People are different. We are all ‘born equal’ under the Law (as the Constitution so eloquently states), but we are not all born equal when considering physical differences in ability, agility, strength, and other physiological traits. Nor are we born equal when examining personality, motivation, intelligence, emotional balance, etc.
One of the most important factors of being an effective trainer is the ability to understand your students, how they relate to the subject being taught, and determining the appropriate method to impart the information to them in an understandable and challenging way for the student.
For those of you who have students who pay a fee to learn what you teach, you must match the method used in teaching to the student being taught. This may include determining the type of learner the student happens to be and the cues they use to advise you of their learning method. Most people have a primary information processing method which is backed up by the other two, providing a complete picture for the student that allows learning to occur. It is important to remember that if the student doesn’t get the information through the primary method and is forced to rely on the back up methods, the student will not learn as thoroughly as they might, and may even fail to grasp the subject at all.
The three cues and primary information processing methods most people use are:
Visual Processor is one who sees something (method, text, tool, etc) and learns. Cue: When asking the student of he understands, the student may answer, “I see what you mean” or “I can see that.”
An Auditory Processor is one who learns by hearing something: a lecture, description, purpose, method of use, and learns. Cue: The student will say at one point or another, “I hear what you’re saying” or “I hear that.”
Kinesthetic Processor must actual feel his way through the subject, such as in a ‘hands on’ class. Cue: The student will say things like, “I can feel that working” or “I don’t feel this isn’t the way to do this”.
Sometimes a trainer will run into student who processes subjects with variable methods. When this occurs, the trainer’s job is much more simplified.
The key to understanding these cues is that you may have a class comprised of students that use all three types of information processing. You will have to constantly evaluate if the class is ‘getting it’ by their non-verbal feedback. If they’re not, it’s not necessarily because they are the problem. Your job is to adapt to any method that gets the information across to the student in such a way that it is retained for skill mastery. This is not to say that the instructor bears all the burden in learning; quite the contrary: the student is responsible to accept and process the information so that skill mastery or conceptual comprehension takes place as evidenced by correct application of subjects taught. Training, then, is an equally shared responsibility between instructor and student.
Group Differences and Dynamics
When teaching various groups the same subjects, you will find that you must adapt your teaching method or style to fit the group you are teaching. Each group will have differences in age, gender, race, values, beliefs, abilities, education, work ethic, vocabulary, comprehension ability, etc. Each group will also go through an equation of ‘dynamics’ as the group forms that will last as long as the group is together. The phases your class will go through are:
Forming – Introductory phase, all will be on their best behavior as they size the instructor and other students up against their own pre-conceived notions and agenda for the class.
Storming – The challenge for places in the informal ‘pecking order’ of the class. Rarely evidenced to the instructor, except when one or more students decide to attempt to use the instructor to further their own goal, whatever that may be.
Norming – Acceptance of where individuals are ranked within the group. Relations and patterns begin to stabilize, and a sense of purpose starts to surface.
Performing – A Sense of purpose is evident; the class is ‘getting it’. Depending on the task maturity of the group, this phase may come quickly or it may never come at all, depending on the personalities in the class.
Exclusion – The final phase of the group before it breaks apart (the class is over). Evidence of this will be short, abrupt, or even rude comments between students or a sense of no concern for the welfare of a student having difficulty. This occurs because of our natural predisposition as humans to shield ourselves from emotional pain: It is much easier to say ‘goodbye’ to someone you don’t care about than it is to deal with potential discomfort of knowing you may never see someone you’ve come to like very much….again.
The Trainer’s Limitations
Many trainers make the mistake of believing there is nothing they cannot handle in the classroom. You must accept that there are things you cannot change. Ever. When faced with something you’ve not seen or dealt with previously, the trainer should seek out the help of a more experienced instructor or several instructors, and ask their opinions. Finally, an instructor must accept that he will have students that cannot grasp the information, and, all things being equal and the instructor employed all the methods he knows, that failure will occur. That failure is not that of the trainer; it is of the student’s inability or decision not to learn the material presented. Again, this presupposes that the trainer has done his best in teaching the subject in a manner best suited to the student’s primary information processing method, along with the best delivery method for the subject taught.
Motivated students learn more quickly. One may reasonably assume that a student that pays for a course of instruction or volunteers to learn a particular skill is motivated. This may not be the case, and the instructor needs to accept this as fact. Personal motivation is intangible, and can only be assumed, without the direct confirmation from the student, whose efforts may demonstrate the motivation level possessed, even if problems in skill or subject mastery are present.
The concept of motivation can be used to account for the changes in, the frequency of, and the vigor in which a person engages in their chosen activities. As humans, we’re always doing something, but some of our activities occur more than others and continue longer when they do occur. Some of these activities are pursued more vigorously than others.
The outcomes of these activities will give rise to pleasant feelings that are pursued in the conduct of the activities. Those outcomes that do not give rise to pleasant feelings will be avoided.
Motives cannot be observed directly, when activated by a situation we can see the motive’s effect on behavior. Typically, we tend to say that people are motivated when we can see evidence of what we believe is appropriate behavior to indicate personal motivation.
Motivation is related to and encompasses closely related concepts. Some of them are:
- Needs. When students have a need, they lack something that a given activity or outcome can provide. The need to belong, for example, can motivate a student to seek group acceptance.
- Interests. If students have an interest in a subject or skill, they tend to pay attention to it.
- Values. Students with a particular value have an orientation toward a class of goals considered important in their lives.
- Attitudes. Attitudes consist of feelings for or against people, objects, or ideas, or a combination of all three.
