Optimize Last

Drawning Students in an Ocean of Alternatives

When I started delivering computer training I used to provide students with several methods by which they can accomplish one task right from the start. For instance, when I was teaching them Microsoft Word I told them that they can perform the cut and past operation through the Edit menu or through right clicking on the selected text and using the context menu or through the shortcut keys Ctrl+X and Ctr+V. I thought back then that providing studetns with a lot of information was a good thing. I thought that providing them with all the alternative methods for accomplishing the same task was clever. After all, it helped show off my knowledge as an instructor. Most of all, I thought that providing them with the shortest and fastest method was a good thing that they needed and liked. It was not until later that I discovered that all those beliefs I used to hold on to were totally baseless.

Taking the Long Road

I noticed later on through observation that when you start teaching someone something new, he does not mind to learn the lengthy multi-step method of performing it. He will have patience in carrying out multiple steps and performing the action slowly as long as he manages to accomplish it at the end. His focus at that time is on being able to accomplish the task and not on how to accomplish it in the fastest way possible. For instance, if we go back to our cut and paste example, a new learner would be satisfied to learn the Edit menu method for performing cut and paste even though it is not the fastest method available for carrying out such an action. He will not mind the slowness of the process nor the multiple steps involved in doing it as long as he will eventually be able to accomplish this task which he did not know how to accomplish before learning the long method.

Sense of Achievement

When he actually manages to accomplish it with his own hands he becomes really excited and greatly satisfied even though an experienced user may look at such action as trivial and not deserving such heightened feelings of satisfaction and sense of achievement. At such stage, the new learner will not be interested in learning the many other methods to accomplish the same task, and even if he was, it is not a good strategy to bombard him with the other methods right from the start. Using Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V shortcut keys to perform cut and paste may be quicker and more handy yet using the Edit menu is easier on the new learner’s brain and his memory. The instructor should choose the easy-to-remember method to teach at the beginning and not the one that provides the highest performance.

Parallel Parking

Although the example I have given here is about cut and paste yet the optimize-last concept should be used when teaching just about anything and not just things in the realm of computers. Let’s say you are teaching someone how to drive. When teaching him how to park the car parallel to the pavement it is best to teach him at first one method only for accomplishing this task and to select the method which is clearest and easiest to follow not the one which is fastest and shortest.

Optimize Last

The other methods by which a task can be accomplished may be mentioned by the instructor later but not before the student has achieved mastery of the first slow method through lots of repetition. At that time only can he be appreciative of the time savings the shorter method can provide and the fewer steps it involves.

What examples other than learning to use computer programs and learning how to drive a car do you think the optimize-last method can be applied to?

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Name Tags for Participants

Name Tags are Useful

Name tags can be created for participants to use during a training session. A training workshop in which participants do not know one another beforehand can benefit from using name tags. Highly interactive training benefits from name tags as participants assemble to do group work and other activities.

Traditional Name Tags

Name tags can be small pieces of paper tucked behind a plastic badge with a pin in it for easy pinning to a shirt.

Informal Name Tags

An easier and less formal method is to write names on circular pieces of thick paper, make a hole at its top and slide a thin rope from that hole. The name tag can then be easily worn around the neck. The advantage of this type of name tag is that it does not use a pin which might harm clothes or even wound a participant. The disadvantage is that it could easily flip on the back side thus hiding the name. This drawback can be easily remedied by writing the name on both sides.

Simplest Name Tags

In cases where participants have assigned seats and tables that they will not be changing or leaving, a simple folded sheet of paper can be used to display their names by standing the sheet of paper on the desk.

Improved Communication

Name tags are not just a way to improve communication among participants but it also helps the trainer communicate with participants in a better way. If the training includes a part where the trainer is also responsible for evaluating participants or providing feedback about them then name tags become a necessity.

No Name Tags

Despite the usefulness of name tags a training session might still be successful without them if the trainer attempts to memorize participant names say during the icebreaker and there are not many other interactive activities or participants already know one another well before the training.

In what other ways can name tags be made and for what other reasons can they be used?

Revealing Benefits of a Training Activity to Participants

It is a good idea that the trainer explains why he is using this or that training style or training technique before carrying it out. When participants understand the benefits of a specific activity or training method they start appreciating it and giving it their full attention and resources because they become aware that their efforts will pay back handsomely in terms of personal skills gained.

Sometimes, however, it is advisable to reveal the real reason behind carrying out a specific training activity after it is completed and not before it starts. Such cases are when revealing the real reason behind the activity would spoil the activity and not make participants benefit from it well. At other times it could even be advisable to hide some or all of the real reasons behind carrying out a specific training technique yet the trainer is well aware of the benefits of such technique to participants.

