will use ‘learner’ and ‘student’ interchangeably. The same goes for ‘teacher’ and ‘trainer’.

The trainer

If you are delivering face to face training, the qualities of the trainer take on a good deal of importance (but you might also have trainers supporting e-learners too). Essential characteristics might include being knowledgeable about the subject, having good communication skills, being encouraging/motivating and giving feedback - which comes in many forms, but is clearly linked to communication skills.

Desirable features might be enthusiasm, friendliness and smart appearance. But the truth is, you could argue all day about essential versus desirable. What’s important to some is not to others and there is no sharp divide between effective versus ineffective teaching - they are simply extreme ends of a continuum.

But at the very least you’d expect a trainer to know something about the subject being taught.

Identifying training needs

You might be lucky and have someone that just tells you what they want to learn, but taking it to basics, it’s a good idea to find out what training is actually needed, so it can be tailored to that need instead of wasting everyone’s time.

At a simple level, this is just a gap analysis; that is, find out what knowledge, understanding and experience they already have (often called ‘entry behaviour’) compared to what they want or need to know. The difference is what they need to learn and this can be formalised as an individual learning plan (ILP).

Finding out what people already know can be discovered quite informally through a short chat or interview, or more formally - a pre-assessment such as a multiple choice quiz. What knowledge, attitude and/or skill people need to be able to demonstrate at the end of the training is usually termed.

Commercial training providers will offer tailored courses but much of their provision is typically standard courses that must cover a particular syllabus to achieve a recognised qualification. In such cases, the ‘intended learning outcomes’ and the means by which they will be assessed will already be stated by the qualification awarding body.

In many commercial training scenarios it simply is not cost effective or practical to assess everyone’s entry behaviour before they attend a course or even on their first day. This is especially so for short courses. Students on commercial training courses can often have large differences in entry behaviour. Nonetheless, teachers can still take account of the needs of individual students (see later).

People learn in different ways

It seems that different people learn best in different ways or at least seem to prefer different ways. Even from childhood people can be labelled ‘practical’ or ‘academic’. There are people who love to work in groups and others who prefer to work alone. There are those who do not respond well to being given a task (to work out some underlying principles) without first having tuition in those underlying principles - they like to take time to reflect and conceptualise before having a go. Learning usually takes time and practice but some seem to learn quicker than others.

Even from ancient times, many attempts have been made to categorise all this into what we variously call learning preferences, styles or channels. The latter learning channels is a popular approach and is so-called because of the emphasis on the medium through which we prefer to learn. Thus you can be predominantly a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner, whereby you learn best by seeing, e.g. graphs, pictures, words; hearing, e.g. verbal instructions; or doing, e.g. practical, respectively. In practice, people can be a mixture of these.

Some have gone to great lengths to discover the preferred learning styles of each individual in their class in an attempt to include them. Many researchers now consider this to be futile, however. One reason is the realisation that any given class will contain a range of people with different learning preferences.

Another reason is the discovery that learning styles are not fixed. People can change their learning style depending on the context; for example, the subject matter and how motivated we are to learn.

It is also not necessarily a good idea to pander to preferences or comfort zones. Learning is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to learn new things. It turns out that we can all benefit from different ways of learning even if it does not seem to fit with our preferred learning style or channel.

Different teaching methods/strategies and resources/aids

As we have already implied, different learning preferences/channels can be associated with different teaching methods and aids. Using a variety of teaching methods and aids is therefore highly recommended to reach the wide range of learning styles. This approach is often called ‘whole brain learning’. Thus, lecturing - or any single teaching approach - is not inherently wrong, it’s just that exclusive use of a single (or very few) method(s) can be less effective, and certainly less engaging.

There are numerous teaching strategies that can be utilised in many contexts, not just face to face, but also within learning management systems such as Moodle. Everyone is familiar with lecturing but there are many others which are routinely used such as ‘question and answer’, small group work, demonstration, practical, modelling, coaching, case study, humour and role play. These are distinct from training aids/resources (such as powerpoint slides or DVDs), which support a teaching strategy.

One theory of learning - constructivism - suggests that when trying to learn new things, we construct our own meanings based largely on our previous knowledge and experience. We develop our own little internal model of the way the world works.

