How do you learn best?

How have you discovered the answer to my question over your years in educational systems and in training programs?

I find that I am most aware of how I learn best when I am in a situation that doesn’t meet my needs.

What about you?

When is the last time you had a stellar learning experience? What made it great? I find that when the design and delivery of the materials are masterful it can be difficult to say why, because everything comes together so beautifully.

When is the last time you had a challenging, difficult, or awful learning experience? What made it so?

THE CONTEXT

So… I feel compelled to share just a wee bit about my background and how I come to the thoughts I am sharing… It is my effort to share my lens for viewing/experiencing training programs. If you know my background, skip the next paragraph and go straight to the story.

The short of it is:

  • I am a former teacher, principal, and administrator in special education settings in New York City.
  • My doctorate is in curriculum development and my passion is the creation of engaging, learner-centered learning experiences.
  • For me, teaching and training are all about knowledge AND skill acquisition—the ability to use/act upon what has been learned.

THE STORY

For just over a month I attended an online class on a subject which I had only a little knowledge about and yet a keen interest. I knew there was a lot to learn and I was excited.

The first session was almost impossible for me to understand. Even though it was an introductory course, people had varying degrees of experience. The trainer’s approach and materials were not sufficient to work with the varying levels in the group. The second session was marginally better, in that I reviewed videos and slides to gain more knowledge—though I still had only a little idea of how to put it all together to achieve the goals of the program. In my desire to learn what I had come for, I reached out to the trainer and shared, in a forward-looking conversation, information about how I could gain more from the class. Happily, she was very responsive and changed aspects of her style for the next class. I believe a sign of her realizing that folks were struggling was her offer to add one more class to the series… I appreciated that, as it took me until session three to feel like I understood most of what was being said. And, to be clear, understanding what is being said is not the same thing as being able to use the information to do the tasks we were learning.

MY CONCLUSIONS

With these thoughts in mind, and in my effort to focus on the positive—here’s a list of what I need as a learner—

I need:

  • a trainer who has explored her/his philosophy around learning and training, and then worked to develop programming that is all about delivering content in service of the learners/learning, i.e., more than a content expert
  • a course that is appropriate for my level of knowledge and experience (as advertised)
  • to know the elements/topic areas for the entire course to understand it best—I am a “global” learner needing an overview to create the framework in which I can place the details
  • a description of what I will learn/know and be able to do, i.e., the skill(s) I will have gained by the conclusion of the course
  • an agenda for each session in the course—just a few words about the content/subjects
  • use of techniques and materials that support my learning in an online environment—the skillful use of platforms to show materials, and development of print materials that are clear, consistent, well-organized, and provide accurate information
  • to practice with what I am learning—having some “scaffolding” for my learning. For example, in the course I was taking, what are good/some correct examples, what are examples with errors and can I find the errors and correct them, then when I do the work on my own, getting informative feedback about what I did correctly and where I have room to improve… useful feedback that is actionable, not just cheerleading, “You’re doing great!”
  • an opportunity to ask questions as I am learning, not waiting until the end of a session or at the beginning of the next session
  • honesty—in some instances, “there are no wrong answers” is true. In this course, it was not, yet in an effort to encourage us to participate we were told… an untruth
  • a trainer who is aware of what’s happening in the “room” and able to adjust to the dynamics
  • requests for feedback about how participants are doing in their learning and how they are feeling about it… and the time and willingness to listen to it, at the conclusion of every session.

What do you need? How do you do your best to ensure that you get what you need?

I’d love to hear your answers!

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