“Training is for dogs and horses; Teachers teach, Learners learn” – I found this apparent pearl of wisdom on the Internet.  I also found another pearl that says that if you put a thousand monkeys onto a thousand keyboards, probability theory predicts that they would eventually churn out text which is as Shakespearean as Shakespeare.  I guess the second theory has been proven by the Internet – we’ve been monkeying around for years!  Some of this monkey-business results in statements like ‘Training is for Horses’ – which got me thinking about T&D.

It seems strange that Training and Development (T&D) are always spoken of in the same breath; in fact, I got myself a Diploma in T&D – you can’t get one without the other. Well, the statement at the top implies that development (teaching-learning) and training are two separate things – I don’t agree.  Training is an integral part of the Human Development process though it can be used, as in dogs and horses, merely to hone a particular mechanical skill.  It also seems to imply that teachers teach and learners learn are two exclusive activities.  While learners do learn all the time, it becomes goal-focussed when teachers teach!  So, in this article, let’s look at some of the things we have been doing in T&D with the hope that learnings would emerge from the chaos.

Do Adults Learn Differently?

One of the great excitements of my life was the discovery that there are two words which are supposed to differentiate between the ways in which we teach children and adults.  Those words are pedagogy for the kids and andragogy for the adults – I’ll leave you to work out the Greek roots.  And then came disaster!  After having taught kids (by definition) for a long time; having used andragogy such as discussion techniques, opinion sharing and handling tantrums, I found them to have several of the features of young adult learners.  Vice versa, my first session with a bunch of senior managers (grey hair, suits) ended up like a scouts camp, with everyone wanting to behave like kids, have fun, be told what to do – good old classical ideas of pedagogy.  So, my long journey of discovery began.

Skills, Thrills, Chills

My first involvement with adult training was with a Basic Course in Computers for Education.  Initially intended to “train” teachers in the use of technology in the classroom, the exercises followed a pattern of teach – demo – practise – learn.  So what? The Aptechs and NIITs had been doing that for years!  Even Intel, with its Teach to the Future program had done exactly that with teachers.  Yet somehow the excitement in every BCCE classroom was palpable (not always traced back to my personal charm)!  Some of us felt that certain exercises – blowing bubbles, making a movie, group discussions on the future of Education – were put in only to fill the 60 hours!  Yet, watching those teachers do those exercises animatedly gave us the insight that participation and involvement has far greater learning consequences than self-study or information sharing.  So, the individual skills that were being “trained” were far outweighed by the “development” taking place within the group.  Skeptical teachers converted completely.  I remember a Computer Teacher from a boarding school up North – he insisted that he did not need to learn these skills as he was the Computer Teacher!  One evening I caught him in the lab, practising. He admitted that there were skills and concepts he just didn’t know.  His need to be ahead of the other teachers became his motive for learning.  Aha! Everyone needs to have a motive.

Why are we here?

Seasoned trainers know that delivering a lecture is the easiest form of self-defence.  Interacting with an audience is fraught with suspense and even danger.  Everyone has an opinion and some of the more vocal will voice it.  Rules don’t apply equally to all and can’t be enforced. Classroom management could be a nightmare.

My next step was to develop and run “workshops”.  Simple stuff, really. You have some learning, you make notes, slides and some activities, you find an audience and you deliver it.  At the end of the workshop you distribute a “happy sheet” for people to fill.  It’s the end of the day and they want to go, so they tick the rightmost column which is usually the happiest.  And it’s done.  And suddenly everyone I knew was doing just that!

Who attended the workshops? Often it was an obligation that HR had to fulfil in the client organisation – x hours of training to be completed by March 15. Whom shall we send? The group generally comprised a unit of an organisation or a motley crew consisting of ‘free’ people.  Many of these had a very foggy idea of why they were there.  It’s then that I began to understand that the way training changes to development is through understanding the participant and not merely the actions of the trainer or knowledge of content! 

Even horses are given a lump of sugar and the dog his bone.  Children are given their tokens of merit and sometimes sweets.  Adults get nothing tangible so they have to create their own levels of motivation!  The WIIFM principle (What’s in it for me?) began to guide my workshops.  People need to find a reason to be there – not just the fact that they were nominated.  They behave differently at programs and some classic examples are:

The “I” specialist – loves to take over the workshop with his anecdotes and fillers which can throw your program schedule completely off.  His motivator could be a need for self-importance and recognition. Most of us only learn if it affects us in some way … let’s face it, we are all I-specialists. The “U” specialist – is there to test the trainer.  What do you know about this? He usually prepares a few questions to throw at the trainer and looks around for approval from the crowd. His motivator is demonstration of subject knowledge. The “Enthu-cutlet” – throws herself into every activity with a vengeance. Often stops others from participating.  Her motivation could be a need for achievement or social acceptability.

Unfortunately, we committed the greatest sin of presumption thereafter.  We started all workshops with an ‘expectation sharing’ – once all the pet peeves and hopes were on the board, we flipped the chart and began to tell them what we had prepared anyway!  “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am here to ignore your requirements and floor you with ‘research’ that I have already put onto slides”.  Sometime around then I started my Kill Bill campaign – nothing personal of course, but a conscious move towards reducing slides (PPT, hence Bill) to a pleasant background, a trigger slide or a wrap up.  So, the learning is now with the group, by the group, for the group.  Every workshop ended with Action Plans which were made by individuals – ‘What can YOU take back and use from this workshop?’

Participate to Learn

People love to participate.  That’s a fact.  Some participate less than others while some have to be given errands to run so that they don’t over participate!  Our training programs took a new turn when we started introducing story discussions, case studies, self-analysis worksheets, quizzes and role plays. Participation improved when we abandoned the lecture hall and moved into the coffee-club style of training.  ‘Participatory Learning’ was the new buzzword on the basis of which we re-built several of our training methods.

The big Revelations started happening:

Revelation #1

People don’t need to look at either a screen or the trainer, they can learn from each other! Appreciation of others becomes a by-product of your training.

Revelation #2

Everyone gets a chance to talk and share opinions, even the shy ones. Levels of confidence grow within the team. They are likely to continue conversations back at work.

Revelation #3

They start discussing things which affect their workplaces, giving them a chance to make real action plans.  A backwash effect on the workplace begins to take place.

Revelation #4

The trainer need not be the Know-it-all on the topic. Knowledge is with the Learners. Trainers now turn into Facilitators of Learning – if you have good communication and people-skills, good classroom management, you can be a great facilitator!

The Last Word

In conclusion, I would like to focus on three great principles of training and development (with apologies to the pearl of wisdom in the first paragraph):

Training is for Horses

To get great showjumpers you need regular and consistent training. To get skilled workers you need drill-and-practice.  Some kinds of training requires skill development. So, SKILLS require training in the horse sense.

Teachers Teach

If the content is with the Teacher, then it has to be transferred to the learners. This requires some level of Teaching.  So, KNOWLEDGE transfer requires a teaching model.

Learners Learn

Attitude is Everything.  If an adult does not want to learn, you can’t make him. Developing ATTITUDE requires experiential exercises and an appeal to emotion.


Originally written in October 2008, edited in January 2011.