Should the pandemic mark the end of live training?

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Deeper, more flexible skills are best developed by engaging directly with other, more knowledgeable people. If you are trying to learn something complicated, that has to be customized, that requires you to think differently (like MiiWrap), then you need a real person to talk it through with.

We all had a year (or a year and a half, or two years) where we could not, in most cases, hold big live training events. Almost everything went online.  This was frustrating at first, and then many of us realized that there are a lot of advantages to online trainings. To name a few:

  • You can attend from the comfort of your office, or your home, or wherever you are
  • No drive time to factor in. No getting lost. No weird parking situations. A meeting from 8-10 takes exactly from 8-10
  • Speaking of taking less time, it is so much easier to schedule online trainings. Especially since so many of them have large pre-recorded portions (or are completely pre-recorded) that you can do whenever makes sense for you
  • All this ease means fewer excuses for not attending. You can attend with a cold, you can attend from your car, you can even jump on in the middle of a work trip. Less rescheduling, and more people finish

Online trainings are, no doubt, more convenient. So, is the future of all training going to be virtual?  Clearly there are a lot of trainings and meetings that will shift to virtual mode, but there are also a lot of reasons of varying importance and validity to continue to offer some live training experiences. I believe that a major reason is this:

Deeper, more flexible skills are best developed by engaging directly with other, more knowledgeable people.

You can’t park someone in front of an online learning program (especially a pre-recorded one) and expect them to make major shifts in their thinking. If you are learning something straight forward with little to no theoretical components (like changing the oil in your car, or patching a hole in your jeans), then a YouTube video or a tutorial with pictures is all you need. Go forth and fix!

However, if you are trying to learn something complicated, something that has to be customized at every step, something that requires you to shift the lens you are working through (like, MiiWrap, for example), then you need a real person to talk it through with. You need to say what you think is happening and why out loud, and have a more knowledgeable person listen and correct the nuanced details of what you are saying. You need them to help you build on what you know, and challenge your thinking.

People intrinsically feel this to be true. Apprenticeship has been the model for teaching a craft for thousands of years, and it offers a path to learning the details of a craft or trade. Good Masters are trainers and coaches to their Apprentices – teaching, showing, correcting, and discussing what needs to be done in real time.  Unfortunately, the economies of scale and realities of the modern economy (including workloads, turnover, and money issues) have made true apprenticeships unfeasible for almost all social service agencies.

Most modern live training focuses on lectures, removing most of the coaching aspects of apprenticeship. It has proven to be significantly less successful in teaching detailed craft knowledge. But most people will still identify live training as a better option over a prerecorded eLearning for better learning outcomes. I get it – a lot of eLearning programs are very poorly done. The question becomes, given the constraints of modern institutions, is live training the best option?  To say it another way, is it the only or best way to engage directly with more knowledgeable people in order to gain a deeper and more flexible skill-set?

To answer that, let me ask you this. Think back to the last live training you attended. If it was an especially amazing training, think back to the last average live training you attended.

  • How much time did you, as an attendee, spend talking?
  • How much time did you have to directly discuss your burgeoning understanding of what was happening with the presenter?
  • How much time did they spend specifically addressing the nuances of your thoughts in order to increase your fundamental understandings?

Probably not much, if any. Live training only very rarely provides this kind of direct coaching. You might be thinking – wait, that’s not fair! How could the presenter engage directly with everyone? There were 20 (30, 50, 100, 500) people in that training!

You are correct – training isn’t the right time for that kind of deep processing on the individual level.  This is a coach’s job. But most trainings don’t come with coaches.

I have come to believe, over decades of training and research into learning, that the very best model to teach people complex skill-sets (like MiiWrap), is a hybrid one.  Let them do the early stage learning through a carefully crafted asynchronous process on their own schedules.  Then provide the direct engagement through coaching (which can take place over video call, over the phone, or face to face).

When done correctly, this model has many advantages over the traditional stand and deliver model of MiiWrap training. These include (but are not limited to):

Let’s not let this mass online experiment have been a wasted one. Let’s keep the advantages, and also build on the promises of live coaching. Above all, let’s remember that people need people – for learning, and just for life.



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