I think a common misconception many trainers share is the idea that their role is simply to pass on their knowledge, experience and expertise to others. In my opinion, it’s not; it’s about facilitating learning, which is a very different thing.
It’s different because knowledge alone does not change behaviour. To prove this point, I sometimes ask people to tell me about all the rules they’ve broken in their lives. The list is usually quite extensive, from having a drink before reaching the legal age, walking on grass they shouldn’t, illegal downloads and copyright infringement, (or, for those of us of a certain age, recording the top 40 off the radio), failing to pay on a train, breaking the speed limit, exaggerating on a CV; the list goes on and on. Most of us have broken at least one rule in our lives, despite having full knowledge of the facts that should have prevented our action, or inaction.
The point is this; behaviours are influenced not so much by what we know, as what we believe. If we always obey the speed limits, for example, it’s probably because we believe in them.
This is an important distinction because it means that when we design and deliver training, we have to look beyond knowledge and think about how we are going to engage our learners at an emotional level.
I was reminded how powerful emotion is in the process of learning last week; as we reflected on Armistice Day. At school, I studied both 19th and 20th Century political and social history. Much of what I learnt was just a set of dates and a list of events that I have long since forgotten, but the First World War and the period that followed it were different; I became emotionally involved in the story.
There were a number of reasons this happened. Firstly, I learned that the wrinkled old ‘uncle’ that used to visit us occasionally, swerving erratically into the drive and parking at the oddest of angles, had a past. He’d lied about his age and gone to the trenches of the First World War at the age of 15 where he’d looked after the horses that suffered so horrifically alongside men on the front line.
And then, when 15 myself, I took an extra English exam that required me to write a 3,000-word essay on any literary topic of my choosing. I chose First World War poets and through the words of those that were there, I traced their emotional journey from patriotic fervour to horror, despair and anger. Facts became stories of individual suffering and devastated youth repeated over and over, thousands of times, hundreds of thousands of times.
And at 17, as part of my A level studies, I visited the First World War battlefields and trenches of the Somme, an experience that has remained with me, powerfully, ever since.
It was these experiences that shaped my understanding, learning and beliefs in a way that being told 5,500 Australians died in a single day at Fromelles, for example, could not.
It’s important that we never forget those whose lives were sacrificed for the freedoms we take for granted today and pay tribute to them.
And whilst I’m not suggesting you traumatise your participants – laughter and joy are powerful emotions too – neither should we forget the importance emotion plays in shaping beliefs, learning and deeper understanding. If we want people to change, we need to engage and inspire them, not just give them information.