Written by: Brian Washburn
Over the past few years, I’ve been facilitating fewer training programs myself and I’ve been designing a lot more training lesson plans for other people to deliver. For many of my clients, the learner-centered design style that I incorporate into each lesson plan makes them feel uncomfortable.
One of my favorite clients always uses the metaphor of correcting a golf swing as a way to describe what his staff seems to be going through. When you adjust your golf swing, it’s initially uncomfortable. It feels funny. Your game may even get worse for the first few weeks. In the end, however, your game can improve exponentially… if you don’t revert back to old habits and your old swing.
At its core, a learner-centered approach means you challenge your learners to rise to the occasion and you trust that they’re smart enough human beings to not have to be spoon-fed information.
A lot of training professionals espouse a learner-centered approach, but so few actually adopt one. I’m always blown away when I go to a conference full of learning and development professionals (!!!) and so many presentations continue to be lecture-based.
Looking to truly adopt a learner-centered approach? The steps are easy. Actually doing it is the hard part.
Step 1: Give up control. Here’s where it generally falls apart. Too many trainers, especially subject matter experts, feel that they don’t provide value unless they’re bestowing information.
The irony is that the more a trainer talks, the less value they generally provide. Nobody knows if the learners are listening or making a grocery list in their head. Learners want to be involved. There are so many activities littered throughout the 500+ other blog posts on this site that can help you come up with ideas for turning control over to your learners.
What about those trainers who just need to have PowerPoint to help give structure to their presentations? Even when using PowerPoint, you can give up control. Check out this example using a scratch-off lottery ticket theme.
Click on this link if you’d like to check it out for yourself. After you download the PowerPoint file, put it into presentation mode and then click on any of the gray “scratch off” circles to reveal any of the key points. You need not go in order. Setting up a slide like this allows your learners to have some sort of say in how your content is organized and presented.
Step 2: Allow learners to own the answers. This step obviously piggy backs on the idea of giving up control. Instead of giving all of the content by telling learners what they need to know, providing opportunities for the learners to answer questions or discover content is essential.
When the learners come up with definitions of key concepts, answers to questions based upon their own experiences and have an opportunity to share anecdotes, the content means much more to them. Even though their answers may not be the exact same thing that you’d say, it’ll stick for a lot longer.
Step 3: Offer guidance and correction. Many trainers have protested some of the above strategies out of fear that learners will walk away with incorrect ideas floating around their heads because someone gave a wrong answer to a question.
Nothing about a learner-centered approach says that you cannot or should not correct wrong answers and incorrect information. In fact, this is one of the most important roles of a facilitator: “the guide on the side” (as opposed to the sage on the stage).
Step 4: Trust the plan. Here we come back to the golf swing metaphor. If you don’t trust the change in the process, you’ll revert back to your old ways just because they’re more comfortable to you… or worse, you’ll try some sort of middle ground that will be both uncomfortable and unsuccessful.
If you truly trust your learners, you need to trust the process of a learner-centered approach. It cannot be half-hearted.
I can’t say for certain that the odds of finding a truly learner-centered training program are 1 in 300,000,000, but I can say for certain that they are rare. When training participants can walk away with more confidence, more knowledge and improved skills because they had a chance to be involved, it just may feel like – if only in some small way – that they’ve hit the jackpot.
What do you do that goes beyond espousing a learner-centered approach?