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Training - simple made complicated

21 February, 2018

Have you ever suffered, I mean sat, through a 5-day induction of powerpoint and the occasional video.  If you were lucky, the instructor was a smoker so there a lot of breaks.  I have sat through a couple of them and I cannot recall one important piece of information, because there was too much information.  And unfortunately, this information overload is not unique to inductions. Sometimes, in training, we try to cover everything and the trainee ends up learning nothing.

I first encountered the problem many years ago when I was writing a procedure for carrying mesh underground.  If you are not familiar with mesh, it is a form of underground ground support and it is large and awkward to carry.  The procedure started off fairly simply.  Make sure your path is clear, use correct manual handling techniques, ensure that you have a firm grip with hands spaced apart etc…  Once the procedure went for the review, things got a little more interesting.  What if you had to carry the mesh past a machine?  What if you had to walk over a trailing cable?  What if the mesh had been bent in transit?  What if the mesh was larger than the standard size.  And on and on it went.  So a simple 2-page document morphed into a mini novel.

It is natural to try and prepare a trainee for every situation that could occur. The problem is that it’s just not possible. As soon as you think you have every eventuality covered in that 150-page training manual, Murphy’s law will kick in and something that you have not expected will pop up. So the manual then becomes 160 pages. Most people will tune out as soon as the 160-page manual hits the desk because they know they can’t possibly read and absorb it all. But give them a well set out (even better if there are pictures or diagrams), concise document and take the time to go through it with them and they will get it. And they might even ask questions.

When developing training materials, you need to make sure that you identify all the significant risks and the major steps involved in the task. These are the things that the trainee should know. But in most cases, especially in high-risk activities, the trainee will be placed with an experienced operator and later assessed as competent before they are left on their own. This on the job training is where they should learn to adapt to different conditions. Your training materials are to prepare them for the on the job training.  And if you are concerned about compliance, ensure that the issue is covered in the practical assessment. Perhaps even educate your on the job trainers to ensure that they cover all the requirements.

If possible, it is always a great idea to get feedback from the trainee. A good time to do this is during the practical assessment. Ask them if there was anything missing from the training materials or if there was too much information. Did the materials prepare them for the on the job training? What else would have been helpful to them? If you let the trainee and the on the job trainer know that you are going to ask these questions before they start on the job training, they will be more prepared and give better answers. Some may even take notes.

If I had to sum up adult learning into one phrase, it is that adults learn what they want too. Generally, people are keen to learn how to do something new, especially if there is a pay and/or promotion incentive involved. But there are a number of things that we can do to make them want to learn even more.  And concise, well presented, practical focused training materials will make a huge difference. Because a 5-day induction watching powerpoints and boring videos can test a person’s will to live, let alone their will to learn.