So Much To Cover

The trainer’s lament goes like this:

Sure, your games are interesting. In theory, I understand their effectiveness. But the reality of my situation is that I don’t have time to use them. I have so much to cover….

My linguist friend has an interesting comment:

Listen to the language used by trainers: They have so much to cover…. If you check the etymology of the word “cover”, it suggests “to hide.” Perhaps this is an unconscious slip. Most trainers are so focused on covering their content and making a big mystique about it. If only they can focus on uncovering their instructional content or helping the learners discover it….

Telling Is Not Training

Any acceptable definition of training should go beyond covering the content. We know that telling is not training. If we define training in terms of learning as its outcome, we cannot stop at making presentations that cover our curriculum. And if we define learning as a change in the participants’ behavior, we cannot equate dumping data, applying the spray-and-pray technique, or hosing down the participants with a flow of information, with training.

My review of the literature on learning from ancient philosophers to today’s brain researchers suggests that there are four events in successful learning. From the learner’s point of view, they are:

  1. Receiving new information.
  2. Practicing new ways of responding.
  3. Receiving feedback on the adequacy of the response.
  4. Integrating the new responses with the existing personal repertoire.

It does not matter whether you are learning to shake a baby rattle or to adjudicate between two hostile disputants—you need the same four events to ensure learning. Therefore, effective training involves facilitating the learner’s passage through these four events.

The tragedy of training is that most trainers take the first necessary event (of presenting new information) as sufficient. Information about how a magician saws a woman in half or how a millionaire accumulates wealth or how a juggler handles three balls in the air does not guarantee that you can accomplish those feats. Except in a few rare instances and with a few rare learners, you need practice and feedback.

Training Games Provide Practice and Feedback

This is where games have an important role to play: They help us structure the practice and feedback activities. All games require the participants to repeatedly respond to different situations. Games provide immediate feedback in terms of points and penalties. Obviously, there is more to providing effective practice and feedback. But the basic fact is that games and other activities perform this function much better than any passive training technique. Thus, games make powerful training tools.

Playing games takes time. But all forms of practice and feedback take time. You can use a game (or some other form of structured activity) to manage the practice session in an efficient and enjoyable fashion, or you can send participants home to practice on their own. In the latter case, you cannot be sure of quality control.

As a designer or facilitator of training games, always remember the importance of practice. When your participants are enjoying a game, remind yourself that they are working hard at practicing their new response patterns.

Shouldn’t this be a major focus of your training efforts?