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How to Train the Un-Trainable - Part 1

There’s a scene in the film City Slickers (city folk go cattle driving, yeehaw!) where the Billy Crystal character, Mitch, tries to explain to his friend Phil, how to use a VCR (yeah, it’s an old film). Phil, though, doesn’t get it. He seriously doesn’t and, you know that he’s never going to get it.

Audiences laugh because they know people, maybe them, who they think are incapable of learning new things. That, however, needn’t be the case. Here’s how you, your colleagues, your employees as well as Mitch and Phil can overcome the challenges of learning.

  1. Facilitating learning. Where Mitch went wrong was that he was trying to teach rather than facilitate Phil’s learning about how to use a VCR. Trainers need to focus on what would help the student learn rather than solely on the facts and figures that they need to get across. From their point of view, students need to find a course that’s got the flexibility to meet individual needs. You could call it being "student centred".
  2. It takes two. Many trainers have one delivery method: front and centre lecturing to the class. Many students have one approach: they expect knowledge to land in their laps. Both are surprised when learning doesn’t happen. We all learn in different ways and trainers and students need to be aware of that. Both need to think about preconceptions they have about the subject and each other. They both need to ensure that the training caters to the different ways people learn by offering activities, images, videos, sound, text, and so on. And both need to decide whether individual or group learning would work better. Maybe City Slickers' Phil needed to be shown rather than told.
  3. Adapt. Once learners know what their optimum learning environment is they can pick the learning method that suits them. Trainers in their turn could consider devising or modifying methods to suit different kinds of learners and different learning paces. Remember, people who learn slowly, may retain and apply what they’ve learnt better than the people who whizzed through a course. The aim is not for them to be great at doing the course but, as any project manager will tell you, to be great at applying the methodology appropriately in real life.

Stay tuned for part two where we'll offer suggestions for learners and trainers to improve their learning journey.