When learning “comes together”

As we welcome Spring and say good-bye to winter, I’ve been thinking about a recent experience I had learning to snow ski. I fell in love with it a few years ago, well beyond the time in life when most people learn this challenging sport. On my most recent excursion I had a learning experience that was quite unlike my previous attempts.  I went flying down the slopes, carving out my turns and shifting my weight just as I’d been taught but previously been unable to quite master. This time I was easily soaring down runs that only a few months ago had been a challenge for me. What happened? How did my learning “come together”?

You may have had a similar learning experience, or have observed someone who has –- the learning was “in the head” but then seemingly overnight, it all came together and the performance advanced to the next level.

As trainers and coaches, we often aren’t around for this “coming together”, if it happens. So I’ve been wondering….how can we help people make these “leaps”, help them “bring it together”?   Based on my recent training transfer research, here are some suggestions/reminders:

  1. My ski instructor gave me 3 specific things to work on (always face forward, don’t dip the shoulder, and plant poles to develop rhythm, if you’re interested). These 3 things were easy to remember and I repeated them often as I skied, implanting them into my subconscious.

  2. Feedback is so important – especially individual feedback. (I had no idea I was dipping my shoulder with each right turn.) If it’s not possible for you as the trainer or coach to provide each learner with individual feedback, then provide opportunities for peer feedback in classroom concurrent practice sessions. To increase the value of the feedback, use a short fill-in-the-blank sheet for the peer to complete and give to the learner who receives the feedback.

  3. Self-confidence and positive belief are also important. When skiing, I repeatedly told myself that if other people could do it, so could I. Encouragement from others also helps build confidence and self-efficacy. (For more information about self-efficacy – that is, the belief that one can do something – and how to promote it with trainees, see my newest book, Making Learning Stick.)

  4. Practice – never underestimate the value of it. I promised myself a reward (a mocha at Starbuck’s) if I carefully practiced my ski turns for at least two hours a day. Most of us understand the importance of practice in learning, but often learners are expected to perform the new skills perfectly as soon as they get back to the job. To help motivate learners to practice, offer a small reward for on-the-job practice. Of course you may have to take their word for it, but at least you’re giving them a reminder and motivation to practice.

Whether your learners are learning to program networks, sell cars, conduct performance reviews, use new software, or other work-related skills, remember that most often the “coming together” takes place after the formal lesson has ended and only after they have received feedback, shored up their confidence, and practiced.

Until next time…..

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