Learning is thought to be more effective if people are made to work things out, e.g. analyse, apply, solve, reason, rather than just simply presented with facts to memorise - athough this may also be needed too. This ‘working things out’, for example by using case studies, scenarios, practical construction projects and problem sheets, is often called ‘active learning’. Since we can all get things wrong, this needs to be coupled with assessment and feedback from teachers to detect and correct those errors.

A distinction is also made between deep and surface learning. Deep learning requires us to understand things, whereas surface learning does not require us to understand much at all. The active learning strategies are aimed at deep learning.

Effectiveness of a strategy can also depend on context, such as subject matter, group dynamics and what other strategies are being used with it. Clearly some strategies lend themselves more to practical subjects and others more to theoretical subjects. But inclusion of practical experiments as a hook and thought provoker to prepare students for a later theoretical treatment can be very effective and is routinely used in teaching many science and engineering based subjects.

If you have an especially disruptive or uncooperative group or individual you will have to carefully consider your strategies to balance both group and individual needs. Do not discount strategies such as initial icebreakers to encourage participation early on, and agreeing ground rules, such as use of mobile phones in class, to prepare the ground for later.

The challenge is to fully engage all your students, although it is normal for concentration to drift at various points, so don’t expect full attention all the time. While active learning strategies are generally more effective, they can also be quite tiring for students. In some cases, it can also be very difficult for students to work things out without first having some teacher input. Several studies have suggested that, on average, a balance of around 70% student activity and 30% teacher input is about right. Technical subjects, however, will probably need more teacher input.

Getting learning outcomes right

Of fundamental importance is agreeing and formulating meaningful intended learning outcomes. These are the observables that you want students to display after they’ve been taught. You need to know where you are headed to have any chance of recognising when you have arrived. By meaningful, we mean that they are relevant, reasonably specific, realistic for the subject, achievable by students and measurable.

The ‘measurability’ needs to relate to the method of assessment. In formulating outcomes, it is helpful to think of learning as happening in domains - cognitive (knowledge and understanding), affective (attitude) and psychomotor (skill). So, if you are teaching someone to drive a fork lift truck, you might cover each of these domains as the driver needs to know the rules, like speed, understand certain principles, like why such trucks can overturn, have the right attitude to pedestrians and other vehicles and must also display the practical skill of driving to an acceptable level.

The ‘measurable’ aspect means, for example, that you might ask the student to identify what various road signs mean or explain to you why driving on slopes can cause overbalancing. You would ask the student to drive along a route or perform specific tasks and observe their performance against specific criteria.

Getting it together in a plan

Selecting and planning the sequence of activities within a lesson can be difficult. Thinking in terms of learning domains (discussed earlier) can also help you select appropriate teaching strategies and aids. Some teaching approaches are more suited to particular domains e.g. practical tasks will help develop practical skills. The same goes for selecting resources to support that strategy. The use of pictures, realia (real objects from real contexts) and models can make a big difference.

One method to help think through what needs including in the lesson is Kipling (or H5W) analysis - asking how, who, why, when, what and where. An effective sequencing method is to first present new information, then ask students to apply it and then review it. This sequence is cycled many times in a session as different topics are covered. These would be sandwiched between a contextualising introduction (orientation) and final review (conclusion). There are several teaching methods that combine presentation and application steps, e.g. scenarios/case studies.

Recording the plan is beneficial. It makes you think about it beforehand, you can refer to it during the lesson and to refresh your memory, and others can use it too. An entire training programme (covering many sessions in a logical sequence) may be outlined on what is usually called ‘a scheme of work’.

This may define the topic of each session in sequence and perhaps resources that might be needed. ‘Session plans’ take it to the next level. These may contain considerably more detail, referring to teaching methods, aids, specific session learning outcomes, assessment methods, timings and so on for a specific session.

In reality, the level of detail can be highly variable. Mind-mapping can also be used to record the plan. Our advice is to use what works for you and don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. It is simply a means of mapping out how you intend to teach the lesson.

You may also have to plan to take account of different learning needs/abilities within the same class. This is called ‘differentiation’. You have to be flexible, so it is pointless adding excessive detail, such as extreme timings, to a plan.

It is not usually necessary to tailor content to the individual unless someone has a specific disability; however, there are many other ways to ‘differentiate’. For example, the teacher/trainer continually assesses students informally as lessons progress, such as from responses to questions or simple observation to find out what bits they are struggling with. The level of individual support and feedback is then adapted accordingly. Experienced teachers do this automatically without even thinking about it. We’ll discuss this again later when we come to assessment.

