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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Visualization

Driving Lessons

My progress was slow after a couple of driving lessons. My driving instructor was simply unimpressed. I was still slow at shifting the gear correctly and often got confused on which way to move the gear stick. I was not happy about that. I still had more driving lessons to take though. For the sake of not embarrassing myself once again in front of the driving instructor, I decided to work on my gear shifting skills before the time for the following driving lesson came.

Visualizing

The interesting thing was that I had decided to practice gear shifting through visualization and not by actually getting into the car, holding the gear stick and moving it while holding down the clutch with my left foot. I had not heard before about visualization being used in practicing driving. Maybe it was, but I simply had never heard about it. I told myself to just give it a try and see the results. I did not expect much but thought to just give it a try.

Stunning Progress

Time for my following driving lesson came. I was stunned by my performance. I was able to make gear shifts rapidly and correctly without any hesitation or mistakes! I managed to surprise myself and my driving instructor who was impressed after having almost lost hope due to my poor performance and slow progress during the preceding driving lessons.

Visualization Technique

The way I had been practicing driving just before that lesson was by closing my eyes, imagining that my right hand was holding the gear stick and giving myself instructions on which gear to shift to by simply giving myself a number. So for instance I said to myself “first” and started to visualize myself moving my right hand while holding the gear stick to the place for the first gear. Then I said to myself “second” and visualized myself shifting the gear stick to the position of the second gear. Then I said “first” then “second” then “third” then “second” and so on each time visualizing myself making a gear shift. I did all that while closing my eyes in the comfort and safety of my own home. The results of such practice far exceeded my expectations as I have mentioned above.

Training of Trainers

Visualization can also be used by a trainer to prepare for a training session before actually delivering it. This technique can be used by experienced as well as novice trainers alike. It can be used more thoroughly by novice trainers though to help them overcome their fear of facing a live audience. The beauty of such technique is that it allows you to practice in a protected safe environment. Any mistakes you will make will not have negative consequences. This very concept of zero negative consequences gives you the courage and confidence to go in full force and perform superbly well during visualization. When the time comes for the real thing you feel as if you have done it before while in fact you had only been visualizing doing it.

Doing Vs. Visualizing

It makes almost no difference to the brain whether you are actually doing something or visualizing doing it. For the brain, the two have the same effect. Let’s say someone remembers a sad incident. This memory might cause him to cry. Or someone thinks about the negative possibilities of something bad happening, this can cause his whole physical body to be disturbed. A person who is afraid from heights might experience strong negative signs in his physical body just by visualizing himself getting close to the edge of a high building and falling. the physical body reacts to all such visualizations in a similar fashion to its reaction to them had they been actually happening in real life.

Your Turn

Visualization is a very powerful technique that can be used to practice just about almost anything within a comfortable, protected and safe environment. So next time you are working on improving a skill why not try having part of your practice in the form of visualization? You might just surprise yourself with the results in the same way I have during the time I was taking driving lessons.

Have you ever tried to practice something through visualization? If so, tell use about it.

Learning from my Mistakes as a Trainer

My First PowerPoint Presentation

I was not yet used to using PowerPoint presentations in my training, in fact it was my first time to create a PowerPoint presentation for a training session and use it during the session. I was volunteering to deliver such a session at some local place in my hometown. At first I was not planning to use a PowerPoint presentation for the session but the team organizing the training requested that I use one. I huddled and assembled a group of slides in which I kept listing points in bullet form in one slide after the other.

Saving the Day

During the training itself, I experimented by using the think and listen technique. It was my first time to use it after reading about it online. I had not even experienced it in any training I had attended before. Although the elements of interactivity I have used combined with my confidence in speaking to an audience helped save the day for that training session, which I was delivering for the first time, yet the dry sequence of bulleted slides I had been using was poor enough to reduce the overall quality of the training. The PowerPoint slides I had prepared contained no images, graphs or photos at all! My slides consisted of nothing but bare text in bullet form.

Poor Evaluation

The average evaluation of the training session as per the training evaluation forms for the trainer performance section was “good”. Compared to other trainers who had been getting “excellent” for their performance at that place my performance was considered pretty modest.

Feedback from Organizers

I remember those organizing the training politely suggesting to me, after the training session was over, that I add some images to the PowerPoint presentation to give it some visual appeal. They noted, however, that participants were “happy,” which seemed to surprise the organizers in light of my bland PowerPoint presentation.

Photo Slides

This experience I had gone through preparing and using my first PowerPoint presentation during a training session was enlightening and resulted in a powerful transformation of my skills later on. As I prepared PowerPoint presentations after that incident I started including some photos to provide visual appeal. This kept developing till my PowerPoint presentations were largely nothing but a sequence of full size photo slides with a few captions and minimal bulleted text which I found to be way more effective than cramming lots of text in bulleted form into the heads of participants.

Learning from Mistakes

Without having gone through the difficult and stressful experience of presenting my first bare PowerPoint presentation I would probably not have learned in such a powerful way the importance of using images and visual appeal in a PowerPoint presentation and would not have had the strong energy propelling me towards creating highly visual PowerPoint presentations later on.

