When you train, are people learning?

Mar 06 2015 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

Maybe you've had on-the-job training where someone showed you how to do something and then asked you sign off that you learned the material. Never were your skills tested. No one asked you to demonstrate proficiency. You simply observed someone doing what you were supposed to learn, and they said you were "trained."

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. The problem? That's not training. The ability to stand up and talk does not a trainer make.

In the same way, just because we show someone how to do something doesn't mean they've learned.

A couple of situations stand vividly in my mind. One is the facial expression of the production manager for a large manufacturing plant. While conducting a train-the-trainer workshop I reviewed what I call the "four step skill-transfer method." About half-way through the lesson this manager's eyes got big and his mouth opened. "So that's why our people aren't learning," he said.

Then there's the sales manager who takes a new sales rep out to show him the ropes. After meeting with a few prospective clients, the manager says to the new hire, "Okay, you've watched me do it, now it's your turn." Naturally, he's perplexed when his new hire messes things up. What's interesting is when he blames the new sales rep for "not getting it."

How adults learn is not a preprogrammed brain file, nor is it installed in us when we're born or when we become a manager

Don't misunderstand; this is not a criticism of these managers. If no one has ever shown them how to train effectively, then how could they possibly know? How adults learn is not a preprogrammed brain file, nor is it installed in us when we're born or when we become a manager. We must learn how to do it.

Therefore, the following is dedicated to managers and all who are responsible for teaching others how to do certain tasks. If it seems elementary, it is. The process can be tedious. It seems to take up a lot of time. But it also works, and works well. If you think about the time and money lost from people not performing tasks as they should, then this investment of time spent up front is small by comparison.

Why do I advocate this method? First because cognitive learning (knowledge / understanding) and physical skill learning (muscle movement / dexterity) are inherently different. This method separates the two, and puts brain learning before muscle learning. It's an effective order because when the brain understands what's supposed to be going on, it's easier for it to communicate accurate instructions to the muscles.

There are other reasons I like this method, but I think you'll see them as it's explained. Here are the four steps:

1. Instructor Does, Instructor Explains. This means that as the teacher, you must demonstrate what it is you want your students to do, and, as you're going through the various activities, provide narration to describe and explain what you're doing. As you demonstrate, explain nuances, tricks, tips, cautions etc.

2. Instructor Does, Student Explains. In step two, you're going to demonstrate again, but this time the student tells you what to do and what to watch out for. Be careful not to lead the student into any of the steps - he or she should tell you what to do before you do it.

This step allows the learner to engage the new skill mentally. He or she seeing the procedure in his or her mind and having to articulate it to you, but you have control over the actual process. A misstep in verbal instructions from the student does not have to be acted upon if the actual doing might cause damage or harm. This allows for corrective instruction from you without damaging equipment or causing personal injury.

3. Student Does, Instructor Explains. In step three the student performs the task with step-by-step instructions from you. Obviously the student's mind is thinking about what needs to happen, but your instructions are providing accuracy and safety.

Also in this step, one of the biggest obstacles to learning, student embarrassment, is kept to a minimum. The student can focus brainpower on the manual dexterity required instead of trying to remember what to do next.

4. Student Does, Student Explains, Instructor Evaluates. Here the student merges the mental and physical learning under the guidance of you, the experienced instructor. The student builds confidence and the stage is set for true ownership of his or her ability to do the task. It's not just "I showed you, now you do it." The student truly has the ability to explain what should be done and demonstrate proficiency in doing it.

This four-step method is not necessary or even applicable for all learning situations. But when teaching certain skills, it ensures solid learning. Again, it may seem simplistic, redundant, and time-consuming. But consider the options:

  • Demonstrate once and then have to demonstrate again and again, plus fix all the mistakes later (not to mention lost productivity and profits), or:
  • Take time up front so true learning occurs right from the start.

Give it a try. It takes time and patience, but the results are very much worth it.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. Heís also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence

Older Comments

I love this, i think this is the simplest way to teach practicly anything, even spelling. i can train clients that want websites on how to use them @ logicalnexus.com and my employees that get the clients for me. they love logicalnexus.com, There Business Online.


Very insightful and helpful.

It covers all different types of students (Auditory, Visual, Kinaesthetic).

Good one and I recommend every trainer to follow this.

Vishnu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia