Telling Ain't Training is a pithy axiom, especially if you are primarily a subject expert and only an occasional instructor. It is also the title of a new book packed with ready-to-use learning activities, examples, strategies and truths.
When I received the ASTD email touting Telling Ain't Training as a "runaway bestseller," my intuition said "buy this book." I wasn't disappointed when it arrived even though it lacks an index, my standard beginning place for reading non-fiction. Falling back to my Plan B, scan the Table of Contents, I was hooked by the title of first chapter, "Learning is Not Easy (Especially When Others Make it So Hard)." My hunch was correct. This is a good book.
Telling Ain't Training has a eye-catching, idea-conveying graphic on the cover and starts like a James Bond movie with teasers rather than the usual dry overview. The first Bond challenge is to learn a 17-digit sequence of numbers. Make an error and a bomb explodes. You have 30 seconds to complete the exercise. Of course most people can't do it. The authors demonstrate how information embedded in a story helps you remember. Stories are remembered better than facts about a subject.
The second Bond challenge involves directions to someone's house from the airport, reminding me of Richard Saul Wurman's book Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Give, Take and Use Instructions, a book I have often recommended in the Guide columns such as # 52. Whether in training or communication with co-workers and family, most people give incomplete and confusing directions, often leading to complications.
The Telling authors, Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps, focus on "how learners learn, why they learn, and how to make learning stick." In schools, higher education, continuing education and on-the-job training, lip service is paid to "learning to learn" but too often the teacher, instructor or trainer set poor examples. Although the book is researched-based about what is known about how humans learn, including brain research, sensory input, short-term and long-term memory, it is not written in an academic style. All the Resource notes are separate at the end of the book, making it easy to use or ignore them, as you chose. The authors say they had fun writing the book and I believe them. It is written in "...a breezy and friendly style that we believe will get our message across better than a formal approach."
In my eagerness to tell readers what a great book this is, I neglected to mention that its 11 Chapters are organized into three Sections:
The Human Learner--What Research Tells Us
What You Must Know to be a Better Trainer
Applying What You Have Learned--Making Learning Research Work
In Section 2 in the chapter, "Getting Learners to Learn," there is a familiar example of a "knowledgeable" person teaching a novice learner, like a father teaching his daughter to drive. Scene 1 is "Driven to Distraction" and I remember it well even though it was a long time ago. My father told me all the operational facts about driving a car, the (declarative knowledge) but he was totally impatient with my procedural mistakes. "Didn't I tell you...!!@#%!!" Fortunately, this was balanced out by sessions with my mother who was fuzzy on the facts. She spoke of putting your foot on "this pedal" or "that pedal" never explaining their function or name. But she was very tolerant of my errors. With this combination of not-so-great instructors, I finally got the procedural (how to) knowledge I needed to drive. I was too young to understand the training principle that experts and novices process information very differently. Experts often don't realize this and many are even unable to articulate what it is they know. Without supplementary instruction, experts usually do not make good trainers.
I was surprised to find the diversity of settings and examples in Telling very illuminating. There is little difference between learning the products available in a department store and those in a law library. Examples from diverse groups of learners such as railway maintenance personnel, supervisors learning mediation skills, sales staff becoming familiar with opportunities for new sewing needles, and an English speaking person learning French seem to help me grasp learning principles more completely. "Start with the learner and never lose focus" has the same application whatever the setting.
Much of the "telling" information is clustered and chunked in matrixes. For instance, you can compare the variety, advantages and drawbacks of oral and written test formats, such as true and false, matching, multiple-choice, completion, short answer closed question and open ended essay. There are also helpful Checklists, Planning Sheets and Scripting Sheets. In a basic vocabulary section, training, instruction, education and learning or "terms of the trade" are distinguished to clarify terms often used synonymously. The mantra throughout is "learner-centered" and "performance based".
Samples of Chapter Content
Suppose you inherit some else's course materials or have your own and after reading this book realize you need to revamp them. Practical ways to salvage content and move away from a "data-dump" design are organized in five steps:
1. Rationale (How the learner will use the knowledge)
2. Overall objectives ("By the end of this session, you will be able to identify innovative sales opportunities for the new product line...")
3. Specific Objectives (Name and describe unique features and benefits of the new product line...)
4. Activities (Each learning objective is matched with an interactive and participatory activity)
5. Evaluations (quizzes, tests, and competitions to find out if they have got it, followed by Corrective Feedback as needed).Note: This five-step model is similar to the Instructional Systems Design (ISD) outlined in Guide #33, although the terminology and examples are different.
"25 Activities You Can Use"
Descriptions and examples of activities you can use to retrofit your design
Ideas for replacing the "receptive" (telling or lecture) mode of training with one of the other three modes: "directive," "guided discovery" or "exploratory"
A matrix of when to best use each activity depending on the type of instructional setting.
"Getting Learners to Remember"
Introduces metacognitive skills (your mind's operating system). Sums up the information in a matrix comparing metacognitive skills in good and poor learners.
Six types of cognitive strategies to boost long-term memory. Some of these like metaphors, many of us do instinctively.
The authors assume an intermediate level of training experience and abilities. For instance, there are no topics for novice trainers such as presentation skills, stage fright, flip charts, seating arrangements, or handouts. There is also nothing specifically about technology-based instruction because as the authors point out the principles of human learning are the same whatever the media. "The effectiveness of messages aimed at learning is not bound up in the delivery vehicle but rather in how the message itself is designed."
ASTD members can order Telling Ain't Training for $38.95 from Amazon. A member discount for ASTD members is available at the ASTD Bookstore where you can also learn more about what training professionals say about the book. The authors are workplace learning and performance consultants and the co-editors of several other books. They share a common passion--"developing people" which comes through clearly in the book.