Lessons Learned

Although a trainer should prepare well for the training program he is about to deliver and should practice before actually delivering it to participants yet poor performance and mistakes a trainer makes during the training itself can be a powerful way by which he learns and transforms his skills from a mediocre state to an exceptionally effective one.

So next time you make an embarrassing mistake while delivering a training program do not dwell on it, just use such force to fuel your efforts in developing your skills further in order to avoid such an embarrassing mistake or such poor performance from taking place once again. You will be surprised at the great positive transformation that can result in yourself after going through such an initially stressful situation.

Is there a difficult or embarrassing situation that you have been through which has helped transform the way you see things and has resulted in a positive transformation in your skills? Share your it with us.

Seating Layout

Too Active

I remember once delivering training to a group of employees and removing all the tables from in front of them. They were seated in a large U-shape all 25 of them. I had also given them plenty of fun ice breakers. The result was that they became extremely active to the extent that they eventually broke out of control.

Inactive

During a different training program I had trainees all sitting behind a large oval table. Their participation was relatively limited, they were not very active nor lively during the training session. Seating layout and how chairs and tables are arranged in a training room have a strong influence on the performance of training.

Perfect Circle

During group work, when trainees are divided into a number of groups, to reflect on a video they have just seen or discuss a topic specified by the trainer, the way each group arrange their seats has a noticeable impact on the performance of that group. If the group is sitting in a perfect circle this group will achieve superior performance. The circle layout allows every member of the group to participate equally and allows for a good deal of synergy to take place among all members of the team. You can almost sense the energy flowing unobstructed when passing next to such group.

If group members are instead arranging their seats in an imperfect circle with one of the members of the group sitting behind another member or more distanced than others then such an arrangement would break the harmonious flow of energy, not give each member of the group an equal opportunity to participate and drastically cut down on synergy among members of the group thus greatly reducing their performance.The lower performance of such group would be quite evident. As a trainer, you should go to such a group and ask them to arrange their seats in a perfect circle. You should do so early on in the activity so that they would have enough time to carry out the group activity with high performance.

Tables Reduce Activity Level

Generally speaking, having tables in front of participants shielding them from the trainer dramatically reduces their level of activity. Having participants face the trainer directly without any obstructions, by removing any tables in front of them, allows them to be way more active. The decision of chair and table layout is for the trainer to make. The trainer can control the amount of activity of trainees through making changes to seating layout. A trainer may start the training for instance with tables placed in front of participants then decide to remove them completely during the second half of the training day or during the second training day. This could provide variation and the right amount of activity from trainees.

U-Shape, Incomplete Circle and Crescents

Participant seats can be arranged in a large U-shape spanning the training room with the backs of the chairs towards the 3 walls of the training room leaving the fourth wall for the trainer to stand against. Another similar arrangement is to have seats arranged in an incomplete circle which provides the highest degree of synchronized and harmonized participant attention. A third variation is to have seats in a crescent shape. This arrangement is similar to that of the incomplete circle and has the advantage of allowing for several ‘waves’ of crescents to be arranged one after the other to allow for more seats to be used in the training room.

Conclusion

A competent trainer must be aware that seating layout in the training room is no trivial thing and that it should be taken seriously for it has a powerful impact on the performance of participants during the training.

What other seating layouts can be used in the training room?

Stages of Learning

There are a number of stages for learning how to perform something. Each stage corresponds to a level of proficiency.

Observation

The first stage of learning is experiencing something or observing it. This observation is usually accompanied by admiration. The admiration causes the observation to be keen. Admiration also attracts the person to performing what he has observed or experienced.

Imitation

If a person passes such a stage of observation accompanied by admiration he can then go to the stage of imitation. This is no trivial stage. Actually, the more one stages in the imitation stage the more is he capable of gaining skill in performing what he is doing and the better he is able to advance to higher levels of performance attained at further stages.

One should not attempt to cut this imitation stage short or look at it in a demeaning way. Imitation in itself is an admirable and important skill. It helps one learn and perform well very rapidly.

The more keen the observation was and the higher the admiration during the previous stage the more likely the imitation would be done well.

Modification

After observation, admiration and imitation the person may be able to advance to a third stage which is the stage of modification. Not everyone is able to advance to this level. Some stay within the confines of the imitation stage only. Some even do not go beyond the initial stage of observation thus never imitating nor performing even in cases where the observation was accompanied by admiration. In the third stage which is modification, the performer is still relaying largely on copying from others and imitating what he has observed or experienced and admired yet he is introducing some modifications of his own and starting to have his own distinct style.

Creating from Scratch

This modification stage may lead to a fourth stage which is building from scratch. In this fourth stage the performer drops all traces of imitation and has his own style completely.

Designing

The fifth and final stage is reached by the highest performers. In such stage the performer is able to fully design what he will be performing before he starts performing it. This contrasts with the building from scratch stage in which one attempts to perform directly without having an overall grand design first.

Performance stages are stages of gaining proficiency in something. Not everyone will be able to go through all the stages when learning to perform something new. Some get stuck within one stage and never get beyond it throughout their lives never advancing to the next level.

Do you have a skill for which you have reached the design stage? What is that skill? Tell us about some of the stages you went through with that skill till you’ve reached the design stage with that skill.