How to balance theory and action in your training content

Minesh asked recently, “What I do requires people to make a shift in their thinking. How much time should I spend explaining the ideas behind why the change needs to occur?”

Minesh, I appreciate the conundrum. Here’s an old bit of wisdom that I try to follow:

Start as high as you need to, but take them as low as you can.

Here’s how I think we get there.

Remember that adults process new input against pre-existing knowledge or beliefs

A new set of action items will go nowhere if they contradict someone’s current paradigm. Adults need time to process. It’s where the change occurs.

Frame up your theory in terms of “why”

The theory or principle behind the paradigm shift you’re sharing is the “why.” It’s their why you’re trying to impact, and frankly, it might not be the same as your why.

The trick here is to answer the question, “How much do I get them to own this new, foundational idea that changes the context of action items that will follow?”

Note that “know your audience” is a pretty critical thing to grasp here. If you don’t, you’ll have to make reasonable assumptions.

Plan interactions that invite reflection and/or discussion

You talking is one thing. Them talking is better. This could be literal (discussion) or figurative (writing their thoughts in a participant guide, the chat window, or…).

It’s also the best way for you to gauge when to move on.

Get to the application as quickly as possible

By your own question, you’re not there just to talk about theory, you want people to take action based on a changed perspective. This is the “take them as low as you can” part. In other words, spend as much of your time together as you can talking about the “how.”

Don’t get trapped by the lowest common denominator

Remember that there is no perfect answer to the question, “When is the right time?” If you wait for everyone to “get it,” you’ll bore some or most of your learners. This means you’ll separately have to figure out how to bring the laggards along (if that’s a requirement of what you’re doing).

Take a step toward “correspondence course”

This process is often one of the places people feel like fish-out-of-water when they move a class into a virtual classroom. They’re used to using visual feedback as they try to figure out where their learners are at.

If you were conducting a correspondence course via the mail, you’d have to use other ways of figuring out where a learner’s understanding was at.

Quite fortunately web conferencing is waaaay easier than that. It’s not hard, but it is different. Fair warning, though…if you fail to adapt to the medium (learn to interact and “keep your eye on them” in a new way), you’re going to struggle.


2 thoughts on “How to balance theory and action in your training content

  1. Linda Carson

    Excellent advice. I appreciate being reminded that my why for knowing something may be different from my students why. Instructors with deep subject matter expertise often assume what they know is relevant to their students and forget to know their students expectations, their why for taking a course.

    1. TheVP

      Thanks, L.

      In other scenarios (such as when I’m keynoting a conference), I’ll often do an analysis of trends which I believe are leading us beyond the information age to point out how the industrial age “sage on stage” approach is going to decrease in efficacy.

      By the way, if you haven’t explored it/them, I love how Chip and Dan Heath explore the “curse of expertise” in their fab book Made to Stick.

      Thanks for sharing!

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