- Incentives. Incentives can satisfy an aroused motive. Good grades, awards, and selection as a ‘distinguished’ graduate or ‘subject matter expert’ can keep students motivated through a subject or class.
- Aspiration. Aspiration is the hope or longing for achievement. A certain level of this is necessary for a student to even make an effort in a class.
The concept of motivation helps to explain why students with the same scholastic aptitude or intelligence perform differently in the same classroom or task performance exercise.
Every student will have a different level of achievement motivation. Students low in achievement motivation will need more encouragement than those with high achievement motivation. Students with high achievement motivation typically:
- Require little encouragement
- Require little direction
- Persist in task completion
- Demonstrate a desire to keep up orderly progress toward distant goals
- Want to work with partners who will not hold them back and want to get the job done
It should be noted that not all motivation comes from the desire to succeed. Some people are motivated by the fear of failure. Failure, to these students, is unacceptable. This may be born from past experiences of failure that were coupled with the feeling of shame, ridicule by peers or family, or punishment. This motivating factor can be very powerful, even more so than that of achievement. However, this fear may inhibit students from attempting new tasks or skills they don’t believe they can master immediately. Should this motivator be suspected, the instructor will need to shift gears in teaching style and encourage the student, walking them through the process, and positively reinforcing them, even during failure.
Some students are motivated by the want and need of friendly relationships with other people (affiliation). By varying and blending teaching methods, we can provide opportunities for the students to participate in small groups or teams. Others are motivated by the desire to influence others (power). Relate this motivator to the Group Dynamics involved and, specifically, the ‘Storming’ phase. Those who wish to be leaders will be maneuvering for position, even if the position is informal. This leadership desire may appear in the way of conversation domination or manipulation of other students. The instructor needs to be aware of this and be prepared to guide appropriately. Others may display strong needs for recognition or approval.
From the perspective of reinforcement in the learning process, all of us are motivated by the reinforcing consequences or rewards of past behavior. The instructor must provide adequate reinforcement early in the class to generate further student motivation, as the class will react either positively or negatively to the amount and type of reinforcement given.
An indicator of frustrated motivation in students can be signs of aggression, withdrawal, or inappropriate displays of emotion. Once evidenced, the trainer must make an effort to determine the cause of the frustration, and if not serving the purpose of the subject matter, eliminate it.
The following techniques are useful in setting up an environment for the student to self-motivate to master the subject or task being taught:
- Verbal Praise. This is easy to use and serves as the most natural motivation device available to the instructor. Verbal praise immediately following a desired behavior increases the frequency that behavior will be displayed by the student and emulated by other students.
- Written Comments. Short, encouraging notes, based on test performance or written submissions have a very positive effect on future similar performances.
- Grades. Benefits are associated with having good grades. Because of this, grades have an effect on the motivation of students to learn.
Anxiety for performance measurements is a natural occurrence, and should be accepted by the trainer. Too much or too little anxiety will negatively impact student performance. The trainer should gauge the level of anxiety held by each student and attempt to lower or raise it as necessary to ensure the ‘butterflies in the belly’ work for the student.
Expecting the unexpected in the classroom may increase motivation by keeping things interesting. “Throwing audibles,” that is, changing a schedule, subject, test schedule, or task mastery plan can be used to stop students from becoming bored.
Reinforcing students periodically as warranted throughout the life of the class goes a long way in keeping them motivated.
Using familiar examples in explaining concepts and principles based on the experiences of the students helps motivate them.
Building Block Concept employment, that is, going from “Known to Unknown, Simple to Complex,” ensures that what is being taught is based upon previously taught subjects, and provides motivation for the students to move on to unknown concepts, principles, or skill performances.
Student leadership ‘buy in’ also helps the instructor get the students to the end goal of the class. The student leaders (both informal and formal ) after adopting the goals and objectives of the course will go a long way in helping the class stay motivated.
Unpleasant stimulus, or adverse conditions in the learning and/or motivation equation can be very useful; the instructor must reserve them, however, for appropriate situations. To do otherwise is to risk losing the motivation of the class either as individuals or as a group.
Differences in Ability
While all students have differing abilities, and the employment of a single method throughout the class may cause some students to not successfully learn the subject, the instructor must be able to shift between group and individualized instruction. There will be some students that move quickly ahead of the entire group, and will need a certain leeway to remain motivated and involved in the learning equation. Following are some individualized instruction tools that may be used:
- Independent or Self-Directed Study. To successfully use this tool, the students must understand the objectives, resources available, task steps, time allotment, and evaluation technique to be used prior to the start of this teaching tool.
- Master Learning. The trainer fixes the degree of learning expected of students at some mastery level and allows time for learning to vary, so all or almost all students achieve the desired level of mastery.
Cognitive Learning Style
Students learn in many ways. They perceive, think, and solve problems differently. The general pattern used during perception, thought, and problem solving, can be called their cognitive learning style. The previously mentioned primary learning methods, generally referred to as “Neuro-Linguistic Processing” provide an easily understood, but simple explanation of learning style. Interesting to note is that Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, was one of two civilian schools identified in the early 1980’s with in-depth experience in cognitive learning.
As a trainer, you must accept that no person learns exactly like anyone else and that these differences complicate the manner and method in which subjects or tasks can be presented to, and learned by a student group.
We can’t change many things presented to us as trainers: gender, race, physical ability, intellect, values, motivation, needs, background, etc. What we can do is present material in a way which capitalizes on those differences because of the presentation by and interaction of the instructor with the subject matter and the students.
The methods presented in the “Training the Trainer” class will go a long, long way in helping you successfully negotiate the minefield of student differences in learning, motivation, personality, and values, which ultimately will help you succeed in setting up a class where “learning is occurring.”