Adult education - Lindsey Anderson hears how to make best practice training stick

By Lindsey Anderson23 March 2010

A student completes the hands-on portion of training at an AWPT training center.

A student completes the hands-on portion of training at an AWPT training center.

Remembering the ins and outs of training is one thing, but actually understanding the lessons and materials is a whole different beast. Lindsey Anderson talks with industry experts who provide their best tips for making training ‘stick’ with students.

Following the release of a 'best practice' guide on training and familiarization for aerial work platforms in the US, training, and how to go about it, is in the spotlight. A very bright spotlight.

Launched by an association super-group - the American Rental Association (ARA), Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), Associated Equipment Distributors (AED), International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) and the Scaffold Industry Association (SIA) - the 'Statement of Best Practices of General Training and Familiarization for Aerial Work Platform Equipment' spells out - among other things - the attributes of a qualified trainer; their knowledge, communication skills and wider qualities.

But even if a trainer possesses all of these traits, how do they ensure their students retain and understand the information presented to them?

"Making training 'stick' is certainly no easy task," says Rob Vetter, director of training with the IVES Training Group. "We don't want simple retention of the information, we want understanding of it to occur. Retention is function of the memory and memorizing is not understanding. If we instruct a trainee what and how to do something, they may do it while you are watching, and, if you watch long enough, they may learn the task by rote."

On top of retention and understanding, trainers and safety managers admit that teaching methods vary from age group to age group, meaning a broad audience might need a range of teaching processes, especially considering classes of adult learners will have a diversity of age, experience, knowledge and backgrounds.

And lastly, if there's no enthusiasm from the trainer, then students are likely to gaze into space, daydream, or worse - fall asleep.

"You have to have energy to make it memorable," says Alicia Lemke, owner and senior consultant of Complete Safety Concepts. "Standing up in front of a group of people to discuss or train on a topic with the best PowerPoint in the world will bomb if the presenter is stoic and boring."


For trainers, setting a limited goal of retention, or having students simply pass exams, should never be enough, Vetter says. "This type of training typically doesn't stick for one simple reason; the trainee is not made to understand 'why' it should be done in the way prescribed."

If the trainer provides the rationale, in addition to the what and how, the trainee is more likely to understand the reasoning rather than simply memorize it. If the trainee understands why things are the way they are, they are more likely to do it in the suggested fashion. Vetter says if a trainee truly understands things on a conceptual level, they can apply the logic to other situations they encounter that might or might not have been covered in the training.

"Understanding concepts gives the trainee the ability to think things through long after training is completed," he says.

Learning Curves

All types of learning, whether lecture, reading, audio visual, demonstrations and more are of value, says Tony Groat, IPAF North American representative and executive vice president of IPAF's North American training arm, American Work Platform Training (AWPT). Groat notes that individual learners can vary greatly, with one possibly learning more using visual aids and another with a focus more on audio.

"AWP operator training is for adult learners," Groat says. "Adult learners are autonomous and self-directed, different from children and adolescent learners who are required to attend classes. Adults choose to attend for their own specific goals."

With that in mind, Groat says training must be relevant to adult learners and applicable to their work and goals. It should be useful to the trainees and apply to the real world, as well.

"They decided for themselves what is important to learn, and validate the information presented based on their beliefs and experiences," he says. "They expect what they are learning to be immediately useful to them. They require respect and must be acknowledged for their experiences and knowledge and allowed to voice their opinions freely."


Making sure trainees are involved, mentally and physically, is an extremely important part of the training process, Vetter says. In the classroom, this means asking questions - lots of them.

Vetter says to avoid asking simply things like, "Do you understand?" and rather focus on questions that will demonstrate a trainee's level of understanding, such as, "What would happen if...." or ask the student to describe a scenario and ask, "What do you think of that?"

"The trainer must get away from asking questions to which the answers can be extracted chapter and verse from a manual and move toward questions that will give an indication of their level of understanding," he says.

For example, in the field, the only way a trainer can measure the level of understanding is through practical demonstrations performed by the trainee and evaluated by the trainer. When a trainer sees a mistake or feels the trainee could improve in a certain area, the trainer should stop and ask the trainee about it when appropriate. Such as, if a heavy equipment operator is demonstrating a pre-use inspection of the equipment to the trainer and the trainer notices the operator bypassed the capacity plate during the inspection - which the operator is supposed to check - instead of stopping and telling the operator what went wrong, instead, stop and ask about the situation.

Stopping and asking the operator allows the operator to think for a moment and then realize he missed a step and thus come up with a solution. This type of philosophy, Vetter says, stimulates communication. "Without communication, no learning can take place," he says.

Presentation by Peers

Alicia Lemke believes that until a learner has to actually develop, practice and present material in front of a group, there's not a great understanding of how much work and effort goes into a training program. Even after that, sometimes the trainer still isn't the expert; the operator is. Lemke suggests utilizing the knowledge and expertise of the employee or operator by having them present the material to a class.

"Some employees are afraid or defensive about doing this, but if conducted in the right setting, and with the proper assistance from an instructor, these can be some of your best teachers," she says.

Lemke also says for refresher training or topics that have been repeatedly covered, it could be useful to give each trainee in attendance one part of the topic and have them speak for up to two minutes on said topic. For example, Lemke says with aerial lifts, one topic could be controls, another stability and another pre-use inspections. "Give them time to prepare, about five to 10 minutes, and have them stand up in front of a small group of people [and present]," she says.


As long as a trainee's safety is never comprised and they are under qualified supervision

at all times, they will get far more out of learning experiences if they can 'learn by doing.'

"Having your employees learn something or demonstrate skill through hands-on instruction and evaluation is one of the best ways to ensure proper procedures are understood and followed," Lemke says. "Many adults learn best by 'doing,' not just hearing or seeing. It helps reinforce the message through demonstration. It also immediately shows whether or not someone is understanding the process."

While hands-on learning can be a staple for students, a relationship with the trainer can make or break training, as well.

"Adult learners need to have confidence in the knowledge and experience of the instructor and his ability to help them succeed in the learning," Groat says.

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