Thus a trainer should have the flexibility and awareness to switch between mentioning the reasons behind a specific training activity before it starts, after it is completed or not at all.

When do you think a trainer should hide the real reasons behind a training activity?

Introducing the Trainer

Upon delivering the first training session to a new group of participants the trainer should first start by introducing himself or herself right after greeting them. Alternatively, if there is someone coordinating the training then such person can come up first and introduce the trainer then the trainer takes charge of the training session right after that.

When introducing himself or herself a trainer should first start by mentioning his name clearly then provide any brief background about any experience he has related to the training he is about to deliver. It is important that the trainer make participants respect his experience and skills and put their trust and confidence in him. This will make them more attentive during the sessions and more willing to participate. Participants will benefit much more from the training if they trust the trainer, respect him and are fascinated with his skill level.

This is not a luxury step nor does the trainer do it to boast but rather it is a necessity.

What information other than specialized experience do you think a trainer can also mention when introducing himself or herself?

Uncovering Trainee Intentions through Body Language

Through experience, a trainer may start to feel what trainee intentions are by observing their body language. For instance, let’s say the trainer asks a question or calls for participants to present something or speak. A participant who intends to answer the question or speak may clear his throat. By observing which trainee has been clearing his throat, even in a subtle way, the trainer can be able to identify which participants are intending to answer the question or speak. Other subtle signs can be observed by the trainer in order to be aware of what participants are thinking of or feeling.

What other signs, besides clearing the throat, do you think can be indicative of trainee intentions? What intentions would such signs be indicating?

Overcoming Trainee Resistance

Sometimes you, the trainer, want to give one of the trainees an instruction but feel that that trainee would show a great deal of resistance following such instruction.

Side Talkers

For instance let’s say one of the participants is showing a great deal of side talks and disrupting the training process. Let’s say you want to ask such a participant to move from his current seat to another one at the opposite side of the room to break his disrupting side talks with his colleagues. If you order him directly to move from his current place he may take it personally, get offended and show a great deal of resistance in following your instruction.

One way for dealing with such a situation can be to first ask a different trainee to change her place then ask the trainee with the disrupting behavior to change his place. By seeing one or more trainees first obeying your instruction, the difficult trainee would show very low resistance or even no resistance at all in following suit and obeying your instruction as well. It is as if you have set a pattern in the training room which would be normal for everyone to follow.

Shy Participants

This technique can be used not only with difficult participants who are showing disruptive behavior but it can also be used with shy trainees who are very reluctant or highly resistant to following some of your instructions for them to do something. For instance let’s say one of the participants in a team is shy and does not want to present the findings of his team. You can start by asking other members of his team first to come and present then ask the shy participant to come and present too after that.

By setting a pattern through asking participants whom you feel would obey your instructions first it makes it way easier to ask other more resistive participants to follow suit and do the same as their colleagues.

In what other ways do you think one can deal with resistance in trainees?

Trainers are Happy People

Delivering Training Makes you Happy

One of the interesting things a new trainer experiences after delivering a training session is a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Mental and psychological stability result from delivering a training session. A sense of serenity and internal happiness fills the trainer after delivering a training session. This could be contrasted with the high stress and anxiety a new trainer might be feeling before delivering the session. The new trainer at first might not be aware that such feelings of happiness and fulfillment are a normal part of delivering training. He or she might think that this session they had just been delivering in particular was unique in providing them with such awesome positive feelings. An experienced trainer however is well aware of the fact that despite the high energy needed for delivering a training session yet almost all sessions provide the trainer with a fulfilling sense of happiness after he or she delivers them even if he feels exhausted on the physical level.

When Things Go Wrong

Of course I am assuming here that the training session turned on well and that participants were happy about it. If on the other hand the trainer faced situations of difficult participants that he was unable to handle or handled with aggression in such cases this would probably leave a negative mark in the heart and mind of the trainer right after the training session and even for some time after it which could last for days or even weeks.

Speaking While Others Listen

One of the reasons behind a deep feeling of happiness and fulfillment a trainer usually feels after delivering a training session is that he speaks in a training session in front of an audience that are attentively listening to him or her. This act in itself is what provides the trainer with psychological satisfaction. The act of speaking in itself and exercising one’s mental powers is similar to going to the gym, you might feel physically exhausted after a long and difficult session at the gym but you will at the same time experience a deep sense of happiness and fulfillment.

Have you experienced this deep sense of serenity and fulfillment before after speaking in front of a live audience or explaining something to others? Tell us the story.