Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Location, Location, Location: The Missing Link in Your Training Program

I noticed that one of our clients recently asked a question on Linkedin about how to develop effective training programs for a variety of health, safety, and environmental topics. First off, this is a great question, if for no other reason than its one most people don’t ask. To be an effective trainer requires two skill sets – that you’re a subject matter expert and that you’re a good trainer. Many people are one or the other, but few are both. So knowing what you want to teach is half of the issue. Knowing how to teach it effectively is the other half, and that’s why this is such a great question.

The topic of training is a big one and you definitely can’t become a great trainer simply by reading one blog. However, there’s one element I see many otherwise competent trainers and safety managers missing in their training programs – controlling the location. Most of the time when I show up at a client’s site to perform training there’s a room set up for me, usually a conference room. Why the conference room? Because that’s the room someone just decided was the best room to do training. This decision usually involves no more than figuring out if the room can hold as many people as are coming to the training and/or if the room as the appropriate audio/visual equipment to facilitate the normal training bells and whistles.

This is a bit of a mistake. The location you’re in when you’re learning something (or trying to recall the information later) is vital to the training process. There’s many reasons for this, but on a very basic level you can think of the training environment acting in two opposing ways – as a distractor or as an enabler. Most training occurs outside of the normal working environment and is therefore a novel environment to the trainee in some way. Novel environments are by definition distracting, especially when the environment is not well controlled or designed. Throwing some chairs up and plugging in a projector does not make a training room. Thought should be put into building an environment conducive to the type of training being conducted (e.g. knowledge/lecture based training versus demonstrational/skill based training). Things such as temperature and lighting conditions should be considered as well.

That stuff is all pretty basic, and anyone who takes a train the trainer class should get the basics of the previous paragraph. What most training programs miss though is how the training environment can enable effective training. Research shows that context is important in recalling information – i.e. you’re more likely to recall a piece of information if you’re in the same or similar environment as when you learned it. This is partly why it’s effective to retrace your steps when you lose your keys – partly because they are likely to be on or around the path you took, but also because retracing your steps puts you in the environment you were in when you last saw them, thus increasing the chance you’ll remember where you left them. Our minds, especially as adults, work best through association. We associate new information with previous information, therefore making it easier to remember both pieces of information when you remember one or the other.

What does this mean for training? Design the training environment to be the same or similar to the environment in which you want your students to use the information! If you want your students to follow lockout/tagout procedures do all or some of the class near the equipment they will be working on. If it’s about storing hazardous wastes – do the class in the waste storage area. Office ergonomics classes should be done in the office, not in the conference rooms! Getting people out into the environments where they work not only will make the classes more fun, it will make the training more effective.

So next time don’t just choose the training location that’s most convenient – go with the location that will enable the most effective training. Location, location, location!

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