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Training to Complement Existing Knowledge and Skills

Everyone has a range of knowledge and skills they can access and perform unaided. There are also more knowledge and skills that they can master with the support of training.
How Do Trainers Connect With Existing Knowledge And Skills

Everyone has a range of knowledge and skills they can access and perform unaided. There are also more knowledge and skills that they can master with the support of training. Training is concerned with knowledge and skills in this area of ‘can do with support’. It builds learners’ mental models to a point where new knowledge is assimilated and new skills can be performed unaided. In other words, to a point where they are both competent and safe.

Trainers Know Thy Trainees

There will always be some skills we cannot perform and some knowledge we cannot take in even with support, because they are too far removed from our ability at that time. For this reason, it is important for trainers to be aware of the level of knowledge and skills possessed by their trainees. If a trainer or online learning designer provides content which learners already know, they are likely to become bored and lose interest. If the content is too far beyond what they can do with support, they may be unable to cope with the mental load.

Some Training Needs Foundational Knowledge and Skills

For example, most Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) require advanced driving skills in order to drive an ambulance to emergency calls. Only experienced car drivers are appointed to the role because advanced driving techniques are within their area of ‘can do with support’. The Driver training course ensures these skills are learned and brought into the area of ‘can do unaided’. However, for an aspiring EMT who has only ever ridden a bicycle, advanced driving techniques are likely to be in the ‘can’t do even with support’ zone, and they would thus be restricted to roles in which emergency response is on foot or bicycle.

Training to Match the Needs of Learners

If we talk to a representative sample of learners when planning training, we can discover what they already know and design experiences to match their needs. Experienced trainers are often able to adapt training to match learners’ needs during a training event because they have a wealth of techniques and methods in their repertoire. But it is much easier to find out beforehand and plan accordingly.

In online learning, skills that an individual ‘can do unaided’ can sometimes be assessed with diagnostic tests offered at the start. For example, an online Excel course might begin by posing a series of questions which establish a learner’s current level of knowledge. If learners show a certain level of existing knowledge, they may be directed to miss out introductory modules and commence with intermediate learning.

When we piloted this Train the Healthcare Trainer course with a sample of newly appointed trainers,we discovered that they found the use of educational jargon made certain concepts harder to understand. Consequently we have minimised the use of such terms and wherever possible have explained concept in everyday terms. In this way we believe everything in this course should be in the ‘can do with support’ area of our course members.

Training Through Use of Complementary Skills

We also learn more effectively when new knowledge is linked with something we already know. Take the example of a nurse tutor who wishes to explain that when adding potassium chloride to a bag of saline, it is important to agitate the bag to mix the two solutions. She may say, ‘It’s like adding cream to coffee, you must mix it before use or the two will remain separate’. This comparison connects quickly with the learners’ existing mental model of making a cup of coffee.

Training Using Analogies

On an Interviewing Skills course, a trainer might wish to emphasise that it is frequently revealing to probe beyond an initial answer. An analogy often used is that interviewers should ‘unpeel the onion’. They might add that it is often necessary to ‘unpeel several layers’ to discover what a candidate really feels. Although not a perfect metaphor (there is nothing special to be found at the centre of a real onion), this comparison creates a helpful image.

Remember that when making a comparison, learners should be familiar with the item alluded to. It will be of little help if an analogy is drawn with a character from a movie learners have not seen, or an analogy is made with a sport that no-one has played.

Training which is situated in learners’ ‘can do with support’ area is likely to achieve all its desired outcomes.

Linking with Existing Knowledge With Social Distancing

Many courses are currently undergoing transfer to an online platform, and it is important to test fresh designs with a representative sample of learners. If testing is not undertaken, there is a risk learners’ knowledge and skills may be misjudged, resulting in a mismatch between their abilities and the content.

Testing can be carried out remotely. Feedback obtained by telephone offers the opportunity for open questions. A conversation is usually much more enlightening than text surveys which contain questions with yes/no answers and numbered scales of liking/not liking.

Talking Point

  • For subjects you teach, what knowledge and skills are in your learners’ area of ‘can do with support’?
  • What knowldge and skills might be in their areas of ‘can’t do even with support’?
  • If you are not sure about answers to the questions above, what could you do to find out?
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