Meeting your Students at the Right Level
There are many complicated tools for analysing training needs. However, common sense and an idea of what we are trying to achieve are enough to work out how best to pitch the training. So here is a useful tool that should help you set the right tone and find the right level for your training session. It is a simple rule of thumb that you use to measure your training against three simple words.
The three words come from Boydell and Leary’s ‘3 ‘I’s’ of learning needs – which are:
‘Implementing, Improving, and Innovating’.
So you ask yourself before you start training:
‘Taking into account the level and expectation of my students and the needs of the organisation, which of those ‘I’s most closely fits our training need?’
Are we implementing something new?
Do we need to improve on something that is already happening?
Do we need to inspire students to be creative and come up with their own ideas and innovate?
Often you will find yourself moving through them one after the other during one training session, as you introduce an idea, practise it and then work on how to apply it in different situations.
And the more you get involved in training, the more you find this becomes a continuous cycle. First, you innovate and come up with new ideas. It would be best if you then taught people to implement those new ideas correctly. Once implemented, you may want to improve on how they work in practice. Over time they need to be reassessed, and you find yourself innovating again. What we need to do is estimate where our training is in that cycle.
You can run an exhaustive analysis on what sort of course you need and at what level to pitch it. Even though most of the time, there is not the time or the resources available. So just running the programme past these three words can quickly give you a clue as to how to present your course material and how to approach your students.
Let’s imagine you are running a training programme for managers on how to implement a system of Staff Appraisals. Based on the experience of the participants in the room and the requirements of the organisation, you would start to assess your approach.
Situation: There is no effective appraisal system, so the training is focused on establishing one.
Relationship: The trainer will likely do most of the leading in this session and come up with most of the answers.
Attitude: The trainer knows best.
There is an appraisal system, but it needs an overhaul.
Relationship: The trainer will need to involve the students in a discussion to find out where the perceived problems are and how best to improve the situation.
Attitude: The students also have valuable input and will have a role in influencing the solution
Situation: There may or may not be an appraisal system in place, but we need to come up with something new and original.
Relationship: In this case, the trainer may need to step further back and become more of a facilitator, allowing the students in the room the freedom to explore and be creative. The trainer may guide, steer or add the occasional suggestion to keep the session on track, but will essentially be drawing out the solution from the participants.
Attitude: Everyone’s ideas are worth sharing – however whacky!
The key to choosing the right approach will be partly based on the nature of the training content as well as the student’s level of experience of the subject. Still, another important consideration is the style of relationship the trainer wishes to promote with the student.
Implementing implies a traditional teacher-pupil relationship: ‘Do what I say!’
It works perfectly well for simple instruction.
It is what most of us have grown up within school.
If the student is happy to accept that relationship, it can be a very efficient way of learning, but this will only be successful if the student respects the trainer’s knowledge and experience and is willing to follow instructions.
Improving implies a degree of interactivity where input from the student is valued:
‘Let me share my experience. How can we do it better?’
(After all, if the student has been busily implementing these ideas over the previous months or years, they should have some personal perspective on how they could be improved).
The benefit of this relationship is that the student feels more actively involved in their learning, and as long as they continue to see how the training will benefit them, they will be happy to engage fully. Innovating implies everyone’s opinion is seen as equally valid:
‘Let’s work together to find out what works best for you.’
In this situation, the student is much more in charge of the problem and by coming up with the ideas themselves, they will probably feel an even more significant commitment and willingness to implement those ideas.
Sometimes you might feel that the style of relationship is more critical to the success of the training than merely focusing on the level of content. This could mean that even though the training content suggests an Implementation style, you feel that the relationship in the room would work better if it the student was more involved and felt their opinion was valued correctly, like in an innovating session.
This happens regularly in my field of Public Speaking.
For example, I may have been engaged to work with a CEO, who shuffles around while he speaks, mumbles and never looks at his audience while he is on stage.
In terms of what I would need to do to implement some fundamentals of effective Public Speaking, this could be regarded as an elementary implementing session.
However, even though I know what he needs to ‘implement’ to present effectively and even though I can make suggestions on how he could ‘improve’ on what he is doing, I realise the session might be more successful if he were allowed to discover for himself and come to his conclusions.
The 3 ‘I’s are an excellent shortcut to making sure you are pitching your training at the right level.
And if nothing else they may encourage you to approach each training session anew, rather than only delivering the same message the same way each time.
No one likes to feel talked down to, which is why using an ‘innovating’ style, even in basic training, can be very useful, because it allows the student to find the answers for themselves.