Training as Initiation #2

Last time I provided a suggestion as to why training and teaching might not be as life-changing as we would like. There is usually no element of initiation with it. The information transmitted therefore retains the status of ‘some more facts among many’ rather than initiating a significant shift in attitude and behaviour.

Add to this another point. When costs need cutting in an organisation, why is it that training is often the first to go? Because its really seen a a box-ticking exercise that adds little real value or effectiveness. It is not really expected to ‘work’. Expectations are low. How can we raise them?

My solution: by adding elements of initiation into the learning environment.

(1) Instead of giving information, tell stories. Dan Pink as brought to our attention the fact that our brains require not just data and argument, but also story. “The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability to fashion a compelling story.”

(2) Instead of exercises, have ‘trials’. Usually in training, exercises are either fun escapist devises that allow participants to change mental gear and physical position, or a tag-on to divide up the material. They are rarely the point. But why not? That would give the information a sense of urgency and focus. By trials I don’t mean mere tests – they should only be in competition with themselves, and it shouldn’t usually be written or scored. But it should require effort, and give them a chance to prove themselves.

(3) The teacher must be someone who has attained. If s/he is initiating them, then they must be initiates themselves. They must have been there, done that, got the tee-shirt. Their purpose is to facilitate or guide the participant through this new terrain; they can do so because they have passed the same process. During this journey, they give their stories as helps and encouragements as required. And, importantly, they model the desired behaviour continuously.

(4) Physically remove the training from the everyday working situation. Environment is important in the learning process. If you want them to learn something new, to think differently, you have to take them out from their workplaces. And I don’t mean the nearest hotel or neighbouring branch. If they’re in a city, take them to the country (and vice versa). If they’re already PowerPointed to death, don’t add to their pain. Switch everything around e.g. clothes, structures, tasks. This new context will connect in their brains forever with the new knowledge you provide.

(5) The whole period of training must be divided into two parts: moving away from the old, and going back into the old (but as a ‘new person’). This reflects the movement of the whole initiation as one of ‘departure’ and ‘return’. They are departing from their own thought-and-behaviour-patterns, gaining new ones, and, armed with these, returning to their old environment. Perhaps this means that the standard 1-day course might be split in half and divided into these two motions.

(6) There must be a ceremony to mark the passing of trials. I don’t know what this could be yet. Perhaps it might involve the giving of a gift, or a formal presentation of a certificate. Or maybe something more radical. Whatever it is, it must mesh with all that’s gone before it i.e. have meaning. And it must represent the highpoint of the day, rather than the bit of necessary bureaucracy before everyone goes home.

Can you think of any more?

Image credit: Wonderlane.