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If training is ‘painless’ you’re doing it wrong…

What makes learning work?


Is learning like other forms of exercise in that the best results only come if you push yourself beyond your perceived limits?


I firmly believe that learning works best if people are challenged (after all, no pain no gain…) in terms of their thinking whilst being supported (imagine the facilitator as your learning coach) to try out new skills and behaviours.


When facilitating sessions people sometimes look uncomfortable about what they are being asked to do. The thing is though, the people who seem the most ill at ease often get the most out of the day. This has been backed up time and time again through their contributions during the event, verbal feedback (they’re often that excited about their experience that they come up and tell you!) and on the evaluation sheets. So, I believe that if training is delivered that doesn’t engender some sense of ‘pain’ or discomfort then it’s not likely to provoke the kind of learning and personal growth that it really should.


I took this idea and ran it past colleagues in the Development Services team here at LSN to see what they thought. Jez Fernandezhad this take on it:


“I’d suggest that if you don’t feel challenged or uncomfortable in training, it’s because you’re learning something you already know, you’re already doing what you’re being trained in or you’re not engaged, either with the material or the trainer.”


Now, anyone who works in an open plan office can probably guess what happened next. That’s right, another member of the team, Tony Harrison overheard us talking and joined in with his view:


“I don’t go along with your title, however I do agree it’s worth emphasising the need to expand one’s personal envelope in order to actually learn and use anything, and what the cost might be of doing that.”


Building on this Joanne Miles added:


“I think good training can make you feel a slightly uncomfortable mental stretch, that can feel quite unsettling, but it also stirs you up and brings new energy so you get a mental buzz from it, of new possibilities and change.”


Personally, I’d rather deliver a workshop where there’s a lot of discussion, challenge and debate, because in my experience the best learning is when people figure things out for themselves. Okay, as a facilitator I set the scene and introduce some ideas, and at times participants look at you with an expression akin to terror (maybe that just happens to me though!), but the growth in skills and confidence at the end of the session is incredible. I firmly believe that everyone has the capacity to do more than they even realise, they just need a little nudge – kind of face the fear and do it anyway!


As if she was reading my mind, Shirley Mitchell added her view on this:


“Learning will be more memorable if there’s an association with some level of discomfort, otherwise it could be seen as a non-event. A balanced approach is, from my experience, far more productive e.g. stretching delegates whilst ensuring the safety of the room and provision of plenty of opportunity for successes.”


I still wanted to hear what the others thought on this concept of pain or need to be uncomfortable for training to be effective. Cilla McKay, who leads our team, offered her insights with:


“I do agree that Training needs to have a personal impact…. Pain may not always be the right word … but my conscience needs to be impacted so that there is a created desire or real need to do something different, not just a positive acceptance that the training is good and useful. The training needs to create a challenge but not be so painful that the participant feels they are never able to attain and then gives up on the next steps… pain and confidence must go together… there’s no point building painful emotions if we cannot sustain an achievable and enabling solution”


As ever, Cilla had bought things sharply into focus and I sensed we were nearing the conclusion of our discussions when Clare Fletcher added her take:


“I think training and development should be challenging, thought provoking and even mind-bending (if you’ve ever met Clare you’ll have expected a comment like that!). “The results of any training should be a compulsion to want to change, alter or moderate behaviour, habits and attitudes and motivation to make it happen right away!”


Sharon Kiley gave her thoughts:


“I do believe that training should at times make us feel a little uncomfortable, although not in pain. Feeling uncomfortable will often make us think harder about the situation we find ourselves in and encourage our brain to think about the information it is receiving and the choices we have with that information. If there is no feeling or thoughts being provoked through training, then as trainers we are not doing our job!”


We have a Master Practitioner for Neuro-Linguistic Programming in our team in the form of Bob Craig (just think of Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars) and he’d been listening in on the conversation. Bob came at the topic from a slightly different viewpoint, considering how we as trainers should feel after a workshop:


“Like Cilla I’m not sure if pain is the right word, but I agree that after delivering training one should be tired because the real skill is paying attention to the trainees, calibrating the overall mood and constantly making adjustments (usually small, sometimes big) to promote learning and maintain motivation. This is exhausting yet exciting.”


Now that was something we could all relate to. When you facilitate a workshop you are constantly monitoring what’s happening, managing the day, keeping track of what everyone is saying and doing as well as your own behaviour. Facilitating workshops is one of the most rewarding aspects of what we do, but at the end of it you’re absolutely worn out! And that’s exactly how it should be in my opinion.


So, there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed eavesdropping on one of our conversations. For me it was another great exchange of thoughts and experiences, and I have done my best to capture what was said so I could share it with you.


We facilitate learning by making sure that what we do delivers fresh insights in people and provokes change. If you come along to one of our sessions you’ll experience firsthand how we make learning work so that what you do with us on the day has a real impact on what you do when you’re back in the workplace. You may not feel comfortable at times, but you will be supported every step of the way and you will grow as a result. For me, that’s what learning is all about.


Simon Leckie, August 2011


What do you think?
Do you agree with Simon and the Development Services team? Should training be a ‘painful’ experience if it’s having any impact? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.


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