Communication

We all know that things like eye contact, hand gestures, moving around the room, room layout, listening, voice tone/volume, enthusiasm, clarification/questioning/feedback, use of jargon can greatly influence the way the message is understood. Questioning is especially useful in probing understanding, giving feedback to the student, clarifying misunderstandings and enabling the teacher to assess the level of understanding as the lesson progresses.

Evaluation

To improve, teachers need to get into the habit of reviewing their own lessons. At a simple level that’s just asking yourself what went well, what didn’t. Working out why that worked or didn’t helps you work out what to change the next time. For example, setting students too large a task can end badly. The same task broken down into smaller chunks, with the teacher time-keeping, nudging students to move to the next task can be much more effective.

Review of the course as a whole can be done at several levels. A results-focused hierarchy that is sometimes used is that proposed by Kirkpatrick. This looks at effectiveness in four stages. At the lowest level is student reaction (filling in ‘happy sheets’ on how they felt they learned). At the top level is measuring the effect of the trained employee on the performance of the business, e.g. return on investment. It goes without saying that most training programmes only go as far as ‘happy sheets’. While these may not really indicate effectiveness of learning, they are easy to do and provide some valuable insights into the class experience or, more usually, whether they liked the teacher and the standard of food provided.

Assessment of student learning

Assessment is used for many things. For example, diagnosis - the entry behaviour we discussed earlier; to give progress feedback to students - this can be verbal, to help motivate; to compare against standards - such as with a national qualification. This also feeds into lesson evaluation.

Assessment can be ongoing or regular (called ‘formative’) or conducted at the end of a course of study (called ‘summative’). We have discussed perhaps the most widely used assessment tool used by teachers - asking questions. The response (or lack of) is a quick informal assessment method that tells the teacher how well students have understood. Observation (also used with questioning) is another valuable technique. This is the additional value of incorporating active learning activities; it releases the teacher to mingle, observe and question to assess learning. The lesson content or direction can be adapted dynamically in response.

Summary

Students learn in different ways. Use a variety of teaching methods and aids, but with an emphasis on active strategies, which tend to be more effective. Plan your lessons to be creative and provide ongoing informal opportunities to check learning and provide feedback. Waiting until the end to check learning may be too late.

Author

David Towlson initially trained as a research physical chemist (this is essentially the application of physics to chemical systems). After working in industrial research and development for a number of years he moved into health and safety management and latterly also environment, quality and education. He currently works as Director of training and quality for RRC Training.

Hasan Alaradi, Managing Director/Lead HSE Tutor/Consultant

CMIOSH, MSc, RMST

RRC Middle East is directed by Hasan Alaradi, one of a handful of Bahraini-based IOSH Chartered Safety Practitioners, with more than 25 years of safety management experience in the field of aluminum and petroleum industries.

He was awarded his MSc in Safety Technology and Risk Management and his Diploma in Safety Management from the UK's prestigious Aston University. He also holds a number of overseas qualifications in fire safety management, oil incident management, accident investigation and radiological safety. He has an important role in giving direction and leadership toward the achievement of the organisation's vision, mission, strategy and annual goals and objectives for company development and growth. About RRC Training

For more than 80 years, RRC has been helping both individuals and businesses improve their skills and performance. RRC offers a range of health and safety, environmental, quality and management training and consultancy services, delivering classroom training in the UK, Gulf states and in-company throughout the world.

For those unable to attend classroom training, we provide e-Learning solutions. We also provide solutions to support your own training provision - from trainer packs to installation of learning management systems and SCORM-compliant modules. Learning can be tailored to meet the individual requirements of organisations; we can help you make the right choices for your people.

All standard courses are accredited by internationally recognised bodies such as NEBOSH, IOSH, CIEH and CQI. Consultancy is provided on a wide range of topics including: Management Systems; Environment, Health and Safety Policies; Risk Assessments; Fire Safety Management; Environmental Due Diligence Audits; Accident Investigations and Reports; Health and Safety Surveys and Reports; Noise Assessments.

RRC has offices in London, Dubai and Bahrain and operates through partners in Istanbul, Nigeria and Singapore.

For more information visit www.rrc.co.uk www.rrc.com.bh

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Published: 10th Jan 2012 in Health and Safety Middle East

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