If we want to focus on training people effectively, we should move away from being too truthful and too thorough.

When we train people, we bring our expertise on a specific subject to the table. What’s more, our expertise is exactly the reason why we were invited to give a training in the first place. And yet, at the same time, our expertise could also be standing in the way of effective knowledge transfer.

Knowledge transfer is often hampered by trying to be 100 per cent truthful, and by trying to introduce the whole picture at too early a stage.

But we are the experts. The one thing we want to avoid, is to teach things that aren’t truthful, right?

So we tell our story, nuance it, bring in different points of view, go over the exceptions… In short, we showcase the expertise we’ve accumulated over all these years. We’re not only not telling lies, we’re also demonstrating our mastery of the full picture and, as a consequence, integrate that full picture in our training. We explain the history of our topic, move on to the context, and drill down to the details.

But being 100 per cent truthful and explaining the full picture from the very start paves the way for complexity, and lots of it.

It’s OK to lie or to leave out parts of the story

At least for now! If we try to be completely truthful, we need to start off our training with introducing a new language and new concepts, which in turn also need further explaining, using more new concepts and so on… You see where I’m going.

Many training’s I’ve attended or given, started off with this statement: “Before we delve into <insert main topic of training here> we need to tackle a few other things…” And we start wandering around explaining a variety of concepts related to the main subject in one way or another.

I strongly believe it’s much better to oversimplify and leave out the details. Even if that means our message is no longer fully truthful or thorough. Taking a step back from 100 per cent correctness and completeness often results in better learning.

An example: When we learn how to drive a car, we begin with the main controls (steering wheel, pedals, gear stick, …) and just start driving. We also get to know the dashboard, learn that a blinking warning light means trouble, and that we should immediately stop the car and check. Of course, that’s not 100 per cent correct. There are many warning lights that don’t require you to stop the car immediately.  But explaining all the possible warning lights and appropriate reactions would lead us too far away from the focus of the day, which is learning how to drive.

Training in iterations

After we introduce an oversimplified concept, we move on and introduce other topics in a simplified way. When having tackled these, we can revisit the first topics and build on the already acquired knowledge. This is the point we start to nuance, bring in exceptions and introduce complexity.

Another benefit of training in such an iterative way, is that you can point out relationships between various topics. You can choose to omit topics from your story until trainees have a good enough grasp of the bigger context.

An example: In the first iteration, we learned a car has warning lights and that when they blink, we need to stop immediately. In a later stage we learn about different categories of urgency (red versus orange) that require different actions. But when we do learn about the washer fluid symbol, for example, we also need to learn how to open the hood and how to refill. 

Training put to practice

Slicing up your training into smaller parts and building on what you’ve already tackled, is not rocket science. I’m sure many of you already do this to ensure the focus is on knowledge transfer.

In addition to slicing up my trainings, I also practice the following techniques:

Visualize the roadmap of your training

Having a visual representation of your roadmap allows everyone to easily situate each topic of your training. Before introducing a new topic, I use the roadmap to frame which path we’ve already walked and what is still to come.

Tell people what they should retain

If you tell people upfront which key parts you really want them to remember, they will start paying more attention the moment you start tackling one of these topics.

Rinse and repeat

Repetition results in retention. This goes hand in hand with the slicing. Although repeating oneself might seem less interesting for the trainer, it certainly helps to communicate the structure of the training to the trainees.

Enjoy learning and training!

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