I attended a two-day gamification class earlier this week. It was a class full of American corporate trainers with a very animated, fast-moving South African instructor. Aside from being a good class, the learning experience was also a good reminder to me of what it is like being a beginner learning from someone else. Many times throughout our lives, we are teaching adults or children new things. As a trainer who is used to leading the instruction, I thought it was worth sharing my thoughts on how it felt, and the insight I gained from being a beginner again.
Some of what we were covering was repetitive for me. We worked in table groups on much of the content, so I had to remember that the others in my group did not have the same level of knowledge as me and be patient when some things didn’t “click” with them as quickly as they did for me.
When we reached the content that was new to me, I was reminded how vulnerable and unsure we can feel as beginning learners. When teaching, it is so important to be patient and kind to beginners, so they stay interested and enthused about what they are learning. As learners, we experience enough self-doubt and frustration without someone else adding to it.
If the other learners or instructor conveys impatience or frustration, the beginner will likely shut down, making the learning ineffective. As the instructor, take a deep breath or call a break, if you’re getting frustrated. Sometimes, just letting beginners get away from the material (and pressure) for a bit will help the learning click into place for them.
Not Everyone Thinks (or Learns) Like You Do
It was interesting to go around the table and hear the different things that other people would take away or conclude from the same information. Our versions were sometimes very different. We all had to communicate effectively and respectfully to make sure that everyone was heard, so that we arrived at a solution that made sense to the entire group.
Sometimes, it took a couple of explanations for us to express what we meant or understood. When someone has a hard time conveying their ideas, be patient! Fortunately, mine was a group that valued the contributions of everyone in the group, so we all came away with better knowledge and solutions as a result. If we had been impatient, we might not have gotten the benefit of everyone’s contributions.
The Right Amount of Information
Our instructor has a lot of real life experience with gamification, so he frequently told stories of different ways he had implemented the content we were learning. Unfortunately, he did this a little too much on the first day. While it was great to hear about real life application of what we were learning, it came at the expense of our cognitive load. By the end of that first day, my brain was overflowing with extra information to the point that I couldn’t fully take in the information that I really needed. Don’t cause learners to lose valuable information in the clutter of excess. Stories are valuable, but need to be laser-focused to convey only information the learner needs.
In addition, in our attempts to get beginners up to speed quickly, we do rapid-fire “brain dumps” on learners, which does exactly the opposite of our intention. We have to give up on the idea that beginners are going to be able to learn everything the first time around. Our brains can only take in four (+/- 2) items before our memory becomes cognitively overloaded. Dole out information in short bursts and then give learners something to do to help assimilate that information before piling on any more. Know that practical experience is required to move from novice to expert. You will both be happier in the end.
Fun makes for Good Learning
At the end of day two, the instructor could tell that our brains were as full as they could possibly be with everything we had already learned, so we took a much needed cognitive break to play a charades-style guessing game using some of the content previously learned. Having to describe and guess terms was a great tool for moving those items into our long-term memory for future retrieval. On top of that, it was both fun and engaging for us as learners, and broke the brain drain we had all been feeling. Learning activities can be both fun AND effective. There is a lot more to gamification, but try to incorporate some fun or simply turn practice into a game the next time you are teaching someone. Trust me. You will see much better results and learner motivation.
Let the Learner Do It
During the course of the class, there were times where I was thinking to myself, “Just let me do it already!” Other times when the instructor gave us a task to do, I was thinking, “But you didn’t fully explain that, so I’m not sure what to do.” It reminded me that no matter which way I was feeling, it is always best to let the learners DO the thing that is being taught. Those few times when I wasn’t clear on something, the instructor was there to clarify or expand on the task to be done. Let the learners drive. They will seek out clarification as needed.
As instructors, we also need to be reminded that the learning does not really start until the learner is doing something for the first, second, or even third time. The moment of application is the most crucial in learning, because you don’t really know how much (or little) you know until you apply it. The training environment is a great place for safe failures to happen, so the learner can solidify new knowledge and skills. The sooner this can happen the better, because forgetting happens quickly if learning is not applied.
Get out of the way and let your learners do it themselves until they are comfortable standing on their own two feet.