thoughts on

thoughts on

20 Jan 2006

training people

I wrote an email to a friend with some advice for training people. I thought I'd copy-paste it here. The training had to do with sound boards at our church, but I think the ideas are pretty generic. Ok....here goes:

The biggest thing to remember is that there is a limit to how much information (or knowledge) people can absorb and retain in one sitting. Sadly, that limit seems to be lower on Sunday afternoons than any other time :)

Now, the good news is that I believe that it's possible to monkey with the retention limit (ooooh....retention limit...I just made up a new term!!) by the way you present the material. Essentially, you learn more, quickly from a good teacher and you learn less material (slowly and not very well) from a bad teacher.

So now, instead of trying to make a "good" training session, you've just got to make a training session that helps people retain the information you present. This may not seem too relevant, but I like to replace vague words (like "good") with words that will give you a better idea of what to do.

Ok! So how do you train people so that they don't forget everything the minute they walk out the door. My suggestion is that you start with 'Why' and then move to 'How'. Start generally, then move on to details.

Think of it this way: you're giving them a whole lot of little pieces of paper. One says how to adjust the gain, three of four of them say how to adjust the e/q, one talks about phantom power, etc... Make sure you give them a shelving unit to put all the stuff on before you start throwing little pieces of paper at them!

I find that if I understand the overview, all the little pieces fall into place without much effort.

Now, you can apply the shelving unit/paper slips metaphor on several different levels. (Isn't this exciting!) What's a meta for if you can't use it creatively? (sorry...bad pun..couldn't resist :) )

Level 1 (let's call it alpha-prime, just for kicks): This is the 'Why' level. The shelving unit is your objectives: making the speakers audible, the musicians able to lead the worship, etc... Then whenever you teach some little thing, you can point out how it achieves one of these goals (or even make your trainees guess!). This gives some structure to the info and structure makes things easier to remember.

Level 2 (this one's called gamma-double-prime): This is the 'How' level. Start with the most basic explanation of how it works. Sound comes in the microphones, through the sound board and out to the speakers. This not only gives some structure to what you're saying, but it also allows you to focus on one part. You can ignore the microphones and focus on the board. And then, with the board, you start with a shelving unit and then focus on filling one shelf at a time.

Now the problem with this way of training is that it requires some serious thought beforehand. You've got to organize everything you want to teach. All I can say about this a) don't underestimate the amount of time this will take and b) don't underestimate how much it will be worth! It's a great discipline and you'll probably find yourself gaining new insights just by sitting down and organizing what you already know.

My final suggestion is to get your trainees behind the board as soon as possible. Once you've figured out how you'll break down the material, ask the question "What is the minimum needed before they can sit down and start doing things on their own?" If you're anything like me, your breakdown of the material won't be perfect and letting the trainees loose allows them to customize the shelving units and ask questions about the bits you'll inevitable forget.

My final encouragement is not to worry too much. Even if you don't give the greatest, bestest training ever, they'll start to put all the information away. If worst comes to worst, the ducks that fall in the middle of the pond without a lifejacket still learn to swim :)