Tip #710: How to Set Learners Up to Fail: Part Two

“I’ve been imitated so well I’ve heard people copy my mistakes.” Jimi Hendrix

I just attended a three- day marketing seminar conducted by a self-proclaimed curriculum design expert. It was very disappointing to see once again what happens when a trainer ignores the basics and sets learners up to fail.

She made ten glaring mistakes. We covered the first five in last week’s Tip. Here are mistakes 6-10:

  1. Never hold a one-on-one conversation with a participant in response to a question or comment that many could not hear.

Instead, repeat every question and comment before you answer it. This is both a courtesy and a necessity for those who might have shared the same concern or confusion and needed to hear the answer in that context.

  1. Never ignore the comprehension needs of your group. In this class, there were a large number of international students whose first language was definitely not English. Despite her awareness of this fact, the trainer spoke so quickly even native English-speakers were sometimes at a loss to know what she said.

Instead, speak more slowly and check to make sure there is comprehension before you move on to the next piece of content.

  1. Never forget to collate issues and responses raised with other members of the training team. In this class, which had over 150 participants, the group was parceled into 20-member teams to work with individual coaches. The concept was great, but the problems were many: first, not enough time for a coach to work with each of the members; second, different coaches gave different answers to the same question; third, all of the coaches presumably reviewed all 150 worksheets but didn’t provide the trainer with a summary of the remaining issues.

Instead, if you are going to rely on coaches for a large group, make sure to meet with them to identify any continuing issues or concerns that need to be discussed with the entire group.

  1. Never give participants key information and then model the exact opposite of what you’ve said. For example, in this class the trainer made the point that human beings have an attention span of 7 minutes. Then she did nothing to check in with the participants every 7 minutes or so to ensure comprehension- other than saying without pausing for responses, “Does that make sense?”

Instead, break up instruction so that the participants can do something with the information every 7-10 minutes: for example, let them ask questions, view a visual, discuss with a neighbor, complete a worksheet, or take a verbal quiz.

  1. Never schedule a training session from 9 am to 10 pm!! Even with short breaks and time for very late lunches and dinners), that is exhausting. The human brain needs time to review and relax every 50 minutes or so, so don’t continue for 2 or more hours at a time. And don’t do either of these for three days in a row!! Exhausted minds and bodies do not retain much of anything. Training then becomes an endurance test.

Instead, recognize that people need frequent breaks to improve the quality of learning and the likelihood of retention. Instruction hours should be no more than 6 hours in a day, and this is particularly true if a class is more than one day.

Don’t copy her mistakes!

May your learning be sweet.


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