During the last couple of years, I have been experimenting with a microtraining approach in which a fortune-cookie message or 140-character tweet contains the entire content.
The experiment I am doing now is my second foray into the small-message arena. Forty years ago, as a foot soldier in the Skinnerian programmed instruction revolution, I tried to teach twice as much in half the time by using tiny bits of information displayed as frames. After cranking out thousands of frames on chemistry for high schoolers and family planning for adults for nearly a decade, I finally abandoned these adventures as utter failures.
Now I am back in the microtraining business, hopefully with a smarter strategy. I am using a new approach and a new rationale for a new type of learners from the twitch-speed generation. Things are going to be different – as I tell myself.
The core content of the microtraining approach is a small piece of practical advice or a guideline. Here are a few sample guidelines from five different topics.
- Facilitation Techniques. Encourage and support interaction among the participants. Discourage the participants from talking only to you, ignoring the others.
- Storytelling Techniques. Convert the takeaway message of your story to a crisp, memorable slogan. After ending the story, share this tagline.
- Giving Feedback. Praise in public. But remember: Some introverted people may not like public recognition. Some cultures do not value public acclamation.
- Building Trust. Authenticity builds trust: Be spontaneous. Don’t follow a script. Don't play a role. Don’t spin. Don’t wear a mask.
- Performance Technology. The first step in improving human performance: Define the ideal situation. Discover actual situation. Find the gap between the two.
Effective microtraining that is built around guidelines have these important characteristics:
- The guideline is self-contained. Guidelines are stand-alone suggestions that are ready for immediate use. They do not require the learner to possess a set of prerequisite skills and knowledge. Nor do they require the mastery of additional principles and procedures to benefit from their application.
- The guideline is actionable. Guidelines are practical suggestions that can be immediately applied in typical contexts.
- The guideline is results oriented. The focus of the guidelines is to improve personal and professional performance and to produce measurable outcomes.
- The guideline is evidence based. Guidelines are not personal suggestions based on questionable assumptions. They are based on research data from laboratories and field sites. The underlying principles are frequently derived from peer-reviewed publications.
- The guideline is stated in a concise form. Guidelines are pithy sentences that boil down important principles to a succinct statement.
- The guideline uses plain language. Guidelines avoid technical jargon or specialized idiom. They use basic English that could be understood by international readers.
- The guideline is presented efficiently. These guidelines are printed in a small piece of paper, written on a flipchart sheet, displayed on a slide, or announced by the facilitator
Activities that Magnify
Most trainers worry that merely presenting a guideline is likely to result in confusion among the learners. To prevent this, trainers rush to add more content, caveats, and comments. They waste a lot of time with unnecessary explanations designed to protect their learners. Effective microtraining requires genuine alternatives to meaningless explanations. As the acronym derived from the italicized phrase suggests, microtraining requires GAMEs.
The success of microtraining depends on game-like activities that empower the learners to focus on the guideline, critically evaluate it, analyze its core element, restate it, provide examples, come up with applications, anticipate potential problems, design suitable precautions, implement, and monitor the results. These training activities encourage the participants to generate and share their ideas rather than passively listen to the trainer.
Here are some examples of effective microtraining activities:
Four or five participants play this game. Its objective is to thoughtfully discuss a guideline. The winner is the participant who contributes the most to the discussion, as determined by peer evaluation. The game begins with a player reading aloud a guideline printed on a card. All other participants begin discussing different aspects of this guideline. They refer to a list of suggested questions (How would you explain this guideline to a 7-year old? How would you motivate someone to implement this guideline? Among your colleagues, who is already effectively using this guideline? What could go wrong with the application of this guideline?) to keep the discussion focused on relevant topics. At the end of a suitable time lime limit, each participant secretly writes the numbers 1, 2, 3, … to rank the contributions from each of the others. The participants fold the pieces ofpaper and place them in front of the appropriate players. When everyone has done the ranking, each person opens the pieces of paper and adds the numbers. The person with the smallest total wins the round.
This game is for four or five players. Its objective is to come up with graphic cues or metaphors related to the key element of the guideline. The game begins with a randomly selected player (designated as the art critic) reading one of the guidelines printed on a card. All other players listen to the guideline and reflect on it. Each player secretly draws a picture to clarify this guideline. At the end of a suitable time limit, the players place their pieces of paper, picture side down, in the middle of the table. The art critic mixes up the pieces of paper, turn them over, studies the illustrations, and chooses the most appropriate one. The artist who drew this picture wins the round and receives the card to mark his or her victory. The game continues with different players taking on the role of the art critic.
This game is played in groups of three. Its objective is to clearly explain a guideline. The game begins with each player receiving five different guideline cards. The player selects the most useful one and reflects on it. After a suitable preparation period, the first player gives his or her card to the player on the left and describes the guideline to the player on the right. At the end of this activity, the player with guideline card comments on how well the player presented the details of the guideline. The other player comments on how clearly the explanation was presented. Both these players provide both positive and constructive feedback. The game continues with the other players taking turns to explain their guidelines in the same manner.
This activity requires the participants to generate an appropriate precaution to prevent the misuse, abuse, or mindless overuse of a guideline. In the beginning, one of the participants (called the assessor) reads a guideline. All other players and discuss the potential dangers of using this guideline in a mindless fashion. Later, each player writes down an important precaution to prevent these problems from arising. The players place the pieces of paper with the written side down in the middle of the table. The assessor mixes up them up, turns them written side up, reviews the precautions, and selects the best one. The person who wrote this precaution wins the round and gets the card to indicate his or her victory. The game continues with the next player playing the role of the assessor. When everyone has played this role, the participant who won the most cards is declared to be the champion.
The object of this game is to monitor the application of a guideline. Each participant can play the game individually or with a partner. The participant reads a guideline and reflects on it. Using a line to represent a 10-point scale, the participant marks two points to locate the current application of the guideline (how he or she is using this guideline already) and the potential application (the scope of what could be done with this guideline). The distance between these two marks indicates the gap between the actual and the ideal state. After a week (or a month) of mindfully applying the guideline, the participant uses the same 10-point scale to indicate his or her progress. The shrinkage in the gap between the two measurements is the participant’s application score.
One a Week
This is another game for monitoring the effective application of a guideline. It is played individually or with a partner. On a Sunday, the participant plans how he or she could apply the guideline on appropriate occasions. During the rest of the week (Monday through Saturday), the participant applies the guideline whenever opportunities arise. At the beginning of each day, the participant recalls his or her experiences from the previous day, and awards a personal application score. Every day, the participant comes up with new ideas for improving the application activities. On the next Sunday, the participant examines the weekly progress.
This is a game for a group of players organized into discussion groups of 3 to 5 members to share their experiences and insights related to implementing a guideline. Having independently implemented the same guideline for a month, the players get together to share the lessons they learned. Under the guidance of a facilitator, the players talk about the successes they achieved and the challenges they faced. Using this information, they come up with an action plan for improving the results during the next month.
Let me conclude the discussion with a guideline for effective microtraining:
Master and apply a single, self-contained guideline that will make a significant improvement in the training results you produce.
Improve your understanding and application of this guideline by working through the activities described earlier. Good luck for achieving a high score in all the microtraining games.